Tuesday, November 4, 2014

On the Celebrating of the Hard Times

It's hard to talk about celebrating one's 5th month of unemployment. You don't get badges for this sort of thing.

And yet, I've been able to do so many things over the past few months; art shows, and etsy shop, and a startup business, and my latest adventure: learning from a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef and cooking instructor. I assist for 5 hours, wash a million dishes, eat a sublime meal, take out the trash, and go home with my head buzzing with terms like "chiffon" (basil) and "tang" (knives) and "bain-marie" (custard).

The hard thing is that all of these wonderful adventuresome things I'm trying don't pay in traditional currency. I'm still looking for work, and any leads or references would be most appreciated.

I'm so grateful for this time, and for the friends who have gifted me in everything (not even kidding about any of these) from garden-fresh vegetables to uncountable cups of coffee, dinners and drinks, gas money, firewood and kindling, pickled beets, coffee beans, bottles of wine, art supplies, many, many job leads, recommendations, and resume consultation and even (from one incredible and mostly-anonymous group,) a whole month's rent payment, and in another case the extended loan of a computer when mine had to be returned to my former employers. It's not been easy to learn to humbly ask and accept when I usually love to be the one giving.

I am running, as might be expected, a gauntlet of emotions on this whole situation--sad, frustrated, fearful, yes, but grateful, too. There's peace under this mystery.

Friday, October 31, 2014

All the things I would never ask for.

Love me with kindling, neatly packed in boxes, one new for each time you visit.

Love me with the garden, with mouthwatering tomatoes and piquant peppers, sweet corn, extravagant squashes, rich Concord grapes, and oceans of green beans. Love me with jam jars, and pickled beets.

Love me with birthday cakes, enriched with dark chocolate, wine, and cranberry jam filling three luxuriant layers. Love me with coffee beans.

Love me with sketchbooks, and real books, and audio books anonymously filling my listening queue.

Love me with cash, with checks in the mail, with rent money.

Love me job leads, references, groceries.

Love me with hugs, with messages of care and compassion.

Love me with counsel and advice, with words of peace when I am angry, with words of challenge when I am weak, and love me with stories.

Love me with the loan of a laptop.

Love me with leftovers, cleaning products, and cookies.

Love me with plane tickets, and phone calls, and impromptu dinners.

Love me with church, and lunch afterward.

Love me with babysitting.

Love me with camping trips, a guest pass to the gym.

Love me with freely given meals, coffees, happy hours.

Love me with laughter, and forgetting momentarily.

Love me with remembering who I am when I forget.

Love me with silence that feels like rejection as I rage against my walls, and fences, and glass ceilings.

Love me as I fail, as I fall, as I break, as I wait.


Friday, September 19, 2014

It's not dying; it's really living

My uncle Mark successfully beat off Leukemia twice; but you don't die of cancer, you die of side effects.

Graft vs. Host Disease has been his companion these past six months as his body tried to win over the stem cells' loyalties. Just yesterday, his youngest brother drove down to the UW hospital with Mark's Beagle, Cleo. Mark's wife and two kids helped the nurses put him in the wheelchair, as all care is palliative now, and the Doctors said comfort is the most important priority. 

On the way down in the elevator, he was already calling Cleo, giving everyone the giggles with his stentorian tones as the elevator doors opened halfway down on surprised hospital visitors greeted with "CLEEEEEEOOOOO...CLEEEEOOOOO". We met the family, scattered outside along the edge of the Montlake Cut, between Husky Stadium and the waterfront of Lake Washington. Mark in a wheelchair, watching Cleo and three rowdy granddaughters and an infant grandson tumble around on the grass and chase each other. 

My mind is going through the snapshots in my head:

Aunt Gwen, a nurse, gently holding Mark's head up when he got tired, so he could still see the kids and the dog. 

Different people picking Cleo up to hold her up to Mark's face for kisses.

Telling jokes and stories and catching up on family events, laughing about the inevitably funny and ironic things about death and illness. A streak of irreverance keeps our family mostly sane.

Occasionally one or two grandddaughters coming close for a kiss and an "I love you, Hoppa Mark."

My cousins and aunt smiling, playing with the kids and talking about the boats going through the small lock into Lake Washington. 

Mark's son and daughter sit on either side of his hospital bed, holding his hands and filling in the gaps of his words like an odd game of Mad Libs. 

