My Etsy shop is fully updated now. With 49 items and new listings coming up every week for the next few weeks. It's been dormant for many months, because I had to do dayjob work and because I could never be sure how to go about selling my work, or what it is I'm selling. And I realise I am not just selling but that I am also telling a story, and every artwork is a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter. A poem is possibly a whole short story in itself. And every bit ties together into the Impossible Garden and the Wildforest.
The poems have returned. And have come back changed in many ways and still changing. I can feel them shift even as I pen the words onto paper. They have made friends with the paintings and both are often whispering to each other now, throwing my sly side glances. At night they run around my bed, urging the shadows of the trees on the walls to stop playing pretend and become themselves. They wait for me to fall asleep so they can slip into my dreams, sometimes coaxing the night mares to allow a gallop over the ocean.
The 100-day project has slept for a month and woke up reformed into the 100-painting project. It is allowed. Because I choose the weight of making good pieces over the count of a contest with time. Here is the 54th piece, with its own poem.
Wild spring tree wove a wind,
It is almost a given now. That a painting will have a poem. That a poem will have a painting. That maybe both can be in a single tangible piece, all tangled up like lovers.
I wait for my sketchbook from the Brooklyn Library to arrive. It is going to be a love letter.
I'll just semi-ramble on this post here. Since Monday I've been pretty much occupied. First half of the week was juggling the dayjob tasks and studio work. Then rest of the week was studio shop work.
Still cracking my head on how to get to more audience. Or is my art not as good as I believe it is? I don't say it's stupendously brilliantly marvelous, but good enough given the heart that poured into it. But no. I know my art does not suck. I've done commissions and I've sold things online and I have strangers on Instagram sending me messages of support, appreciation, and a few even asking for some advice on how to live an artist's life. Hmm, maybe there's something to teaching/writing/workshopping about living an artist's life? Third-world Asian version because, you know, it is harder that way. I had a seed for something like that a couple of years ago, something I called "Rough Guide to the Road Less Travelled". Maybe I should revisit it. Maybe that's a side door.
Posting to Etsy is hard work. My shop can't look too shabby. So effort on photos, and editing the photos, and coming up with interesting descriptions -- which led me to crafting poems instead and I hope this will somehow capture the kind of customers I can be in a long-term relationship with. If not poems I craft snippets of mythology about the Impossible Garden & the Wildforest.
I wasn't gaining enough visits despite the multiple promos and offers, so I paid for some ads for the weekend. The tricky thing is you don't have control on who really sees it. Machine algorithms can only do so much, and in the end, programs are only as good as the insight and inspiration of the people who designed them. It's one thing I learned in research (which has been my dayjob for more than 20 years), that the output and effect rely less on the methods and technologies and whatever new buzzword thing is floating around, than on the attention and skill and insight of the research doer.
There is a part of me that wants to dabble into digital and online research, particularly on people's behavior with apps and sites. But it's going to really eat up everything. Yet I know if I put my mind to it I could actually make ridiculous big bucks from it. I've seen countless times how so much less "input" and invention/reinvention by others has generated same (or even more) ridiculous big bucks.
I'm back on puzzling out how to reach more audience and then how to convert more audience. This all feels like my Ad School days. Awareness-Trial-Retention. At the core, everything remains simple and basic, despite the trimmings and sleight-of hand that marketers employ. All the new "tricks" and "insights" are reinventions and re-expressions, simply adapted into the new "things" and "trends". There's that 1990's song that went "It's all been done." Yes, it has. It's just all angle and perspective. Smoke and mirrors. Ah, that's maybe what I need to be better at.
There IS a real budget constrain in what I can do and experiment with to improve my art's reach and awareness. So a layer of challenge has to do with making do. In my ad agency days I've often heard the question "How do you make a small media budget most efficient?"
I remember buying a book a few years ago on how Introverts can do networking. I'll have to dig it up. Honestly I hate networking. Or maybe I hate how it has always been templated and presented. And I maybe I hate how its worst forms had bullied or victimised me or made me feel like I'm less of a person because I'm bad at it. I think the new trendy word for it now is building "community" or "connection" or something related. I fear I'm still rather bad at it. Another thing to learn more of.
I'll stop rambling now. Do follow me on Twitter (see right column, my feed is there), and on Facebook. Lots of updates and snippets of stuff. See me grow. See me stumble. It's all real-life, real-time. Let me know if something's helping you or inspiring you. I could use the boost that my journey is not entirely invisible.
Hugs to all.
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I have dayjob tasks today and I know there will be drag marks on my way to doing them. So I started the morning with pledging to Terri Windling's brand new Patreon page. If you are a fantasy reader you would have heard of her and likely read some of her works. Do give her page a visit and see if her magic-making is something you would like to help become in the world. ^_^
I am slowly recovering from a two-week slide into a spirit & energy slump. I have not been entirely unproductive but I could have done more if I were strong enough to fight through the fog of exhaustion and quiet despair. In any case, as in all cases, I had to pull myself out of it, and I fear I'm running out of tricks to trick myself.
Sometimes though, I suspect that the slump-time is my self shutting down on its own to go on a retreat, and then return bearing gifts (sort of). Like when I was finally able to sit down in the studio again without wanting to cry and run away, the solutions to problems I have been trying to figure out presented themselves with minimum fuss. Complex tasks became simple. The scarcity which has been the root of many of my challenges receded in the background as work-arounds and reinventions came to the fore.
One example is the 100-day project (which I still have to catch up on, and will do this week). I have been meaning to post the first batch of original pieces on my Etsy shop except that I could no longer afford to buy enough frames for all of them (which I had intended when I first decided to do the project). But then the simmering slump brought me the idea of just making the frames in the simplest way possible (I googled DIYs but they were still too complex so my brain worked out its own method that is more third-world-friendly). I ended up with being able to put the paintings in a pretty-enough frame that cost very little in terms of materials, effort, and time. It will also be easier on the shipping too because the materials are light.
I will admit I felt a bit sad not being able to frame the paintings more "properly", like in wood and glass. But now is not yet the time to be able to that. And surely I cannot let it stop a project or compromise a creative work.
Now, this small solution for the small art has planted a seed of solution for the bigger art. One of my challenges is to frame all the paintings I want to put in the Exhibit and if I can't yet afford frames for the small ones, what more the big ones? Yet here is a way to work with the limitation of funds, and still allow me to move forward with the exhibit without looking too shabby about it.
The slump session also, apparently, has been working on my Sketchbook Project theme. It's still raw but the basic bones of it are there. Won't share it publicly yet but when I've started sketching I'll share the process and progress. My blank sketchbook is still on its way to me. I hope it arrives safely.
Warming up from the slump led me to restarting with small artful things, which in this case turned out to be bookmarks that I will also post on Etsy. I believe I already have a customer waiting for them, which is a pleasant surprise and for which I am eternally grateful. ^_^
One more thing before I close this post. Being in a slump somehow also releases inhibitions. Like when you get so emotionally worked up that you start saying or doing things you would not normally say or do if you were in better control of yourself and had better confidence in things. Being in a slump makes me feel like I've nothing much to lose and so might as well express a few things out loud, or out online as in the case of introverts like me. One such small rant triggered a response from a friend who is a follower, and the response offered a solution. It has something to do with being able to publish my poetry book into a larger audience. I still suck on the art of asking and this unexpected turn is certainly something I would not have dared to ask for. So, dear friend, you know who you are, thank you for opening up a possibility. ^_^
Hence despite the seeming stagnation that a slump is, perhaps I can start looking at it as also necessary to the process. I may not like its symptoms, and it may quite a pain to go through it, but Things are happening beneath and between the silence and the emptiness, beneath and between the fatigue and the frustration. It all goes back to trusting my own process, and perhaps slumps are a crucial part of it after all. It is nothing to hate or be ashamed of. It does not make me worthless or lazy or useless. Yes it is something to endure, but it can help bring about the things to celebrate.
