Sunday, September 27, 2015

Art vs. Life

First of all, sorry to get personal and not funny again.

The question of the day is one very, very close to me: Why do I go through such great lengths to avoid doing the things I love? This is a question I have been trying to figure out for three years.

I love making art more than anything in the world. While I had a complex relationship with it, as it is the most frustrating thing that has ever existed in my life, it always brought me the most joy and peace, I think more joy and peace than any single thing I have ever done. Most of the greatest moments of my life have occurred in the art studio (makeshift or otherwise), as have many of my best memories. Making art has been the most frustrating undertaking, but it has also been the most rewarding; I enjoyed it and felt fulfilled even while being frustrated. Importantly, I was finally reaching the point of being able to see what I was envisioning in my head begin to match up with what I created.

Then one day it all shut off, like a faucet, and I have done very few creative things since. I have no explanation for this (goodness knows I have searched endlessly for one); it just happened. There were many things going on in my life including sickness and anxiety, and I stopped having creative thoughts and drive. At that moment the joy got sucked out of my life. I occasionally, rarely make art and feel a little of the old happiness and peace I used to feel, but at some point along the way I have figured out a very efficient system for how to avoid doing the things I love.

Doing most of the things I love (especially art, but also spending time with people, reading, cooking for pleasure, etc.) has become an anxiety-inducing chore. Doing things I “have” to do (cleaning, preparing dinner, homework, grocery shopping, etc.) that bring no satisfaction, then being so worn out or numb that I end up spending whatever time is left sitting in front of the TV, which holds my interest but brings little actual gratification, are now the things I do. I recently decided to go back to school. My new college classes (non-art) are interesting, but most often I seem to view them as pointless busy work. I have lost my ability to make art, and with it, my passion for life, spark, and absolutely all my direction.

You would think at this point I would be excited to break out of this and start doing the things I love again, but I seem to have become an expert in avoiding them. There never seems to be enough time or energy or confidence. I think about making art a lot, even read books about it, but always manage to find some reason why I can’t, whether it’s that I’m not good enough to bother or that I just don’t have the time. At some point the things I have to do/sitting in front of the TV route has become preferred. Maybe mediocrity has become normal. I really don’t know.

I had for a long time wanted to be a college art professor. But I have over the past three years actively systematically “reasoned” (a.k.a. argued and/or bullied) myself out of my dreams, both inside my head and when talking to other people. “You aren’t good enough to succeed. What if you didn’t get the job you wanted, then where would you be? What if you couldn’t afford grad school? You couldn’t succeed in grad school, let alone any sort of professional world. It’s time to grow up. Life always turns out differently than you plan. Feeling like this is normal, and you have to learn to be OK with it. The stuff you create couldn’t even let you meet the minimum standards for being called an artist, let alone teach it to other people. You are so sensitive now to every little thing that you couldn’t stand to be critiqued. The first time somebody said something negative you would quit.” 

Now I am in a position in life where I don’t think I could have the chance to pursue my dreams even if I got up the courage. But I can’t stop holding out hope that I might find a way… and at the very, very least I would still like to make art sometimes, because I don’t think I could stand to keep doing this for the next three years too.

Are there any creative people out there who have experienced such a very long, very painful period of inability to create? Is there anyone else out there who has this active anxiety about doing the things they love? What worked for you to get out of it? Maybe somebody can give me some hope! :)

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Portrait Painter's Dilemma: Social Media

I have always loved painting people, and dream of having a big wall of portraits of all my most beloved friends and family, painted lovingly by me, capturing their personalities as I see them in colors to match their individual wonderful selves. 

Maybe this is a lofty goal in some ways. It is also a very problematic one.

I assume other artists surely run into this dilemma: Many times when the artist makes a portrait, the sitter flat-out doesn’t like it. They ask for it to be hidden, never shown to anyone. Or, they decline to be represented, either because they aren’t comfortable being looked at, or because of the carefully-curated mask I will elaborate on here. 