Mark asking for a cheeseburger and a microbrew for dinner, getting a recommendation for a good kind of beer from my brother, first. His wife Maddy on the phone with the cafeteria,  asking him if he wanted lettuce and tomato. He said "Yes. And a microbrew." Maddy (to the cafeteria) "Yes he would like lettuce and tomato--and a mic...OH, YOU." He had us all laughing most of the time, actually.

The hospital doesn't serve beer, but they let him have a cup of coffee, since we passed the cafe on the way up to his room and he breathed in deeply and said it smelled so good.

I guess most people would say he's dying, and that it's terribly sad. Separation always is. But the pictures I'll carry in my head show he's really living his last moments. The sweet and bitter, the salty and sour. He's tasting it all and living well and bravely his last memories, awake. 

So this morning after I wake up (which is usually after my morning workout), I make myself a cup of coffee, and I put on some of the leftover dulce de leche whipped cream from cooking class this week in it. 

I fry a free range egg, from my friend Julie's hens, and slice up some garden tomatoes and a nectarine. 

I put the coffee into a pink-rose bone china teacup. And as I taste my food and start my day, I give thanks for the riches of true living. May we all live well.

https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/marklangstraat/tributes

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The poetry came back

Poetry came back, like the cat of the song.
It had only been sleeping. I was afraid it was gone 
and then it came raging out, ravenous, 
half-starved for silence and time, 
desperate for attention, and resentful
of the days of deep freeze.
I'd only snowed so hard out of self-defense;
Poetry is an inconsolable animal, and hard to live with.
And I was tired. 

But I must admit--something in me leapt up
with an emotion something like Joy, 
to see it come roaring down the mountain
So completely alive. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Halting Sonnet: RAW Artist Allure Showcase

I have given artwork as gifts, and I have done comissioned work. I have had a few folks inquire about purchasing some of my paintings. But until Wednesday night, I had never sold a work that came directly from my mind to a perfect stranger.

While living through unemployment, I had been spending time working on my encaustic process and decided to set up an etsy shop as well. While I hadn't finished setting the whole shop up, I was contacted by Melissa Shipley through Raw Artists to show some work at the August 20 show in Seattle. Melissa was really professional to work with and very encouraging, so I plunged in. Why not? My typical excuse--not enough time--certainly wasn't valid.

Neumos, the Capitol Hill club that hosted the event, is painted blood red and black inside. It's a dim concert-club on the main floor, with a classic speakeasy-style bar in the basement and a low-ceilinged loft for a VIP area upstairs. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis unofficially debuted their award-winning album The Heist there in 2012.


As I prepped for the show, spending hours and hours writing and designing the content cards, choosing which paintings to display, and deciding how to utilize my two 4x6 grids to the best advantage, my friend Juliann called one evening and mentioned that one of their live painters had dropped out of the evening at The Round, a local arts event. If I could get there in 15 minutes, I could fill in.

I've been thinking about painting at The Round for ages, but hadn't been brave enough to reach out myself. I showed up at the Fremont Abbey 20 minutes into the show. Juliann pointed me to the canvas, paints and brushes at the front of the room next to Clara, the other live painter.

The Round brings three bands or musicians together on the stage. Each group or individual presents one song in turn, punctuated by a poet's reading. There are three "rounds" to each show. While music and poetry swirled around me, I painted. It went faster than I expected. During the break, a few people asked questions. After the last song, I put my brushes down, chatted with Clara for a bit, and then stood at the back of the room so people felt free to come up and look at the paintings. This was a great intro to next week's art show with RAW.


Damn you, wide-angle-lens. --Jana's right arm
On Wednesday, August 20, I showed up with all of my S hooks, battery powered lights, tools, tape, and fragile artwork packed into milk crates. I got my nametag and began carrying the crates upstairs where my display grid was set up next to the great folks of Little Kicking Bird and Snapping Tortoise Photography. 2 hours later, I was called to get my headshot done.  One headshot and another three hours later, the pieces were hung, the description cards were attached, the 3-D sculptures were arranged on a small table, and all that was left was to change into cocktail attire at the Starbucks bathroom down the street.