Yesterday was not a good day. Especially towards the afternoon. I was listless, restless, bothered, irritable, exhausted. Mostly I was exhausted. And I wanted to sleep but couldn't sleep. I was agitated, anxious, angry for many reasons.
For a moment I thought about stepping out, with a list of errands, to force the energy of the seemingly irrational mood into something functional. But I stopped myself. I knew I would likely end up spending more money than I should, after the errands were done, too unhappy to care, only wanting to find any means of solace, any hint of solution to the chafing, choking feeling thrumming somewhere in the core of myself. A discomfort like something stuck in the passageways of thought and heart and tongue and hand.
I stayed with it instead. That sharp-edged cloud of sadness wrapped around me, the weight of unnamed sorrows, unacknowledged longings.
This is how it was like. Like staying in a dark room despite the noises that smelled of danger, even when the exit door is ajar and street noises beckon with their oblivion. Like staying still and silent while burning, long enough to realise that the fire was coming from your heart, and that becoming ash and cinder was optional. Like not running away as the hissing and growling approached from the shadows, even when you begin to feel a hot cold breath drip down your spine, to keep your own breathing calm, to keep your eyes open.
In the darkness and the stillness, in the staying instead of going and running away, in the space I have made of woven sighs and simmering discontent, the words started to arrive.
Old words, new words, strange words. Familiar words. Changed words. They were tentative at first, unsure of whether I wished to be helped or rescued, or if I, perhaps, would like to swim back into paint. To avoid words because they peel the truths more finely and sting more exquisitely. Because when the words come even the paintings are made to account for themselves, to not be tricky with meanings but to be clear even in playful obscurity.
So the words came. And when I allowed myself to write them despite my sense of inadequacy and foolishness, I started to feel better. The sharp-edged cloud softened. The heaviness flowed from my core to my hand and into the page.
There have been Things happening beneath the surface but even while I have been painting a lot, my language is more than colours on canvas. I don't know why I have been keeping the words at bay. Or maybe I do know, that naming Things confirms the Thing's existence, and existence require responsibility, presence, attention. Particularly when it is love. Particularly when love itself arrives in a story even more difficult than the ones you've had to tell before. Ever more fantastical. Ever more impossible.
But at least the words got me out of the moods, took me back to the heart of things, the heart of me.
So the poems are coming back, and intentioned writing (no longer the sideways offhand manner I've been doing for many months now, playing it safe and only scratching surfaces). I think it's time for the painting to work with the words, as well as the other way around, with the words working with the painting.
Twitter turned out to be a wonderful space for poems. An open sketchbook for my words. Anonymous and known at the same time, secret and brave.
(No longer secret because it's posted here!)
I did this before when I was still living by myself in a condominium (more than four years ago). All I had to do was shut down and unplug, pull myself out of the daily routines, and flow with the odd rhythms of creation. I made an announcement through email and social media to advise clients and family and friends or anyone else who might try to contact me during the retreat. I had five full days to myself, going deep into the forest, although at that time I didn't realise it was a forest. So much were still hidden from me at that time, or my eyes were still half-blind, or I did not know yet how to see in the shadows.
Lately I've been feeling I want to do it again. To secure that one long uninterrupted length of time to follow trails of thoughts and ideas farther than I ever could when immersed in the heavily distracted routines of daily life. It would mean I would have to lug around all my art materials, including the large canvases. And newspapers to lay on floors to catch the wayward drips and drops of paint. Because clearly I cannot do this retreat in the house where I live in now, which is peopled with individuals with their own daily routines and agendas cramped in a space where too much noise overwhelms my sought-for silence and where I am expected to participate and adjust with the household's own clock-time.
Then there is the matter of space, and light, and defending from the heat and the mosquitoes. In my condo unit I had an air-conditioner to temper the interior weather, and I didn't have mosquitoes. And one wall was almost entirely windows. And very quiet when I want it to be. I only had meals when I was hungry, and often skipped dinners and ate a lot of post-midnight or pre-sunrise snacks.
I'm thinking of checking into something like the Red Planet again, or if there's a nice affordable Air B&B somewhere in the Ortigas area, near where all the Korean restaurants and cafes are.
I will be painting and writing. I will still be online but mostly to share my process and progress, and do research on things like male muses and the anatomy of a heart and the shape of bones of imaginary creatures. Or what is the word for the various strains of desolation. And of course, a lot of reading as well, and likely paper books so my luggage will be like I'm going to be away for a month rather than a week.
A dear friend of mine who is a poet and a teacher, has the good fortune of staying for a couple of weeks in a beautiful place called Rivendell's Writers' Colony. I was almost teary-eyed with longing for all that floor space where she laid out her poem pages to deliberate how she will put them together into a chapbook. And all those windows and open space outside and nature surrounding everything.
Don't get me wrong. I can make art and write in my everyday space. But there are times when you feel you need one big surge of creation, just release all the pent-up energies that I've been doling out in safe reasonable trickles, and that can only happen if all the daily boundaries are removed and the usual limitations lifted. I'm all for strength training through adversity but I also cannot discount the value of simply being granted some space and light and the chance to work in better conditions.
As usual, funding is a primary hurdle. (Are you tired of reading me moan about munny? Me too, I tell you. Me too. But I would say it's part of my process to figuring things out, and I trust my process. It's taken me through the past seven years without a regular paycheck.) Let's see, a 5D/4N stay will cost me about $150, plus meals and snacks. Let's say to be safe, including any emergency supply needs I'll peg the budget to be $250. Hmmm. Still cheaper than a beach trip, and the value of the yield will be immense. So all in all, not a bad investment.
Alright. I'll let these thoughts sit here and brew. We'll see what happens next.
Meanwhile, here are snapshots from my previous creative retreat (that would be sometime 2012 or 2013, I think, before I had to move back into my parents' house) -- I also started with the feeling of chafing in my daily constrained routines, and then planning, and then finally doing it. I want to be able to do it again.
In case you are new to this blog or have already forgotten, I started an illustrated poetry book in April. It's very work-intensive and somewhat elaborate. Each page is painted and handwritten. My plan was to scan and then layout and then print -- but have it done by professionals because of the colours and textures that I want to keep from original to print, and I have no Photoshop skills, and I know that colour printing is more complex than plain black & white printing.
Here are snapshots of a couple of pages I've finished so far (I've done almost a dozen poems already) :
But as in my previous post, the expected inflow of potential funds from employment did not happen. So I've had to park the elaborate book for a while and do more work on designs and products that I can sell on Etsy and Society6 on the short-term (such as the 100-day project). I've also had to do a full re-plotting of my creative journey in an attempt to make it more sustainable.
But I want to push through with a (self)published book this year. Especially since I've been repeatedly promising it to myself for the past five years. Yet I also don't want to compromise for the sake of simply having something published. Then recently an idea came to me --
-- A chapbook that I can self-print and self-publish. Simpler in the sense that I won't be using my usual wild-coloured palettes but instead I'll be using sumi ink with which I have recently fallen intensely in love with (with inky strings attached to a hundred associated scenes and stories in my head and which led into a series of red-sunned paintings). I may use one to two other colours for accent but the paintings will be mostly of the black petrichor-scented ink.
A few poems may overlap with the original book but I will use mostly recent and new poems. If fortunate, I may even be able to launch it simultaneously with the art exhibit, and thus hit the proverbial two birds with one stone. We'll see. I will certainly try to make it so. I'm thinking maybe a dozen or so printed books -- home-made and hand-stitched. Or I can do it like a boxed set of loose-paged poems that can be kept or given away. Hmmm.
Let me end this post with a poem I will include in the collection. This one was written in early July, and very much tangled up with the seeds of the Red Sun painting series and a new painting series still brewing in the background.
