Making room for lifeboats

I had coffee with my good friend Ms C last week, who’s just been laid off. She’s happy about it, says she has other things she wants to focus on right now and construction isn’t one of them; she doesn’t like sending her energy there any more. (I appreciate this feeling.)

So, we talked about the plans and possibilities ahead for both of us respectively-- we, the unemployed. “I have all these ideas for art projects,” I say. “And I’m really impatient to get to them, but I can’t seem to stop cleaning everything. I don’t know why; I can’t shake the feeling that has to get done first.”

I expect her to say something supportive like “Oh yeah, it’s so hard to focus sometimes” or maybe (in a mild lecturing tone) something more like “Well, there’s always a chore we think is more important than our art; we need to make the time.” Or maybe a combination of sentiments.

Instead she looks at me with this funny half-smile and says, “Of course you have to clean first. Gotta make room for the new life to come in.”


Wait, wait. There’s more.

So then, I’m telling her about how I got onto my purging kick in the first place with this book* and how it’s really made me think about where I want my life to go. But I feel like if my next step leads in the wrong direction, I’ll end up in another box. My intuition has been on the fritz lately; I’m uncertain about stepping anywhere. And I’m terrified of boxes.

And we’re talking about Dan’s job. It was supposed to last two years, but now Dan’s saying he’d be surprised if it lasts through the summer. And this is the last construction job in town, so we seriously need a new plan. We discuss it regularly and I’m trying real hard to stay positive and not blow into full panic.

Something. We’re in desperate need of something. A new plan. A steady course. Just-- something.

Ms C says, “Well. Just don’t be like that guy on the Titanic. You know, the guy who’s praying Please God please get me out of this please please please. And he’s got his eyes shut tight, he’s praying so hard, and getting more upset and wondering where is God, why aren’t his prayers being answered. And he ends up going down with the ship. When he gets to heaven, he asks God all angry, ‘Why didn’t you help me? I was praying the whole time!’ And God says, ‘Yeah. And there was a lifeboat right there.’ ”

When we’re lost, we want searchlights and rescue helicopters. Dramatic unmistakable neon signs to herd us back to the main road. But the thing that’s actually going to save our asses is the lifeboat over in that cobwebby corner.

The Other House is our lifeboat right now. It’s not solid land, the way a job would be. It’s just a boat. It gets us from where we are to somewhere yet to be determined. And much as I would prefer a fully-equipped vessel in which to chart new waters-- well, I'll take the leaky lifeboat any day over going down with the ship.

Plus, we can’t move anywhere with the smoking hull of the Titanic in our way. We need to row far away from that shit and let it sink. Clear the waters. Make room for our new ship to come in.

*It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff by Peter Walsh. I tripped and fell right into it. I was researching sustainability and green living at the library and this book came up in the search results, so I requested it along with a half-dozen others. Only it’s not really about sustainability; it’s about organizing. Except it’s not about about organizing your crap, it’s about organizing your life as a result of organizing your crap. I can’t explain it. Just buy it. Seriously great book.


Cranky Joe (or, Save the Arts Program)

When Miss G is all fidgety, I call her Squirrely Joe. When she's bossy, she's Micro-Managey Joe. When she's off or withdrawn, she's my Sad Joe.

Today, I am Cranky Joe.

I was cranky on Sunday, so I didn't post. Figured I’d wait till I was less cranky, but here we are at Tuesday and Cranky Joe still stands in full force. Grouchy and surly with his arms crossed.

Among the contributing factors is discovering that my alma mater is axing their lone art history professor (one of the best teachers I've ever had, as well as one of the most continuously fierce student and art program advocates) and two other full-time visual arts teachers.

This possibly means no more art program at all at the university.

No more BFA is semi-understandable; it’s a springboard degree into graduate school and not much else. Not sure how useful it is in the grand scheme of things, even though I have my very own framed up on my wall. So if it were just that, I'd be grumbly but at least it would make some kind of sense to me.

But these cuts won't just amputate the BFA. They could very well sever the whole program. No more BA in Visual Arts for artists who want more variety and less concentration than a BFA. No more Arts Education degree training new art teachers to pass beauty and inspiration down to the next generation.

The Ed-Arts building will be oddly named just "Ed."

I understand budget cuts. I really do. I understand times are tough everywhere. But the arts program is not just a budget cut to me.

When Miss G's dad moved out, I lost the future we'd planned out together. I needed a new one, needed it frantically and as soon as possible. I found it at the college across the street. I uncovered solid ground when I thought none remained. The skills I learned there brought me to where I am now, having spent the last slew of years painting murals and wood grains and applying gold leaf in high-end Las Vegas casinos. Because of my degree and that program, I know how to market my husband's sculptures and helped craft his resume; he has works in office buildings now, and even had one of his sculptures accepted into our citywide sculpture walk.