Lately I have some serious artistic self-esteem problems and thus have trouble accepting criticism in my artwork. But regardless of how I am feeling overall that’s always been a difficult thing for me—putting a lot of effort into painting not a direct photographic representation, but a personality and a mood, and having it flatly rejected.

I am not a photorealistic painter. I like to tone the canvas into a lovely gradient, sketch in paint, then paint alla prima in as few sessions as possible to try to develop a certain energy and mood in my work. Thus, “not a direct photographic representation”… and that is the crux of the problem, I believe.

We live in a world of digital photography. And individual can use his or her camera or smartphone or webcam to take multiple pictures without worrying about wasting film. You can take a hundred pictures of yourself if you want, each from a slightly different angle, choose the one you feel makes you appear most attractive in a societally-acceptable sort of way, and delete all the others.

We also live in a world of social media. We curate our entire lives to make them appealing, or even “perfect”, to individuals we may not even know—and most importantly, to ourselves. In this world we never fight with our spouse; our party turned out just the way we wanted it to; we never slip up and yell at our kids out of sheer frustration. We edit out the part of our Bahamas vacation where we got sun poisoning and lost our luggage. We are witty, brilliant, unreal individuals, always in control.

You can see how this might present a problem for the artist, who likely represents individuals according to a particular artistic style, and as he or she views them. Suddenly the sitter sees him or herself through the eyes of another person, at an unappealing angle, in an unappealing light.

Perhaps they wanted only their “good side”, which is usually very specific and might be anything from chin-slightly-turned-up to a-few-degrees-off-of-3/4. Or maybe they wanted to be painted with a specific mood—or no mood at all, just a carefully curated mask. Maybe they wanted to be tough and were shown as vulnerable. 

Thx, Cosmo and ten thousand other sites and blogs!

Another, rather unpleasant possibility of course is that I am just not that good of an artist, and they are vastly disappointed.

As such, I gave up my idea for now. I paint myself if I want to paint a figure, because really I don’t care how I look—or perhaps, sadly, I just know how to form the curated mask I have created for everyone else. I also draw and paint the myriad expressions of cats and dogs, and infuse mood into still lives. None of this is bad in the least, but I do hold onto the idea.

Life is complex and difficult. People are complex and difficult, including ourselves. I don’t understand why it’s equally difficult for us to admit it.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Part Two in An Occasional Series: On Changes

Big changes are coming into my life this fall--changes not limited to getting married, believe it or not! I feel at a bit of a crossroads in my life.

Luckily not this crossroads.

After a three-year break I am about to start working on my bachelor’s degree again. The biggest problem I am facing, surprisingly enough, is figuring out what to major in.

Shockingly, not this. OK, maybe a little this.

I was a general studies major when I first started, because I had no clue what to do. Like many students I had several subjects I liked a lot, such as sociology and English, and struggled to reconcile career options, the money and time I would have to spend, and the enjoyment of the subject matter.

And how to avoid this sh*t.

When I hit upon visual communications design I felt like everything had fallen into place for me, and I became at art major. I have come to terms with the fact that in a Venn diagram of my career opportunities, “Things I Actually Enjoy/Am Skilled At” and “Things That Pay Well” do not intersect, but graphic design seemed about as close as I could get. However, I had the unfortunate experience of having a perfect storm of everything falling apart on me.

This, so much this.

Right before I quit I had decided to change to a fine arts major. I wanted to be an art professor. In fact, I still (think I) have those career aspirations. 

Oh, to spend this rest of my life saying this!

But is it viable? (Keeping in mind that none of my career options will be excessively viable.) And more importantly, can I deal with the pressure of art school and a career in art? As I get older and have to react to circumstances in a different way it seems like I’m always grappling directly with another layer of trauma, or finding a new layer to anxiety or depression or a similar issue that must be dealt with before I can deal with everyday life, and thus this is a very real concern for me now. One of the reasons I quit school, unfortunately, was lack of confidence in my own work and ability. But I don’t want to be in this situation for the rest of my life; I want to move forward. Importantly, as well, and I will say this over and over again to anyone who will listen, the more you give in to anxiety, the worse it will get.