Early this year, I made a promise to myself that I'll find a way to just make all the fantasies happen. In my case there are two main fantasies that I frequently indulge in: one is hosting my own creative exhibit to "launch" myself as an artist, and the other is publishing my first book to "launch" myself as a writer.
As 2017 began I thought I would be going back to dayjob employment. I went through a series of "talks" with a potential employer. It was a brain decision, to get employed again. And I will admit now that I dreaded it with all my heart. But my reasons were clear : to earn funding for my creative projects in a shorter time than it would take working as a freelancer. But my conditions for dayjob work were also clear. Hence it turned out my values were different from the company's, and my skills and talent were of the variety of creativity that were maybe somewhat too unpredictable and wild and unstructured. I had pretty good ideas and even a vision, gained from insights earned having stepped back from the fray of day-to-day corporate work. Possibly breakthrough. But if a company is not ready or willing to experiment or take that kind of risk, then I fear that I am almost unemployable, hahaha. I understand about the bottomline but I also understand about investment. I guess it depends on which side a company's values tip towards. I had the opportunity before to create something from scratch, because the company was in desperate times, and so gave me a lot of room to get creative, and that chance made my historic corporate career, and helped save the company in the process.
I digress. But my point is, the dayjob thing didn't pan out. Instead I worked on two big freelance projects that momentarily murdered my spirit with sheer stress and exhaustion. Right now I am in the okay zone but will need to come up with fund-raising projects soon.
It's August. And way back in January I was fantasizing that I'll have my creative exhibit sometime in September or October. Or even November. I thought I'd have funds to set it all up. But as the months trickled by I thought I had to recalibrate my plans and expectations.
The "launch" part is almost a formality as most family and friends already know that I'm doing this art thing far more seriously than originally assumed. What I hope the exhibit to do is to deepen the appreciation for my art, especially when seen for real versus digital screen. And of course, to encourage actual purchases. Also hoping that guests will take photos/videos and post online and help increase awareness.
One from my creative tribe said, "Necessity is the mother of invention." So I will take that to heart and run with it.
When I was recovering from the dayjob projects sometime in April, I had already thought of fixing the garage to become a studio & gallery of sorts. I've had to shelf it because the fixing needed funds -- such as fresh paint for the walls, a few pieces of furniture to work on and to hold displays, as well as lamps for appropriate lighting. I am revisiting that idea again because I would guess that renting a space will still come out more expensive. Or maybe someone somewhere has a better garage or has a spare large room for which I could barter use with a painting or two.
In any case, I've started to make a list of what I'll need:
I don't plan for it to be fancy or party-like. There won't be a program or anything, but more like a nice quiet gathering in an Impossible Garden, free-flowing and introvert-friendly.
I plan to make what I can, and use existing resources such as table covers and making my own flower arrangements. Behind the scenes and as part of preparations, I need to:
Patrons from my Patreon will be advised in advance on which pieces will be put up for display and purchase. They have first pick and may reserve pieces while pieces will still be put on exhibit. (For patrons outside the country, pieces will be limited to those that can be shipped with reasonable fees and safety.)
The lists above are not final. Likely something will pop up in the middle of the night as I wrestle with insomnia. Let me know if there's anything else I should take into account. Suggestions, tips, clues, recommendations for resources are welcome. ^_^
Lately I have been feeling the desire to paint on a larger canvas. Maybe it is the now seemingly endless almost-chore of painting the postcard-sized art pieces for the 100-day project that makes me want more space. Maybe it's having always thought of what will ship easier or store easier, thus I have kept my thinking to making small things. I have been tinkering and experimenting with blank note cards, gift cards, affordable art prints, stickers, and other portable tokens. I have a tiny studio as well so it only naturally flows that I keep my project small and manageable. So maybe I have had enough of having to work small, at least for the moment maybe I should stretch myself out more.
My 100-day project has been an invaluable learning process. It has given me the seedlings for larger works that I want to explore. Below are the pieces that feel like they have more to show and to be if given enough room. Like seedlings they need to be replanted and given space and sunshine and time.
Ink, particularly sumi ink, has become a staple in recent works. Partly inspired by Yuko Shimizu's inky drawings, and also by my hungering for things and people Japanese, and also because sumi ink smells of petrichor. I like the solid blackness of it, how it unapologetically strikes across anything and renders impenetrable shadows on once blank space.
The red sun rose and has begun to lead me through a trail. Its twin, the blue moon has made an appearance as well but had given way first to fire. So the Impossible Garden has grown into more landscapes, boundaries pushed, the Wildforest pulling closer. I discovered the path to a sea, as well as a path to a desert.
But the sun would not fit forever in postcards. So I started unwrapping the 20 x 30 inch watercolour boards, and the A3 sheets, and whatever paper size in between that is available. The sun needs space to shine, and I need to walk longer, deeper paths.
This red sun series is teaching me something about space and emptiness and fullness. Also about silence and heat and burning and light. The lessons are long and difficult, and they tug at inconvenient soul-strings. But I must keep following the trail. I heard it said in a dream that somewhere up ahead, I will begin to meet more than flowers and insects and small animals...
Yesterday was serendipitous. After countless experiments I was finally able to print blank message art cards on my own, on good paper, instead of just relying on a separate supplier in another country. I cannot do bulk printing (yet), but I can start churning out pieces.
And here are what make these cards just a little bit more special: after printing, I layer on the printed art additional colours in ink by hand. Often metallic colours to make certain elements really pop out. Thus even with the same prints, the added hand-drawn layers will vary, and therefore no two cards will be exactly the same.
You know how handmade this first batch is? Aside from having made the original painting, scanning the original, cleaning up the scan, and laying it out on a printing template, I also feed the paper one piece at a time to the printer so the printer won't snag on the thicker-than-usual sheets. I hand-fold each card. I cut each card to size using a paper-cutter -- please do not expect machine exactness as I adjust the trimming depending on how the design lays out on the card. Let's just say the cards are within the 4 x 6 inch range, give or take a few centimeters. I used my current stock of envelopes so they will vary in colour per card. I think I want to have different coloured envelopes that will complement the card design, so that again no card will be exactly the same.
Check them out at my Etsy shop!
I have been postponing my Artist Date for months for various reasons: time, money, location, energy, theme. Most of the time it's money, because there's nowhere safe and nice enough to go to within the city that is free. I will always have to have some coffee money, at least for a large cup or a cup and a snack so I can justify hanging out for at least three hours. While at the cafe I would write, or draw, or paint, or just ponder on Things. Usually that is when fresh ideas drop by, when thought trails open up previously thorny and tangled paths. Possibilities lose their disguises, and what-if questions become bold enough to take on words.
Yesterday I had planned an Artist Date that was supposed to happen after lunch with my sister. But something went awry when I made the mistake of taking on an unscheduled client call that took longer than promised, and so I ended up being very late on the lunch date and everything else took on a rather tainted note --- the traffic was horrible, it was the one day that my sister could not extend her lunch hour, I forgot to bring an umbrella and the sky was greying, I had to get off the cab a block away and walk to the cafe because the traffic was so bad. I felt rushed and stressed and flustered. I did not get to enjoy a full introduction and conversation with the lovely Korean lady who owned the cafe. After the hurried late lunch I walked my sister back to her office then went to another cafe for a couple of hours of Artist Dating. I managed to regain some level of calm and I was able to write but the bad start was a stain. The subject of the client call was also hanging over my head, an ominous cloud of a possible dayjob project. I should be grateful with relief because it means a possible paycheck. But I could only feel the usual psychosomatic effects : a hint of nausea, a layer of feverish chills, an unexplainable fit of coughing, an upset suddenly acidic stomach. I cut the Artist Date short half an hour earlier than planned and went home -- and found out all the roads within the area had been closed for an earthquake drill, and I had to walk a couple of blocks to meet up with the car service that took me home.
