A Late Night in Pittsburgh: Compare/ Contrast

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Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the dark hours of my being.
My mind deepens into them.
There I can find, as in old letters,
the days of my life, already lived,
and held like a legend, and understood.”

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Assata Shakur 

I believe in living.
I believe in the spectrum
of Beta days and Gamma people.
I believe in sunshine.
In windmills and waterfalls,
tricycles and rocking chairs.
And i believe that seeds grow into sprouts.
And sprouts grow into trees.
I believe in the magic of the hands.
And in the wisdom of the eyes.
I believe in rain and tears.
And in the blood of infinity.
I believe in life.
And i have seen the death parade
march through the torso of the earth,
sculpting mud bodies in its path.
I have seen the destruction of the daylight,
and seen bloodthirsty maggots
prayed to and saluted.
I have seen the kind become the blind
and the blind become the bind
in one easy lesson.
I have walked on cut glass.
I have eaten crow and blunder bread
and breathed the stench of indifference.
I have been locked by the lawless.
Handcuffed by the haters.
Gagged by the greedy.
And, if i know any thing at all,
it’s that a wall is just a wall
and nothing more at all.
It can be broken down.
I believe in living.
I believe in birth.
I believe in the sweat of love
and in the fire of truth.
And i believe that a lost ship,
steered by tired, seasick sailors,
can still be guided home
to port.

Mirages — or, the Power of Forgiveness

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Great accomplishment seems imperfect,
Yet it does not outlive its usefulness.
Great fullness seems empty,
Yet it cannot be exhausted.

Great straightforwardness seems twisted.
Great intelligence seems stupid.
Great eloquence seems awkward.

Movement overcomes cold.
Stillness overcomes heat.
Stillness and tranquility set things in order in the universe.

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In my house, near the door, there is an old mirror that I gleaned from my parents’ camp house in Salisbury Cove, before it was torn down sometime in the fall of 1999. The mirror is chipped and faded: covered in scratches, you can hardly see any reflection but light. Tucked in one of its corners is the mantra: to err is human, to forgive divine.

For a few years now, I have posted this mantra in two places: by my front door, and on the wall of my studio-workspace. I look at it multiple times each day and think about what it means for that specific day and time. For the most part, I seek forgiveness of myself: for my mistakes, for my actions, and sometimes, for my speech.

When I returned from Austin last week, late on Tuesday night, I found my home changed. No longer was it the comforting, cozy space that I had left. Instead, it was a comforting and cozy home in which I live alone, on 10 acres, far off in the distant lands of Maine. After ten days in the light and love of friends and discovering new love, I came to Maine changed. I realized that I have a powerful and profound sense of positivity, and this is something that I can hold in my heart as a true strength, despite any and all adversities that are flung at me. However, as in all things, it is valuable to take time to reevaluate circumstances and belief systems when they are presented with alternative truths and/or realizations.

About a week ago, I took off on a road trip to West Texas with my best friend of many years. We camped in Marfa and in Presidio, Texas, and we drove through Big Bend. On our first night out in the desert, we made bean tacos in a community kitchen and camped in the parking lot of a place called El Cosmico. We drank tequila and smoked cigarettes whilst wearing hoodies. We laughed and we cried, but mostly laughed. We stared at stars. We talked about friends and lovers and life and husbands and divorces, change and acceptance and the present. It was, to me, one of the highlights of our friendship. The next night, we met a gaggle of strangers and later left them to perform some rituals in the dark that involved prayers for presence, prayers for strength, prayers for forgiveness, and a genuine desire to strive to be happy. In the darkness of the Chinati mountains, with a frog chorus behind us, we lit some words and some photographs on fire, we stamped them out from this world into the next, and we drank more tequila and laughed and cried and told stories to each other and thanked each other for the other one’s time.