Refer to Fig. 3.

But what do I want to do? (I have other ideas too.) And better yet, can I successfully manage to do it without having another breakdown? I can’t believe I’m 26 and still having these thoughts—and yet I can. Seriously, 50-year-olds have these thoughts. Most adults are not necessarily better at adulting than I. Until then I will at least try to avoid panic attacks and comfort myself with this:

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Spaghetti Bolognese aka Spaghetti and Meat Sauce (with actual pictures!)

Today we take a break from serious stuff with… talking about my money problems. Well, sort of. Mostly, it’s about a very nice weeknight recipe!

I am never in a very good situation financially, but I LOVE good food. Even though I cook almost every night, cooking is still one of my favorite things. So it’s kind of a challenge for me to come up with ways to cook delicious food with as few inexpensive ingredients as possible.

There are many different methods to save money on groceries and food. The way I do it is usually to buy mostly cheap ingredients and jazz them up with a few more expensive ingredients I buy when I have the cash. I’ve also invested some time in finding which ingredients can be bought cheaply and which should be bought more expensively in the first place.

As far as any prices I mention go: The food prices I am quoting are from stores in Central Indiana--Krogers, a local organic grocer, and a Luckys' Market. I wax poetic about Lucky’s Market and how its prices have enabled us to sometimes afford fresh fruits and vegetables and decent meat, but that is a subject for another post!

Spaghetti Bolognese

1 lb ground beef (on sale for $2.99 at Lucky’s Market)
1/2 lb ground mild sausage ($1.50 at Kroger. I would probably have ordinarily just used ground beef but I had leftover sausage, and it was great.)
32 oz tomato sauce ($0.29 for an 8oz can at Kroger)
Approximately 1/4 cup dry red wine
Approximately 1-2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more to toss with pasta
Freshly grated parmesan cheese, to taste
Garlic powder
Dried basil
Dried oregano
Dried parsley
1 box whole wheat spaghetti ($1.19 at Kroger)

Place the ground meat into a large lidded frying pan (a.k.a. all-purpose pan) and cook over medium heat, breaking up any large chunks, until the meat is cooked with no pink spots. Drain.

Yup, pretty much what that looks like.

Pour the tomato sauce into the pan on medium-low heat. 

Cheap tomato sauce. It's all right.

Stir in the meat, olive oil, and wine. Add the seasonings. I still have the problem with recipe writing and seasonings, but I used somewhere around 3/4 tsp garlic powder; 1/2 tsp basil; 1/2 tsp oregano; 1/2 tsp parsley; 1/2 tsp salt; 1/4 tsp pepper. 

Awesome organic red wine for only $8 a bottle at my local organic grocery store.

Stir everything up really well and place the lid on the skillet. Reduce the heat to Low.

While the sauce simmers (still stir occasionally to prevent sticking) bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the spaghetti for the least amount of time mentioned on the package. 

      I use whole wheat spaghetti because not only does it have a better taste and texture to me, but my fiancé has hypoglycemia and whole wheat products seem to be very helpful in causing his blood sugar to raise and lower more slowly. 

Drain the spaghetti and return your attention to the sauce!

The delicious, delicious sauce.

Stir the sauce and taste it, re-seasoning if necessary. (If I am cooking for more than just me or me and my fiancé, I use the two-spoons tasting method my grandmother taught me—pour sauce from a “stirring teaspoon” into a “tasting teaspoon” and only get the “tasting teaspoon” near your mouth!)

Next, grate parmesan cheese into the sauce. 

I only had this little bit (about a one-inch or one-and-a-half inch cube-ish) left, so I only used this little bit! I would usually use a little bit more. 

Stir the parmesan cheese throughly into the sauce. Taste it one more time just in case you need extra seasonings. Leave the heat on low and simmer uncovered for a few minutes while you toss the spaghetti with a tablespoon or two of olive oil. 