So today I thought I'll try it again. But I woke up really late as I had a bout of insomnia last night. Then I got caught up with my sister's needing some advice on a situation and my brain had to do full-mode processing even before I was able to go downstairs for a cup of coffee. I ended up going from bed to lunch and was meaning to have coffee after but I felt wearied all over and off-sync and before I knew it I was deeply asleep.
I woke up at half past three in the afternoon. I made myself take a bath and dress up and prepare to step out or I know I'll regret it. I went to the mall (an upscale one to avoid the majority of the payday crowds). I bought three large-ish canvases for projects I plan to start this weekend. Then I went to replenish skin care supplies --- which earned me a ticket entry to a raffle for a trip to Korea (the shop is Korean). Winners will be announced in October. My passport is expired but now I am motivated to renew it (it's a bit of a hassle to do and there are fees so I've been putting it off -- also I don't really have the funds to be going anywhere anytime soon. But now, who knows?)
As if on cue, outside the skin care shop I heard the live music of a Korean saxophone quartet and had the good fortune to watch and listen to a free concert. I didn't get to take a photo or video as I was more focused on enjoying the moment. But I looked them up and here they are:
The music and the live-ness of the performance swept away all that was tired, sad, hopeless, jaded in my spirit. Of course the fact that it was a Korean group was a significant variable. I stood among the audience, my heavy pile of large canvases balanced against my leg, and let myself be more than where I was, loving the artistry of it all. I reached out soul-threads to weave patterns with the music, making contact with those four distant human beings from a distant dream country in the only way I can.
On the other side of the mall I went to have coffee and I was greeted by a multitude of red lanterns, this time providing a setting for a group playing traditional Japanese instruments, two of which I think are shamisen. Yet another of my dream countries, and with music again as a message of sorts. I sat on the outer edge of the cafe so I could still hear the strains of the music, and my heart was further gladdened.
For my dear patrons who sent me coffees via Ko-fi.com, thank you so much -- here I actually got a coffee! And I haven't done so for quite a long time. Drained the cup to the last sip.
It has been a while since I have gone out without much internal alarm and anxiety. Today I went out with a good semblance of peace and somehow a strange sense of relief coming from something I have not yet put a finger to. In any case, being outside of my cramped tiny studio allowed me to expand my senses and my thoughts. It helped that I had a bit of money to spare, that I could buy the canvases, that I could afford to buy myself a coffee and a sandwich. I felt yesterday went awry so I would go out again today and receive the gifts of the ticket and the shamisen and the quartet. If everything had gone perfectly yesterday I would not have gone out today at all.
And now it is half past ten, but since I've slept a lot during the day I think I'll get started on one of the large canvases, a 24" x 24". I already have a title for it, and it's a piece meant as a tribute of sorts to an old self -- the mad brave leaper who should have been born farther up in the northeast.
I end this post with The Arrival of The Queen of Sheba.
My original plan was to post the original paintings in my Etsy shop AFTER completing all 100 pieces.
But I want to revive the shop now and I do not see any significant difference or advantage in delaying putting the pieces up for purchase. Well, I just won't be able to take a "group photo" of all the pieces. But I'd rather send my artworks to their new homes and have them do their magic sooner than let them languish for two more months in the obscurity of my tiny studio.
So, bookmark this link to my shop and watch out as pieces show up.
My patrons will first have to take their own pick for their free token reward before I start posting on Etsy. If you become a patron in the Sprout, Leaf, or Flower tier you also get to pick a piece once the first month pledge clears. Find out about becoming a patron here.
If you'd simply like to cheer me on to completing all 100, consider sending me a coffee or two to help keep me going. ^_^ I shall be eternally grateful.
I am in an awkward phase of becoming and creating at the same time. There was a trail that was a rabbit hole and I am not Alice but the Queen of Hearts yet I am the one running late for tea and the cards refuse to say my fortune.
There was a trail that was made of bread crumbs and I followed the crows who gobbled them up instead, who led me to a house made of stitched-up noodles and inside was an empty begging bowl. I took the bowl.
There was a trail that led to an ocean at the end of a lane. And the ocean flowed into the country that grew boys out of flowers. But my feet are fins and my voice not worth a trade, so I watch from a distance while I drowned in my own despair.
A person is a country. Though not even its owner has fully mapped itself out. Many shadowed forests and too deep seas remain off limits. Boundaries are oftentimes arbitrary depending on a thousand variables like the weather, for instance, or whether the angle of sun rendered a face too beautiful for mere words.
How does one fall in love with a person? How does one seduce a country of multitude moods and tempers and wants? How does one break through the borders of a heart without a declaration of war?
How come it feels like I am the one that has been occupied? When did that cavalry of wooden winged horses come?
These original paintings, each 5 x 7 inches, will be gifted to the first LEAF Tier Patron who will sign up and pledge on my Patreon.
Visit the page for more information on becoming a patron, and if you have questions please send me a message here or through the Patreon page.
However this offer only stands until midnight of July 8, Saturday. If there is no new Leaf Patron then I will post the pieces on my Etsy shop for purchase.
I have decided to do this because I need to revive my Etsy shop, and a lot of good pieces are currently "on-hold" for the possibility of new patrons. Thing is, at the moment, I may have a better chance of selling the art for a one-time income than gaining patrons for a committed support. Maybe if more of my art gets around out there then the patrons will come.
So until I can spare more pieces to be on indefinite standby for new patrons, I'm putting most of my good pieces up for purchase by anyone via Etsy. Meanwhile, I'll think up other special rewards and rethink the tiers on my Patreon. I also have to start putting together the next set of Art Bundles that my current patrons are due to receive in August.
On Other Matters:
While continuously moving and progressing, I find everything to be slow and I know this is natural and I should not get too anxious. I have been working hard and should not be hard on myself.
I'm finally going to be able to pick up a much-delayed dayjob paycheck by tomorrow and that will buy me at least three months. In those three months I must work with the art to gather enough funds for the three months after that. (Hence I should seriously start drafting my commission rules and open shop for commissions. It has been a significant income-earner for me but I need to fix the rules so I don't have to take on projects that I won't be able to give heart to.)
Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Let me know below. Also pass this post on to anyone you think has Leaf Patron Potential. I'll be most grateful. Here's a hug. >-^_^-<
I started this on the first of June and it will end around the second week of September. On a daily basis it eats up at least an hour, and more if I need to catch up. It took me some deliberation before I decided to do it, because it will be a responsibility. But I need to put in the same discipline and commitment to my art the same way I did to my dayjob, otherwise, the dayjob will always win and the art will always be a sideshow.
I've done x-day challenges before but I never quite managed to complete them. I realised it was because I never thought about how exactly they could help me as an artist other than getting the temporary high of watching the "likes" multiply. I had to understand the why and how so that every time I sit down to make the piece it is clear what I am building towards. In the end, since I want to become a full-time artist, I have to think strategy. What can a 100-day project help me with? I have limited time and resources. I cannot be whimsical all the time.
The Merits of a 100-Day Project
Updates to this 100-day project are posted regularly on my Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook Page.
Special captions on history, musings, and odd rambles about the pieces are available to patrons in my Patreon page. (Patrons gain access to all exclusive posts for as low as $2 a month.)
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As part of my pursuit of becoming a full-time artist and creator, I will be posting more updates on specific creative projects on my Patreon page.
On Patreon I will post more creative process, with more frequent updates about on-going projects, new artwork in the shops, and more sharing and features of finished works.
Patrons gain access to exclusive posts (such as previews to full finished pieces, and special rewards) although there are more than enough public posts to keep a follower in the loop of what's going on. At any point in time a follower may choose to upgrade to becoming a Patron.
