Monday, October 1, 2012

Make Something Beautiful

Last week our local art house theatre, the Gold Town Nickelodeon brought the documentary Beauty is Embarrassing, a film about the work of Wayne White.  Colette, the theater manager and a good friend, also arranged for a live Skype session with White and the director Neil Berkely after the film.  While he’s made tons and tons of work, White is most famous for his design work for Pee Wee’s Playhouse.  Pee Wee’s Playhouse, and another show that White worked on, Shining Time Station, were two of my absolute favorite shows when I was a kid. 

Weird, beautiful, creative, goofy, all that good stuff.

The documentary has lots of sweet notes with White’s family and so much of the film reminded me of family members, especially the Trolls and the Isons.

But the biggest message, and it’s one that made me think of so many of the people in our community, was that if you do anything with your time, you should make art.  And make art all the time.  Make weird, beautiful, fun, silly art.  Don’t be shy, just create create create.  Anything, especially all those discarded pieces of scrap you can never figure out what to do with, can be art.  It’s the spirit behind Wearable Art, behind Fran Downey’s zip tie art, behind Ryan Cortez’s wind-chime, behind the nail-gun world map on the dock, all that stuff.

I’ve got serious derby-brain right now, maybe because we just had our first bout of the season, and maybe because I just put together a derby-focused guest post for The Better Bombshell, but when I think about what it is I create in my community, what beauty I help to contribute to, roller derby is way up there.

Our very first bout consisted of our two home-teams battling it out in front of a sold-out crowd.  No one in Juneau knew what derby was, and still 500 people bought tickets, drank beer, yelled their heads off, and couldn’t talk about anything else for the next month.  My team lost.  But the only thing that I could think about was:

We just made something beautiful.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Try Try Again

While I sing all the time, as in, either constantly in my head or out loud, I don't really play the guitar that much.  Maybe a couple of hours a week, if that.

Why is this a problem?

The problem is I want to hold my own in a band or a duo or whatever group of people I play with and realistically, to do that you have to play an instrument as well as sing.

So the idea is to be a bad-ass guitar player.  But to be the kind of bad-ass guitar player I would want to be, and that Andrew seems to want me to be, it would take as much obsession with guitar playing as I have with singing.

From our first performance as a duo.
I keep telling Andrew that I want to record a cd.  He keeps saying I need to work on my guitar.  Finally, a month ago, the discussion/argument came to a head when I realized that when we talk about making a cd as good as we can possibly make it, we mean different things.  

He means that we should work on my instrument (his is off-the-charts fine already) and our singing until it's professional quality and at its peak.  

Whereas I'm coming from more of a developing writers angle, which is that part of becoming professional is learning, producing, creating, exposing, and putting your stuff out there knowing that it will be better later.

It makes sense to me that we constantly develop as artists and that we shouldn't be embarrassed to publish/perform while we're still developing.  Because that's how you develop.  It's natural that your first effort will not be your best (at least that's the goal), but that through your first effort, you learn more about yourself and your process.

More often than not, it's an artists fearlessness that I admire most.  Because it's always scary.  At least I always find it scary to put myself out there.  And I believe in the fear, I believe that it should be scary, otherwise, the chances are what you're doing isn't really exposing as much as you should be.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Stuff, Stuff, Stuff, and More Stuff

I love presents.  LOVE presents.  I love giving them.  I love receiving them.  I love wrapping and unwrapping them.  I love talking about presents before and after they’ve been given.  I love guessing what wrapped presents are.  I love Christmas presents, birthday presents, travel presents, just-because presents.

All of it.  All of it except maybe the fact that most of the time, giving and receiving presents = adding to the accumulation of stuff, both in my life and in someone else’s.

So I spend a lot of time trying to come up with presents for people that are intangible (food, travel, events).  If I can’t come up with something like that, then I settle for a present that is super useful, but enough of a splurge to make it special.

Obviously, Christmas is the big kahuna of stuff and present holidays.  With so many people to get gifts for, how do you stay away from stuff-syndrome?  And what do you do with all the stuff you receive?

This Christmas was an especially hard stuff-Christmas in some major ways.  The biggest of which had to do with several deaths and moves in both my and Andrew’s family.  Andrew’s grandmother died two Christmases ago and his Great Uncle Stu died this Spring.  With Andrew’s parents moving into a new house, we had been prepared by Andrew’s folks that we would need to go through some stuff and see if there was anything we wanted.

Andrew and his mother went through boxes and boxes of beautiful old things.  I mostly left them to it, but every once in a while would be consulted as to whether we needed something. 

I have a weakness for small animal figurines, especially if they’re made out of metal or wood.  And I especially like little fat pigs.  (Who knows why?  I certainly don’t understand it, but put me in a room full of stuff and if one item has a pig on it, that’ll be the only thing I pick up).  So when Andrew’s mother asked me if I wanted two small ceramic piggy banks that used to belong to Andrew’s great aunts, I had a mental battle.

Normally I would’ve automatically said no - I already have too many pigs, too many animals, I’m already threatening to turn into one of those ladies with shelves and shelves of small creatures.  But they had belonged to Andrew’s great aunts.  Which despite anything else, imbued them with the quality of a family treasure.  They were the kind of little piggy banks a child would own, although they had never been smashed, so possibly never used.  I could imagine his aunts holding them in their tiny hands, shaking them, trying to remember how many pennies had been dropped inside.  By owning these little pigs I could bring his family history into our home, have a connection sitting there on the shelf.

But they were just little ceramic pigs.  Clutter.  StuffStuff that would be added to all of our other stuff which we would then add more stuff to until our house was overflowing with cute little pigs and more and more stuff.

I turned them down.

This weekend I brought home a bag of items that my mother had set aside of my Aunt Mimi’s stuff.  I wasn’t able to join the family when they went through her home so I told my folks that all I wanted was one or two small meaningful mementos.  That I didn’t want stuff.

Me and my Aunt Mimi at her wedding.  I was the flower girl.
When I opened the bag she had packed, I didn’t know what to expect.  I found a couple of pieces of clothing, a serving plate, and a hand mirror.  Honestly, nothing that I would normally keep.  And sitting there, looking at my Aunt Mimi’s things, I realized that it was okay for me not to keep them.

Because people don’t exist in their stuff.

My Aunt Mimi doesn’t live in her stuff.  And owning her stuff wasn’t going to help me remember her or help me keep her memory alive.  It was really just going to make me unhappy to have more stuff to keep track of.

My cousin Alex spoke at the start of my Aunt Mimi’s memorial this weekend and gave the opening prayer.  He spoke about how my Aunt Mimi reminded him of Matthew 6:19-20:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.

Alex talked about how my Aunt Mimi never saved up for earthly treasures, she didn’t save up for stuff.  She never owned a new car, or a nice TV, or a big house.  She saved up to go visit family and friends, to take trips to see people she loved, and to care for her dogs.

And I keep thinking about stuff.  About how we somehow equate stuff with success, and after people are gone, we equate stuff with our loved ones.  And how weird that is.  And how my cousin Alex is right, and my Aunt Mimi is right, the only stuff worth saving for is the stuff that isn’t stuff, it’s food for dinners with loved ones, tickets to concerts and plays you’ll never forget, and most importantly trips to see family and friends.  That the only thing really worth spending money on is whatever you have to in order to create memories with the people you love.