I also made salad at this point.

Red leaf lettuce ($2 at Lucky's Market), grated carrot, and homemade ranch dressing.

Simply put spaghetti on a plate, pour the sauce over the spaghetti and eat! Yum. :)

Saturday, June 13, 2015

In Which I Get Real, Accompanied By Some Pleasantly Distracting Illustrative Memes: Part One in An Occasional Series

Not as real as this though.

Very recently I have joined a gym. The 24 Hour Fitness in my town was having a summer sale that brought the price of a membership down considerably, so I asked for it for my birthday. I feel so upper-middle-class having a gym key on my keychain, like a woman in a TV sitcom who is always whining about how she doesn’t want to work out.

Although this sort of thing is quite a problem among that set.

Some might assume I have joined a gym because I am getting married in a few months. Not true, actually, although it helps. Really, I’m doing it because I’m at a point where I can. I’ve had some very sucky things happen to me in my life, and I’ve also had a lot of sucky physical problems. Now, I know many other people have also had sucky things happen to them and I am I no way unique, nor am I playing a “my problems are worse than yours” game! In fact, I've had quite a lot of awesome stuff happen to me, too.

Anyways, we all know cats have it worst.

Still, my particular sucky things have insisted on following me around for years. They have cost probably hundreds of thousands of dollars, affected the way I think, the way I respond to everything, what I can and cannot do, and what I have allowed myself to do. When you have certain types of experiences or challenges you become “trapped” in them, and to some degree that’s unavoidable.

This guy gets it.

However, I have (with more than a little help from my fiancé) recently come to realize that you can’t build a life on top of negative things. I find it odd (almost offensive, in fact) that people talk about others ‘conquering’ their challenges, ‘overcoming’ their life experiences, etc. Honestly, some things can’t be “overcome”. It’s always going to be there, every single day, even if (and most especially if) I repress it. It’s not a movie where the main character has a breakthrough, everything is suddenly all right, and the credits roll. All I can do is work around it and the symptoms associated with it. 

Like this one.

But! That stuff is not my life; that stuff should not define me. 

Unless I choose to become a serial killer.

There are two accomplishments which give me great pride and satisfaction: Working to learn a new technique to use in my art and, now, completing a workout, no matter how rudimentary. I’ve always been the awkward tall kid with physical problems and crippling anxiety, chronically picked last in gym class. 

This shirt is my life, right here.

I have had many people—teachers and other supposedly supportive and respectable individuals included—make comments about things such as my weight and athletic ability. And I don’t deny that my skill set does not run towards active things as it does for some people. I can, for example, write a ten-page paper with few problems, yet ask me to play soccer and you might be totally and completely out of luck.


Even though I am no longer upset and scarred by what the school nurse said to me during weigh-in in third grade or how much I got teased in middle school or whatever (I've got bigger fish to fry, trauma- and otherwise! Plus, I'm an adult, or so I've heard...) I still often let myself behave in the ways I developed to deal with it back then, and I still let myself fall into the patterns of thinking I was taught. 

This would help a lot too.

And guys, that’s what makes this so freaking cool. I got an asthma inhaler so I could actually breathe while exercising, I signed a gym contract, I beat a lot of anxiety to get in the door through sheer force of will over several days, and for what might be the first time I am doing something neither I nor anyone else ever thought I could do. 

And that is a wonderful feeling!


Saturday, June 6, 2015

Spectacular Chicken Chili

Today I’m bringing you a very delicious recipe for a slow-simmered chicken and black bean chili! I apologize for the lack of pictures. Next time I make it I will try to remember to take and upload some. :)

My weak point in recipe-writing is herb and spice portions. A BIG reason for this is that not all spices are created equal. An entire bargain dollar-jar of chili powder might be equal to two tablespoons of another chili powder, for instance. So, for reference purposes, I would estimate that I put about 3 tablespoons chili powder, 1/2 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper in my chili. That does vary, though, with the brand and age of the spices I use!