Becoming a Patron helps me in my creative journey by allowing me to claim time and buy art materials to complete my projects. Understand more about this on by visiting my Patreon page.
See you there!
Here is an optimistic plotting of the week's schedule. My personal target is to finish the report by Saturday. Although I know that given the volume and depth of the data I need to analyse, finishing by Saturday is a hope akin to being able to go to the ball with a beautiful new dress -- some magical intervention required.
This morning will be a slow-burn getting-into-the-flow kind of morning. That flow is supposed to be sustainable until Saturday, so I am not rushing it. It will be like a hearth's fire only put to sleep into embers at night but ready to roar and leap in the mornings. This kind of flow is complicated to catch and so I am not letting myself get anxious.
The simpler tasks are listed for the morning. They are mostly loose ends that need cleaning up to get me all set for the real big task ahead : diving deep into the data analysis and beginning the creative writing process for the full final report. It involves a lot of craft work, because that is what I do that makes the difference in the output. That is why I am still able to survive six years after leaving full-time employment. (I have never really harnessed the full power of that skill.)
Expect no painting or any of the usual creative artistic projects. The dayjob is eating up all my productive hours. Whatever hours are left I spend resting and recharging and refilling the well. I gobble up stories though I am not able to make or tell any. That is why I make my notes and calendar pretty instead, because otherwise I just might go mad.
I am not feeling bad though. Not today. Last week was not so bad either. I just feel neutral. Except in the depths of the night when the insomnia strikes and there is an invisible hand squeezing my lonely heart.
I am quite pleased actually that I am able to focus so much better now (thanks to that whole studyblr inspiration, and thanks to the Eggscellent timer app). I expect this week to run even more smoothly. I've even started taking a brain support supplement that was recommended by a friend (it helps optimise the processing of dopamine).
This is almost like a dry-run for an even bigger task waiting after I finish the report. This is a shade of Things shaped into place as I find a much better way to get where I want and need to go.
In my first post for the year I had been certain of taking a path. It was an old, somewhat familiar path, but it was a path well-travelled by others. I have made my marks on it but I cannot claim it as mine. It is a tributary to a larger path that leads to destinations I am not (and have never been) interested in getting to.
I decided to return to that path for a very simple reason : quick big cash. I thought maybe I could find a way to negotiate an arrangement that would also somewhat allow me to plant a few seeds of my own that could, at one point, help change the landscape of that path. I thought maybe I could actually manage to carve and claim a branching path, an alternative path, that would somehow help evolve the path into one that I could, maybe, be more willing to actually stay on for a little bit longer. I hoped, maybe I could bring in the meanings that are important to me, and which I believe are also important for the human condition. I thought, maybe, I can make a difference on this path. Yes, even decades later I can still be that naive and idealistic. And optimistic.
Things progressed as they should. I came closer to my goal of securing a good paycheck, and for a while my hopes of being and doing something meaningful to me and something I could love appeared to be very possible.
And then one morning, the possibility blurred. And now things are less certain.
I am both disappointed and not. I appreciate the learning that came with the whole experience. Certainly the process of it allowed me to realise things I would not have if I had not gone out there to explore.
Simply put, when it came down to pinning the Things into concrete forms, the difference in values (which I knew about, and which was why I left before, but which I hoped was navigable) became more apparent. And at this point, after all that I have persevered through, I do not think a compromise to the degree that I am seeing being laid out before me is something I can sustain for any prolonged period. I can understand the needs from both sides. But I also understand that perhaps, at this time, an equal relationship is not yet feasible. I appreciate the clarity of purpose of each side, but I can see that the purposes may not yet be aligned for equal mutual benefit. The expectations carry compromises, and a certain demand of investment -- physical, emotional, mental, even spiritual. The compromises and investment mean time and energy that have become my most precious currency, and which I cannot spend without careful deliberation.
So the decision to take that old path is put to a pause. I need to rethink everything. And come up with a Plan B. And a Plan C.
I have gone back to my mentors for reminders. And I have been listening keenly for clues and messages. They have been appearing, in many ways and many forms. It is only I who delays.
Ten days before I got around to coming back here. I've been pre-occupied and distracted and also kept busy. The dayjob is a significant part of it. The fairy tale I am trying to tell is also a part of it. My art is a part of it.
On Friday the 13th I am going to the dayjob "talk", which is really an interview of sorts except that I get to have some negotiating power too, mainly because I've been doing the job for two decades and have gained a rather difficult and distinctive expertise. I say this without any intention of boasting, but only as a matter of fact. Because the irony is that despite this particular skill strength I have not used it to gain "success" as expected by most. For the past six years I have put it on the sideline while I tried to make another story for my life. A story that has more heart and meaning. A story that I could live with and that I will have the least regrets for, if not entirely without regret.
This year is supposed to be the seventh year of my being "brave", everyday dancing along the tightrope of unpredictability and always braced for the worst of an unstable income. But this year I am taking an alternate route. I am going back into the "corporate jungle", so to speak, but I am bringing with me my ancient magical forest, and I am going to navigate both, and eventually, only one will remain as a natural course of Things and as a fruit of my intentions.
I will do this because I have reached the edge of a cliff and if I am to continue to shape the life I will not regret then I must find a (temporary) way to make enough money to make a leap. I have been making many many steps for the past six years but this time I need a leap. A few leaps. Across seas, actually. Out and away. A heaving push forward. And I need a bit more money than I am able to make now to be able to do them.
It terrifies me. This decision that I thought I will never make but always suspected I will. It is actually making me physically sick in many little ways. I find myself running deeper into my canvases, and my pages, and feeding ravenously of stories and fairy tales for sustenance. Because I have a better idea now, if not yet a flawless strategy, of how to fight and flow with the life-draining and soul-parching characteristics of my dayjob. Because it makes no sense to do the dayjob if I am not going to keep doing the art and the story. The dayjob is supposed to be for the art and the story, that is all it is, a means to an end. Until such time when the end is also the means.
If all goes as well as I am envisioning it will, I have roughly three months left to be as ready as I ever will be.
It may not immediately seem like a direct connection but moving out my painting studio into the garage was a big step into further defining my movements. For quite a while I have made do with the tiny dark space under the stairs, exhausting all possibilities of arrangements, schedules, and even habits. But a lack of natural daylight and elbow/knee room could only be endured up to a certain point especially when my direction is to expand to bigger pieces that extend beyond the pools of artificial light I could manage and the floor space I could claim.
Allowing my art to progress more freely, and to unfurl and unfold, will mean I can have a sturdier spirit when I plunge into the regular dayjob work. Like the flowerings in my artwork, my soul will be a teeming lush impossible magical garden that is more impervious to drought and pollution and acid rains.
I also feel that is it a symbolic move, from inside to outside. I had originally thought that the only way I can have a studio with enough daylight and space was to wait to move out of the house again and be able to afford renting my own condo unit where I will also live by myself. But that step won't be at least until the second half of this year and that's too long to keep my art constrained.
Then I had a dream about my grandfather who was a painter and illustrator in his days, and from whom I most likely inherited my artistic genes. After that dream I woke up with the idea of using the dresser table he made for my grandma (which has been passed on to me by my mom) as a drawing desk. The dresser has been stored in the garage because there is no space for it in the house, and the plan was I will take it with me when I move into my own more permanent space. Except that step will again take too long and the dresser is just standing there, gathering dust.
In a surge of inspired action I moved all my painting stuff into the garage and started fixing things. As I slowly moved in I also started painting my bigger pieces, and found a flow that I have been hoping to find. It took me around three days to really settle in. The old mango tree across the street watches over the gate and provides a much-needed natural view to complement the open sky above it. The bright natural daylight is balm to my over-strained eyes that have always squinted in the poor indoor lighting. The natural breeze soothes my oft-frayed emotions.