I've had a bunch of different majors through my college career but not one of them was a home like the arts program at BSU.  And it's not just me. Those classes were a lifeline for every person taking them, pulling us out of whatever mire we'd landed in, lifting us out of dry days of academic lectures. Something to follow to a new life.

There's always someone fun in one of the studios, someone who brings a coffee maker to their work station and offers you a cup. Someone who takes a break from soldering or slapping clay around to give you a shoulder to cry on or bum you a smoke. Someone willing to help you stretch a canvas or help you light your show or hang posters. The professors there don’t just give you grades, they give you life advice and career direction. I have no idea if BSU has student counselors; I didn’t need one. I had art professors.

It’s not a program. It’s a community. It's a family. One I miss every single day.

My classmates went on to open their own pottery studios and galleries or continued to grad schools. They've won awards and been featured in books. They've enriched small towns, contributed to the diversity of larger ones. They've become teachers in grade schools and art therapists healing broken spirits. And that's just the ones I know about.

The arts program doesn't bring in the kind of revenue a hockey game does? Okay, I get that. Then brainstorm ways to make it more viable. Charge for gallery shows. Hold silent auctions. Bring in visiting artists. Scrounge up grants, shuffle priorities. Instead of keeping the arts program at bay like a red-headed stepchild, embrace it. Learn its strengths. Make it work for the University instead of ignoring it and hoping it’ll go away. Because it will eventually go away, and the school and surrounding community will be poorer for it.

In high school, we did this project where we had to invent a civilization. Each civilization, we were told, has universal elements. Things like a system of government. Currency. And one of the elements was art. I remember, because it struck me as funny. Currency, government-- sure. But art? Art as necessary to civilization?

Yes. God, yes.



View upon walking in the front door

Looking right from the front door

These are real bricks, but the faux paint job is so terrible they look fake.

We ripped these kitchen cabinets out over the weekend.

A bedroom

Nothin' but potential in this yard. Seriously. Nothing.


Wheelbarrow for Grandma

My in-laws are now officially relocated to Hawaii, as of this past Monday. They shipped some stuff to themselves, packed a couple suitcases, then sort of vaguely waved a hand at their house and told us, “Just get a big shovel for the rest.”

So, I slogged through this week hip-deep in dusty knick-knacks, knitting supplies and mismatched dishes, assembling everything into a pile for the nice charity pick-up men. It’s been very cathartic; there’s a real satisfaction in transforming clutter from disaster to tidy piles and empty rooms. A clean palette is good for the soul.

Dan’s parents keep apologizing “Sorry to leave you with this!” and we keep reassuring them, it’s no problem. And really, it isn’t. Sifting through almost thirty years’ worth of accumulation is, in fact, less overwhelming than dealing with our own house.

When we first bought our place, we did so with a flush bank account, two great-paying incomes and all the skills required for remodeling. We’d fix it up, live in it for a while, and sell it at profit to move somewhere else when the girls are finished with high school.

In the intervening three years, things took a crazy wrong turn. Jobs dwindled into spotty work and then unemployment, followed too quickly by lawyers and court fees. Then the housing market crashed; now whatever we put in, we’ll never get back. Our motivation has fizzled out, and so have our remodeling funds. I look around and I can’t see potential in this house anymore. Only unfinished plans and frustration.

So, when Dan’s folks begged us for the umpteenth time to please rent their house after they move, we finally agreed. It’s a terrible time to sell, and the house is only a few years from paid off; if we take it over, they won’t have to deal with renters or leave the place vacant.

But really, we’re the ones who win. In my family, we call it a ‘wheelbarrow for Grandma.’ That is, a present you give to someone else that’s really for you. We’re cleaning out the house and renting it which helps them out, sure. But in return, we get a huge break on our cost of living and a fresh start. We’ll fix it up, move our crap over there (it’s only 6 houses away from ours), then finish remodeling our current house. Then unload that chi-blocking albatross.

Whenever they thank us, I feel like thanking them instead. I love a plan where everyone wins.


A spankin' fresh year.

I love a new year. And poised at the edge of 2011, I feel all thick with potential, like I’m on the brink of something perfect-- a funny combination of slipping into my favorite t-shirt fresh from the dryer and combining it with boots that are ten feet tall.

The more distance I put between me and 2009, the happier I get. Now that the barricade’s a nice solid twelve months deep, I can finally slow down enough to look around again. Enjoy the scenery a little. Notice that there is scenery.

On New Year’s Eve, we went out for Thai food. My fortune cookie said, “Your path is arduous but will be amply rewarding.”

Was, I thought. Was arduous. Now it’s time for the ‘amply rewarding’ portion of our show.

Welcome, 2011.