Headshot reflects appropriate anxiety levels.
 Family and friends traveled from hours away to come to the show, from a cohort of Bellingham and Lynden friends, including the fantastic Van Noords, the seriously amazing Strongs, and of course the fabulous Gerings, as well as my old friend Mark and his mother Susan, who had found me an amazing deal on a supply of local beeswax a few years ago and has come to every art show I've ever done. 

Local family and friends came as well, including some recent acquaintances. Seriously, I'm SO grateful to have had new friends Chris and Julia come out, as well as Carolyn, Lydia, Lia, Juliann, Anne, Jay, and some other wonderful guests who didn't really know me at all, but came out on the strength of friend's recommendation (and a special shout out to Luz and Cole, who bought tickets and couldn't come due to accident and injury). I can hardly believe it, even now. Here are some photos from the show. to cover over my stumbling but honest gratitude to those who offered true support by buying tickets and just showing up on a Wednesday night in Capital Hill. You guys...you were living grace to me.















Near the end of the show, I had some great conversations with a guy who had circled through the exhibits a few times. He asked some questions about the meanings and ideas expressed in my work, and then he said he was going to buy two pieces. I didn't believe him at first, and then I got all shaky as I signed into Square for the first time and tried to do the math (which he had to do for me). I packed the two small pieces ("Spice Trio" and "Hard to Say") into a box, added the care instructions and a few business cards, and handed a perfect stranger two pieces of art that had been purely constructed out of my own process and ideas. It's a strange thing, being understood by another mind, and that other mind somehow bringing new ideas in, too. As we discussed the piece, he expressed something about it that I hadn't thought of before, but that totally made sense. Creativity is generative. The more you spend it, the more you have.

I was glad to know that Liam planned to put the piece "Hard to Say" in his recording studio. I like the idea of my work being in a creative place where people will be working through putting words and music together.

For those of you interested in participating with Raw, check out the network here http://www.rawartists.org/. They run shows in many cities across the US, and it was a great experience I'd highly recommend.


In other news, there's other news! I started an email update list where I'll be sharing studio updates, Etsy shop updates, and giving early information on new work and exclusive content. Let's keep in touch!


Friday, August 15, 2014

Susan Enan's House Concert

I have helped host a couple of house concerts from Bellingham, and one of my favorites was folk musician Susan Enan. I discovered Susan's music through a Paste Magazine sampler CD passed along to me by my good friend James Van Noord. Susan's song 'Bird' is featured on my not-really-famous mix The Run Away Album. Her songs have appeared on 'Bones' and other tv shows, and Sarah MacLaughlin has recorded some of her songs.

When she came out to Bellingham last, James asked if we would help him host at his house. We were one of the last shows before she was heading to sing at Folsom Prison for the first time, and she talked about how nervous she was.

It all started a few years ago, when Susan did one house concert while visiting Nashville and she received invitations for several more around the world. She decided to book a few dates and try it out. She gaffer-taped a camera to the dashboard of her car and took to the road, ending up singing in homes on 6 continents, including Folsom Prison, "An island, off an island, off Ireland", and one in the Arctic circle during a solar eclipse.

When she said she was going to be in the Seattle area, I asked my housemates if they would mind if we had a show in my basement apartment, and we started planning to host as many as 40 people at my small place. 

It was a small group of friends and strangers who arrived on a cool Thursday evening in August, bringing bottles of wine and settling into the chairs we had gathered around. Susan, recovering from laryngitis, had to cancel some of the other shows after this one in order to save her voice, but this show was so near where she was staying that she decided to fit in a last hurrah.

Susan has so many stories from the road and through developing her songs and ideas, that the evening is as much storytelling as it is songs from her album like Moonlight, Bring on the Wonder, If You're Feeling Low,  and Bird

Questions were called out, and stories led to conversations, jokes, and lots of laughter. I love the warm and cozy feeling of the room when people are letting music and stories sink into their consciousness--when they are truly listening and learning from the stories. Soft "wow's" and quiet applause in between songs, and curious questions about stories from playing to prisoners, islanders, the Portuguese fans who danced like they were in a hip hop club to her quiet melodies, and wanted to hear the whole concert over again when it ended at 2 am. I must admit, I know how they felt. There's something special about the intimacy and quietess of music in a circle instead of a concert venue, something restful about the community of people moving quietly in and out and being able to see everyone's faces.

And also getting to take the artist out for post-concert oysters in Ballard because she's never had the Pacific kind. How often do you get that chance? If this sounds like something you'd like to do, please follow Susan's information on facebook, twitter, and sign up for her mailing list. 