It is a rather open space. When it storms I will have to pull in my things closer to the house and cover them. But the gate is high enough to provide privacy, and I seriously believe the mango tree spirits are watching over at night to deter would-be thieves (Although I doubt the thieves will find anything they could make easy money of -- heck, even I have a hard time selling my own paintings! Hahaha!)
My grandma's dresser, with it's triple mirrors (when I close my eyes and look at the mirrors, I see myself in three forms), is now a vision/storywall of sorts. I've taken some key images from my own journal and laid them out in the open. Again another symbolic inside to outside move. I am putting out the images for me to see everyday, like practice, like reminders, like prayers. Last year were the seeds, and this year the garden rises to flower. And the flowers bring in the creatures and the beings. And the story makes itself even as I make it for myself. Always the flowers, beautiful and impossible and magical. And the ravens and the buttermoths, the dragons and the wolves and the foxes. The wild stag who is both hunter and hunted. The flower-marked with their riddles and their poetry. The lost sleepwalking kings with their magics.
I have repeatedly mentioned in previous posts that I want my inside to be reflected more on my outside. A more authentic self that I continuously work upon to grow and evolve. When I go back to that dayjob work I want this to be the case, that I am more the self I want to be and am becoming rather than the self that the dayjob tends to cultivate. I have to be clear and certain, and I have to be resilient and brave. I know that not everyone will get it, not everyone will understand, not everyone will agree. But I will keep claiming that space of fair partnership. And if it becomes a matter of life and death of the soul, then I know what I have to do.
This is horrible. I am now down to one or two days to finish the dayjob tasks I should have finished days ago. The deadlines are my own, but I like to be a bit ahead so I have spare time when the holiday haze finally lifts. However my heart has been so unwilling and my body has connived to shut down in one way or another whenever I would make the hard push to get things done.
I have been beating around the proverbial bush, in ever-widening circles. Although yesterday I managed to make a mental link somehow to the train of thinking I need to ride in order to do a good job of the work I must do. I'm still on board but I'm hanging by a single hand and foot and getting distracted by the passing scenery...
I have not been entirely unproductive though, let me make that clear. I was merely unproductive when it came to the work itself, but I was prolific everywhere else. It does seem like I have a lot to do still in making my disparate lives and selves play well together. The severe lack of space and sunlight in my spot where I live aggravate the whole situation.
Today I am dragging myself over to the cafe across the main street and will stay there all afternoon and churn out at least one of two sets of documents I am supposed to churn out. The rest I will do tomorrow morning, and finish just in time to for the changing of the year. For this I have pinched a budget from what I have left after Christmas (that paycheck delay has certainly added a dark cloud to everything), and I pinched enough to feed myself well afterwards.
I know very few people will relate, because most people are just somehow able to do what needs to be done when it comes to work duties and responsibilities, about taking care of the practical aspects of life. I used to be like that, before I realised what I really want to be and what I really want to do. I risk being labeled ungrateful, to be so resistant to this "blessing" of a source of income. But I cannot help how I look at things, and how I see beyond the immediate short-term rewards, and how the fruits of my labour are more than being able to pay the bills and buy necessities or even being able to pursue some personal goal. I keep hoping I could live as decently doing something else that do not contribute to the perpetuation of a society with values I wish, with my art, to inspire to change.
Lately I have been getting sick a lot. Small pains and aches and illy sensations every time I remember that I will be trading off a bit of soul for a bit of gold. I try to look beyond even more, lengthen my vision, try to calculate how in the end I will redeem myself and my decisions. That it will all even out, cancel out any ill consequences from the deals I made with devils, even earn me a bit of goodwill and perhaps even a divine boon.
Meanwhile, I eke out the occasional art piece, which has been quite a challenge as I awkwardly navigate through the repeated attempted shifts between being artist and being dayjob professional. I often end up straddling, as I always try to find an integration point. I hope to find it soon.
Just this morning it struck me. I am about to do a campaign in January in an attempt to truly shape my life the way I dream it to be, and in the process integrate all aspects of what matter to me into a synchronised whole.
The campaign will primarily be in the form of a conversation of exploration with a potential employer. As I was doing my update on my analog catalog of quotes and notes, I came across very specific passages that sparked a tiny chain of epiphanies and connections. Such is the reward of making the time and effort to revisit the words that have made an impact upon me. Such is the reward of nonstop learning and a continuous quest for understanding.
My challenge since I became an artist has been to integrate that life with the life I had before. I know that it is not simply a matter of putting together two separate things. There will be adjustments and compromises. It is, in a way, a marriage of my selves, and it has been a very difficult one. The key word is integration, to end up with a whole instead of just two things stuck together. There should be a harmony, there should be a flow and a flexibility between them. Order and chaos in balance. Reason and emotion in productive creative play.
What I want for my dayjob is not the norm. It asks for certain privileges, certain permissions and leeways. It also promises something that is intangible, hard to measure and even idealistic. It is a long-term thing, not an instant spectacular show. It is slow, low-key, and not flashy. It is quiet and involves a lot of invisible work. Only someone who will truly see and understand it will have the courage to invest in it, to create that job title or position, to hire the person who will attempt to begin the redefinition of the mainstream.
What I want for my dayjob is to reflect more of my creative life, to bring more of my creative insights into it, to bring more of my life philosophy into it. I wish to lessen the conflict and friction due to the difference in values that underlie the disciplines. If there is a way that I can somehow plant my own creative seeds into the dayjob that I do, if there is a way I can somehow fulfill, even for the tiniest bit, what an artist is supposed to give to the world by shifting the mindsets in my dayjob industry for the tiniest fraction towards that which is in favour of what I believe in -- care for nature, conscientious and conscious consumption, sustainable consumption, creation over consumption, essentialism, that sort of thing. If I can bring my perspective into those conference tables and in the process inspire the kind of work that is more thoughtful, less template.
I am inspired by Ann Hamilton's words that say : "It is the task of the artist to lead the leaders by staying at the threshold." Instead of being absorbed by the system, I want to help the system break free from itself and to evolve, to be enlightened and be brave enough to shift, even if so slowly and so small a way at first, to begin to explore new ways of doing its work, to take a few risks to be a pioneer towards a new economics, a new culture of consumption.
My dayjob is in advertising and marketing, often working for global multinationals who are all about shares and profit, and for whom the end justified any means. What I want is impossible, or so it seems. For now.
I'm a dreamer, aren't I?
I have heard enough soft and not so soft discouragements and devil's advocates, enough cold hard sharp reasoning swished about to rip my imagined possibilities into shreds. Even now I am troubled by the misunderstanding of why I might go back into employment, and how I am thinking of doing it.
But I still dream, and imagine, and find ways through, find new arguments and proof, find new inspiration. I cannot help it. My artist self cannot help it, and she has grown so much stronger now, less likely to fold and defer to the defaults. I am much stronger now. And much braver. And at this point, what is most important I think, I hope I have much better luck.
I started today with a mind sweep. It eased my thoughts a bit to be rid of the constant nattering of too many random reminders. I wrote it all down on paper first. Then copied it all into my Evernote, organising and clustering the tasks as I go. My mind then takes a visual snapshot of it to carry around - a single organised chunk that will keep still and quiet and accessible.
I have some dayjob tasks to complete this week so that is putting on a bit of a heavy cloudy mood. My way to deal with it is not to push or force myself too much but just to flow slowly into it. Thus I'll be getting around to it in a very roundabout way, taking twice or thrice the time to finish.
I have to finish reading two more books to complete the Goodreads challenge. I am already 90+% done with one. I think I'll make it.
I'm running late on a hundred things. The season always does that to me and yet I never get used to it. I feel harassed. I get so tired I can't even sit up long enough to finish a chapter or an episode.