Chicken Chili

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and chopped into chunks
1/2 onion, finely chopped; or, onion powder to taste
Crushed garlic cloves to taste; or, garlic powder to taste
Olive oil
16 oz tomato sauce
16 oz petite diced tomatoes in tomato juice, undrained
1 can black beans, thoroughly rinsed and drained
1/2 of a small package of frozen corn, not thawed
2 cans chicken broth -or- 1 can chicken broth and 1 bottle beer
about 4 soft corn tortillas
Chili powder
Heat a small amount of olive oil in a small stock pot or large all-purpose pan. If you are using an onion, add the onion to the pan and sauté until it begins to become transparent. Add the chicken to the onion and stir-fry until the outside of the chicken is white. (It doesn’t have to be cooked all the way through.) 

Over medium heat add the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes with juice, chicken broth, black beans, and beer if using. Add crushed garlic cloves or garlic powder, onion powder if using instead of an onion, cumin, chili powder (chili powders vary widely but I usually like a good bit of chili powder in my chili), pepper, and a small amount of salt. Bring all to a low boil. 

Boil for a few minutes and reduce heat to medium- low or low and simmer slowly, stirring occasionally, until chicken is cooked through and soup is thickened. Add more seasoning as needed. Add the package of frozen corn and stir into soup mixture.

Finely crumble the corn tortillas one at a time into the soup and stir. Cook, stirring frequently, until corn is defrosted and warm and mixture is even thicker. Season more if needed and remove from heat.

Serve with limes, sour cream, tortilla chips, and cheese.

I hope you enjoy the recipe! If you make it, be sure to let me know how much of the spices you ended up using! Enjoy!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Musings on Marriage; or, When I Shopped For A Dress.

A lot has changed since I have last posted. There have been many difficulties and hardships, but there have also been good times. What’s the best news I’ve got? Probably that I’m getting married in a few short months! 

Coming soon to a venue (not theater) near you! OK, so that's not my best piece of graphic design work. But it's pretty! :D

In many ways marriage isn’t going to change much for me, or for us. We knew not too long after we got together in 2011 that we were going to stay together, and we have, through many ups and downs. Marriage doesn’t affect the commitment and bond between individuals in the sense that the problems you have will still be there, and the level of intimacy and friendship you have with each other will still be there too. Marriage won’t correct the problems that exist already, and it also won’t destroy your relationship.

On the other hand, I still believe marriage has a lot of importance. The biggest reason for this has to do with society and culture. By marrying someone you are publicly acknowledging the long-term commitment (that already exists) between the two of you and formally creating a family group. And of course there are legal benefits that come with marriage. I’m very excited and looking forward to celebrating all this with my friends and family.

First of all, this is my fiancé Jordon in line at the bank with a sucker after visiting the eye doctor. Just thought I’d throw that in there. :D

Dress shopping was a weird experience. I was actively fat-shamed at a David’s Bridal believe it or not!
The second store I went to was a store in my hometown where I had bought my prom dresses back-when. I had a much better experience in many ways; however, there were very few dresses I could try on because of my size; the store carried mostly sizes 4, 6, 8, and 12, and the few I could try on were not right or even just awful. (Awful to me of course; they may not have been awful to someone else. I just do not like poof-y, tulle-y, ruffly things.) This is a very beautiful poofy dress I tried on but didn’t like at all:

Third time’s the charm, though. I went to a store called Ella Park in a town a little over an hour away from my hometown and they were great. The sales staff was very friendly (no fat shaming either!) and the store, though smaller in size than the other two stores I had visited, had a really great selection of dresses for brides of all styles, sizes, and price ranges, as well as prom dresses, bridesmaids dresses, tuxes, mother-of-the-bride dresses, and accessories!

And so, here is a picture of me finding the perfect dress and realizing I am about to get married—that feeling is not just something they made up for TV! :)

I have a few recipes written up to post; I have some wedding-related craft tutorials to share with you as well! Stay tuned! :)