And be brave! Even the smallest apartment can be transformed into a beautiful evening. 




Thursday, August 14, 2014

Forty Stitches and Beautiful

At four years old, I cut my face open on a drainpipe in the backyard at my friend's birthday party. We were chasing around the yard playing tag when I tripped and fell against the side of the house.

I don't remember much; only a few snapshots. I remember not getting up immediately after I had fallen down and that was strange--I just laid there. Mercifully, the shock leaves no memory of the pain. Next, I have two still-photo memories of my friends; one of concerned little faces as one girl tentatively asked "Jana, are you ok?" and one of them with terrified faces as I rolled over to face them and they screamed and ran to get the mothers.

Then, a very clear memory of being held tightly by my friend's mother, with an ice pack on my face. She sat in a wicker-seated oak rocking chair--one of those with the big, round rockers that were so dangerous for your toes as a kid. She held me, prayed loudly and vociferously, and rocked manically until my parents got there. I felt frozen. I think I cried at this point, but it was more because everyone's reactions were so scary.

They arrived in my dad's work truck, the white one with burgundy upholstery. It always smelled like tar from the roofing company. My mom held me and my dad, white-faced because he can't stand blood, drove. They went to 3 doctors, all of whom took one look at me and refused to admit me, saying it had to be done a plastic surgeon.

My parents were certainly far from rich--they had bought a house, and spent just about every available penny on the mortgage payments. Going out to eat for us usually meant going to McDonalds, where the happy meals were far out of our budget. Instead, we would get 3 cheeseburgers, and 2 fries between my parents and my little sister and I, with waters to drink. The friends who owned the house where the accident happened were not wealthy either, and I think my parents were trying to save their insurance a big hit.

But I am grateful for those General Practitioners saying no, as horrible as it might have felt at the time for my parents. They finally ended up at a plastic surgeon recommended by the last GP, and by late evening I was prepped and ready for surgery. Now I really remember crying, because the anasthetic needles were the most painful part about the whole ordeal. Shock covered the rest of the pain, apparently.

Of course, I don't remember anything clearly after that point, but apparently the surgeon stitched 3 layers of skin together with delicate dissolving filament, and the last layer got the Frankenstein treatment with the black filament. All told, forty stitches.

I got a lot of attention at sunday school for my creepy stitched face for a few weeks, and then the stitches were removed, and the skin gradually healed. A few months later, as I studied that lurid pink scar in the mirror, and flexed my face, appreciating the ability to move without any pulling or stretching, I realized that something was happening behind and slightly above the scar. The imperfection in the skin pulled slightly, causing a small, round indent to appear when I smiled. In a word, a dimple.

Now, just two years previously, a small sister had been born into my family. This small sister, from the moment she was brought into the world, had two of the cutest and most wonderful dimples ever seen on a child (or adult, for that matter). One of my mom's friends came to look at her in the newborn room and thought she had been born with holes in her cheeks. Those adorable dimples that almost never completely disappeared invited comments, squeals, and face-tweaks, which I'm sure Jessi would tell you is more trial than joy. 

I wasn't jealous--exactly. But it was impossible not to notice and feel just a teensy bit inferior for being taller, less cute, and dimple-less. But this is the lot of an eldest sibling, to be constantly surrounded by cuter and more guileless people. 

All the same, despite not being jealous--exactly, somehow in my four-year-old brain, some form of beauty was equivocated in being the owner of a muscle defect located in the vicinity of a smile, and I became ridiculously excited. I felt beautiful every time I saw that little shadow appear, northwest of my scar. 

I've been thinking about scars recently, because of Michaela Evanow's post on SheLoves Magazine, and because of listing to Tina Fey's Bossypants audiobook. Did you know her scar is from being slashed in the face when she was young? I like her response when people ask her about "getting it fixed"--it's just as much a part of who she is as her brown eyes or her witty writing skills. 

Had one of the GP's not said no, I could have ended up with a puckering, twisted scar. Instead,  The scar is smooth, almost imperceptible, and has never given me a moment's worry. Instead of feeling marked by tragedy, whenever I notice it I just see that little, hopeful dimple. This small imperfection is part of who I am--and scars healed can invoke a deeper beauty.


Photos from Natasha Komoda