The writing keeps me relatively steady. That is why you've been seeing a lot of posts lately, even long ones. I escape into the blank page and try to put some sense of order and control in my days by weaving my thoughts and feelings into words. Lately there have been a lot of unexpected intense flashbacks. I suspect it is because something is indeed going to shift in a big way, and the past will even be farther into another life, and the sudden recollections are like goodbyes. They will have less power in the new story that will unfold, they have been spent.
On a positive note, I am able to paint again. I have been finding it difficult to settle in my too-dark, too-cramped studio. Perhaps today, to widen the circumference of that roundabout to the dayjob tasks I will find it a lesser evil to squint and contort my way into finishing an art piece or two.
I am planning to do one more decluttering minimalising move. I'll gamble a bit on having literally next to nothing while I wait for the resources to be able to fill in the essentials. I will live empty (or as empty as I have ever been), as one of the runes sometimes advised in order to ready my self, my selves, for a true abundance.
In this country, Christmas lasts until the day of the Three Kings (roughly the first Sunday of the new year), so nothing goes down until then. The trees and the lights stay up. The 26th is merely a steadying pause after the intensity of Christmas day, and before the flurry of new year preparations begin.
My family (dad, mom, sister) and I spent most of Christmas day at the mall, where a whole lot of other families had the same idea. Lunch was a two-hour feast at a shabu-shabu & grill buffet. Then it was a series of buying more gifts for each other that were extensions of the gifts that were given the night before. My sister also had a few more gift shopping to do for other people. I wanted to shop for many things but the paycheck did not come in December so it was just a wee bit ache-ful to be so constrained. I also wanted to have bingsu but there was a very long line at the dessert cafe. Dinner was a simpler fare of breakfast-style meals because my dad was beginning to get tired of the string of rich and extravagant foods.
Meanwhile, I chafed at my lack of sufficient budget to give myself what I wanted. As the last few days ticked by I found myself growing a new wishlist. It's a very specific list, of things and experiences and circumstances and outcomes. Aside from my own lack of money, there is also a shortage of companions (with their own money and time) who could share and enjoy certain activities according to a similar philosophy and mindset. Still, the lack of companion is easier to remedy because I have long grown used to and fond of my solitude.
I am now thinking of revisiting, rewriting, and reviving my Life List, as inspired by The Mighty Girl. It helps a lot to write things down, and also being specific. My own personal rule about the list is that everything in it must be meaningful to me, not just items to do for the sake of doing it. Nothing half-hearted. Nothing that is expected by others, but only what I expect and demand of myself.
Sometimes I wish someone would just sweep in and whisk me off somewhere to make all my dreams come true.
For almost a week now I've been sick. I have been constantly having the threatening feeling of nausea or wincing through what feels like an acidic revolution in my stomach. I know it is all psychosomatic, and that I have been extremely stressed. The stress has become so intense that it is now manifesting physically in the same way it has always manifested since I was a child. My parents had often rushed me to the hospital doubled over with pain or throwing up, and the diagnosis would almost always be because of stress. Yes, I was very stressed even as a child. My stresses then had to do with school, and fearing failure (mainly because I feared disappointing those who would make their disapointments felt), and also occasionally out of fear of the things that go bump in the night (because I believed I could sense them in the dark, scratching through the thin walls that separated where they were from where I was. I was also a child that frequently had nightmares and would wake up screaming).
My stress these days is stemming from my decision to go back to employment next year, and also from the big demanding high-stakes project that I am scheduled to do for the first quarter. While it is very clear why I am making that decision, and also why I have said yes to the project, I still feel something akin to how a claustrophobic person would feel about getting into an elevator.
But I really, really want and need to do certain things in 2017. And from my experience no one else could make those things happen to me than me. I do not have a Stieglitz like O'Keeffe. (It is possible I do not even have a whiff of O'Keeffe's talent to merit a Stieglitz.)
So many little details are getting defined and sharpened in the last days of this year and it is painfully frustrating not to be able to move forward because of lack of resources. Yet another lesson on patience. Georgia endured years of being poor and having to work in uninspiring conditions. I cannot complain. I have to be resilient. I have to endure, even though it feels like I am many years too late, and all the odds are against me.
I am not too late.
There is always hope.
I am going to paint today.
In the late 1990s (by this time you are beginning to pick the pattern that the 1990s was my decade of many youthful follies), I was into exploring less traditional spiritual belief and rituals, and I have been particularly fascinated by the solstices. It broke my heart that I lived in a tropical country instead of one with four seasons (to be honest, I am still quite heartbroken about it even though my sister has been telling me lately not to move into a country with winters because it will make me into a crooked old woman because my bones would bend from the cold). It only added to my oddity that I used to practice small simple seasonal rituals for seasons that were just not happening here (but were nevertheless happening in my head).
Now with social media making the world just a wee bit easier to navigate, it is normal to see solstice-related posts, greetings, and celebrations that make my pagan heart stir up in nostalgia.
The title of this post, consequently, reminds me of the title of an episode in Dawson's Creek (yes, that TV series) which was The Longest Day. That was the episode where the main female character chooses the main male character's best friend. The best friend had to risk losing to all the history between the two mains because the two mains were each other's first loves.
I wept, like a naive fool, while watching that episode (which I got on DVD so I could watch it again and again and torment myself, although by now I have thrown it all away). Here was why: I had a best friend and she had a bit of a history with a man who was also my very close friend. We all worked in the same office. Their story was a kind of a loose end, because he confessed his love for her but she did not accept. Life moved on, the man and I grew close -- a separate friendship that was ours alone. I literally had to split time between him and my best friend.
You could guess how that went, I started to fall for him. Which was a very normal, almost predictable, course of Things, given that we were highly compatible, had intelligent philosophical conversations, and he never had any qualms about being sweet -- holding my hand, hugging me to comfort and console, and kissing me on the forehead when the world became way too harsh. No, those gestures of affection were never more than what they were at the moment. I never assumed, although I hoped. Fervently.
Back then I had a rather unfortunate habit of confessing. Looking back now, I see it as a manifestation of wanting to keep control. I hold the script, I call the shots, I steer the story. I wanted to set things ahead so I could prepare for all possibilities of endings, even though I only hoped for one particular kind.
So I decided to confess. Because I was impatient. Because I was afraid. Because I wanted to cross that platonic line.
Two days before I confessed, I told my best friend about it. As a courtesy, given their history, and also as my best friend. I was also, in a way, asking permission, or a blessing. Again, a courtesy. If she had said no, I would have listened. She did not say no. She said it was alright.
The next day she went to him. She said it was for closure. I vaguely remember her telling me about it before she went to meet him. I trusted her.
The day after that, my confession was pre-empted by their suddenly being a couple. I found out later that the closure was more of a last-chance-what-if-pitch-realisation of sorts. They were married a year after.
It took me seven years to get over him (and all the negative backlash of that whole experience).
On that seventh year, that was when a soul reaper, a shinigami, found me, and took me out of that battered road of hurt. His was a Death Note that turned out to be a lease for a new life instead. That shinigami led me to other shinigami, and into wielding swords, and getting tangled with the soul threads of the land of the rising sun, and a whole new chapter of my life unfolded.
Since I left employment six years ago I have never missed the parties, whether official or un-official. I love the one-on-ones that remained though, now with just a handful of people with whom I have made lasting connections that outlived the convenience of being in the same office, friendships which I find very fulfilling and heartwarming.
In the past few years I have also lessened attendance to family reunions where the only thing people knew to talk about with me are either my weight or my being unmarried. It was a relief to be spared from all of it. Looking back, I realise that parties have never really been fun for me. I was just always going through the motions because I felt I had to.
Parties, for me, were generally open stages waiting for a plot, an act, a scene. Something exciting, something good, something hopeful. I try to look for something, a trail to follow, whether for myself or for someone who interests me. Small talk bore me. Parlor games I detest. Compulsory participation in performances and programs are troublesome. Costumes should be optional. I am allergic to alcohol so I cannot drink to "loosen up" and "let go". Too much noise and movement exhaust me.
I looked for story as a way to make meaning within that gathering, to find my footing within such a containment where I am expected to be other or more than what I usually am within the daily routines of life. I guess my own expectation was for things happening in other or more ways than they usually do in the daily routines of life. I need a focus, an anchor of some sort, otherwise I would drown. I needed layers, interweavings, threads, sparks, eurekas, seeds. Always something positive. Something that could grow. But everything tended to be too fleeting, too fast, too temporary. I cannot grasp fun in a scenario where there are too many stimuli and one is somehow expected to be everything and everywhere all at once, and where the same things happened over and over again, every single time.
I also have a string of not-too-pleasant memories from parties.
My oldest memory was a family reunion where, for some reason, there was a tradition of having all the gifts given and opened in front of everyone else. My own family, our household, was not well-off. All the other households were better off than we were. I knew we were living at a minimum, and that we were getting by with the occasional help of my grandmother, and by the sheer resourcefulness of my parents outside of my dad's regular work. So there was this particular Christmas, and gifts were piled on the floor, at least half of them as big as, if not bigger than, my five-year old self. My grandmother would preside, calling out the names on the gift tags, and the gifts would be mostly for the children, and the ritual would take the whole afternoon. And in all that long time my name was never called because my parents chose to have our own family ritual on Christmas eve so their gifts to me were not in that pile. It would not have been too bad except I noticed that the aunts and uncles, godfathers and godmothers, also gave extravagant gifts to nieces and nephews and godchildren, older siblings gifted younger ones (picked and paid for by the parents, of course). So every child had multiple presents, mostly expensive toys, some still smelling of the foreign country from which they were imported or brought home from. By the time my name was called I didn't want to take the gift because I knew it would not be the same. I was embarrassed. But I was pushed and forced to abide by the ritual. So I opened it and it was a set of practical children's underwear. I held back my tears. I was called twice again, my gifts among the last few pieces on the floor, having been buried beneath the pile, like afterthoughts. I refused to open the next ones, feeling ashamed and pitiful. My parents took them home and I opened them at home and I no longer remember what they were but there were no toys, nothing spectacular or magical or amazing. No impractical simply pretty things. I did not understand then, at that young age, why there was such a difference, why there was such a gap. I never felt like blaming my parents but I did feel like there was something wrong with that whole display of abundance as if everyone was on the same playing field.
There is this one distinct memory of coming home from a classmate's birthday party when I was in high school and I went straight to my room and I cried. There was an inexplicable heaviness in my heart that needed to come out. Now, years later, I know what it was. It was loneliness. I came from a party and came back feeling even more lonely than before I ever went to that supposedly fun gathering. There was food and there was dancing, and I remember there were the boys I had crushes on. But I also remember I was not all there, either to myself or to others. I was a caricature saying what should be said, behaving as I was expected to behave. I was invisible - hidden just beneath the do-gooder class president and valedictorian was the self that wanted more to happen, more to unfold. I felt constrained and stifled. This is it? This is all there is? were the unarticulated words that crept through my dismayed heart. I saw through the eyes that were looking at me but weren't really seeing me. I heard through the words that were thin with meaning and intention. I have been reading too many books and was hoping that this outer world would mirror more of what was inside me. Why was there so much clumsiness, so much difficulty to express oneself? So much hesitation and uncertainty? I remember trying to make myself look smaller and weaker than I was, more delicate, to look just a little bit more vulnerable and sensitive and innocent so the boys would not find me intimidating.
I was a wallflower. I still am. In company parties I was brought to the dance floor by girlfriends as an act of solidarity. A few times I have been asked out of kindness, because I was so obviously a wallflower that clung too fondly to the wall. I was a project, a snail to be coaxed out of my shell, which was supposed to be for my own good and benefit. There was one instance when the office heartthrob singled me out and tried to pull me to the dance floor at the urging of our friends. His hands were holding mine, and it was but a single thread of reason that held me back. Self-preservation kicked in. I knew myself well enough, I could not pull back the tide if I released it, if I allowed myself to indulge. It was just a dance for fun, to celebrate the spirit of the season, it was just a party thing. But I knew there would be a part of me, that old familiar self that was always grasping for more, more, more. That self I could not quite control with its wild impulses and insatiable longings and its powerful dreaming. I could not risk it. That self would fall in love unreasonably in a heartbeat, make a mountain out of a single grain of sand, whip a storm out of nothing. Dance for days long after the party itself had ended.
There was another Christmas party, when I was half in love with one of the new young artists in the office. I was a "veteran" by then, at least nearly a decade that boy's senior. I was an old maid by society standards, way past my due date once my age left the days of the calendar months. I was beginning to self-preserve better then, which meant leaving the party early as soon as the obligatory presence has been fulfilled. I did not want to linger just to repeat the same patterns of discontent. So I made my way through the dance floor to get to the exit. And along the way goodbyes had to be said because people asked questions why I seemed to be heading out. There were the usual free and casual holiday hugs and kisses. Many were half-drunk with alcohol or happiness or both. I was, as always, too dead-sober. And then he was there, that young artist, smiling warmly, so quick to take my hand and press a cheek and half a mouth to my own cheek, to say Merry Christmas. So sweet, oh so sweet. I wanted to cry. I wanted him.
And of course there was that one party where I was a wearing a small sparkly crown to comply with the party theme, a crown I won in a beauty pageant when I was in third grade, and I was watching the one I loved then choose someone else over me, someone who happened to have just betrayed my deepest trust.
I went to all those gatherings hoping and hungry and had always left unsatisfied. I heard a different drum that no one else was dancing to. I looked around the room, eager for a kindred spirit who would look back in recognition, and found none.
I don't know why these thoughts and memories are surfacing now, of all the years I have carried them sleeping inside me. Why they are stirring now, wanting space and light?
These days I have learned to say no instead of just going for the sake of going. My time is even more precious now.
I would rather spend my hours until midnight barefoot in the garden, growing new stories.
I'm three books away from my Goodreads 2016 Reading Challenge. I am currently actively reading ten books. We'll see which ones make it to the finish line.
I was sick the other day, and was throwing up way past midnight, and was in bed for most of the time watching another girl on TV curled up on the floor just like me because she was also sick. Except that her story progressed into having a happily-ever-after while I stayed curled up on my bed making my illness worse by worrying about whether the client's paycheck would make it before Christmas or if I had to bear the tension of a tight budget until January.
Last night I had one long nightmare about a big project I am supposed to do in January. I was horribly stressed when I woke up. I also know that the thought of going back to regular work next year has been weighing on me.
The other night I dreamt of a giant monster fish, large as a seven-storey building, all dark and spiny and sharp and menacing, rising up out of a river. It hovered in the air for a while and then splashed back into the water, causing an overflow that washed all the streets clean. The day before that I chanced upon a post that said dreaming of water is good because it means a purification.
I am feeling the urge to throw things away again. Yesterday I re-arranged my studio for the nth time because I am still having difficulty working with the very limited space and light.
I found out today that the paycheck I'm counting on is not going to be released this year. This means missing rent payment for the new year and further tightening of the budgets until I get word on when I can expect to get paid.
I spent the afternoon in a Korean cafe on an Artist Date. I wrote in my journal, tried to draw, and then I painted in my Moleskine sketchbook. The moment I started painting I felt the tightness in my heart begin to ease, and I felt the layers of disappointment loosen. It was as if a fairy godmother had waved a wand over me and spoke a spell of comfort. I felt myself become more person and less pumpkin. Someday I will finally become enough to wear those glass slippers and actually get to dance at the ball.