Upon returning to Maine, I was forced to reevaluate that positive attitude that I am so proud of. I realized that maybe I was missing some things, or kidding myself, somehow. I realized that the vision of myself as an axe-wielding, blizzard-braving woman who lives in a cabin in Maine was missing some huge pieces: namely, the love of old friends and the love of one who sees your darkness and wants to walk with you, anyway. In Austin, I was almost constantly struck with the beautiful merging of those two relationships, for my friend-family in Austin not only have loved me for years, but recognize my darkness and choose to love me, anyway. Perhaps this is the mark of true friendship: something I have been lucky enough to find here, as well. And in a mystical universal bonus, I found one old friend who wanted to hold my hand and gaze into my eyes and love me and walk with me. When I think about those ten days, it is with utter awe that I reflect upon them, for I feel like my large and open heart, one that keeps growing as time goes by, was rewarded a million fold by those who already lay within it: my friends, my loves of my life.

In this cabin, late at night on a weekday, as I sit in the light of an old brass lamp and listen to music on a tiny speaker, watching the crackle of wood in the wood stove, I am almost constantly reminded of Jackie’s kitchen with its loteria cards, of Rodi’s laughter in the West Texas desert, of Chuck’s maligning of roses in his living room vase, of Angel’s tarot trailer, of Cody’s garden and the stars that shone out above him, of Bob’s studio and his knowing smile, of Julie’s tears and honesty, of Martha sitting in her office in her purple silk shirt, of the movement and changes of all the people who formed my family of friends for twelve years. It is the history of our lives, the mystery of the wending and waving paths of life, that forms our concept of love and life and friendship. While I have loved my time here, and I truly have: having grown from a broken and bent version of myself to the stronger and resilient and more prone to humor version that presents itself now, I have done so with a sense of resolute solitude and independence. However, whilst in Austin, not only did I realize that I ran away from my life of many years, from my family and friends, but that I was a critical part of a net, a spider’s web, of people, who would never really let me go no matter how long I stayed away. So while I felt truly alone, which I did, especially in the fall-winter of 2012, all my loved ones regarded me from afar with love, kept the net close and strong, and waited with love for me to visit them again.

There is a great comfort in change and realization and personal growth. There is a message in this from the universe, and that message is the one tacked up on a piece of white paper, written in blue pen, decorated with squiggles and eyeballs and hearts: to err is human, but to forgive, divine.

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A Love Story

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

- Roald Dahl

This story begins in 2002, when I was 21 years old. I was sitting in a parking lot of an office park in Southeast Austin, hanging out with friends and a new boyfriend who had just returned from a long road trip to Mexico. I was sitting on the hood of an old Bronco, drinking beers in the afternoon sunlight of a hot Texas day. I finished a beer and a tall and lanky fellow grabbed my empty, scooted off, and returned with a full one for me. This is how I met Cody Creech.

We hung out a lot in those days, that group of friends, partying and eating dinner at each other’s houses. Cody had started his tattoo shop and it had been painted by his friend Jason with desert and alien scenes in plaster. Two years later, I received my first tattoo from Cody: a cicada to mark the 14 year cicada brood of 2004. It was the largest brood of cicadas in many a year, and the cicada, traditionally, was a symbol of wisdom and morality. I was graduating from college soon and also getting married. When I got married, to that same boyfriend who was so new two years before, we held a wedding on a shoestring budget of $5000. We got married at a sculpture garden and had the reception in our backyard. We rented chairs to sit on, and couldn’t afford to get chairs in both locations. I remember talking to Cody about our conundrum, and he and a friend of his managed to find a truck, load the chairs, move them to the reception and set them up for us before we got there.

Cody had been dating a woman and they ended up pregnant with a son who was also born in 2004. I remember talking to Cody about becoming a father and the stress of that on top of a new business. I remember that he was dedicated to his little boy, even before he was born, and had drawn his ultrasound in white pencil on a black background and hung it up in the shop.

Soon thereafter, my husband and I moved to Mexico, and before we left, I went to Cody’s shop and dropped off some fish for his fish tank and my prized Ludisia discolor, a jewel orchid that I loved very much. I thought it would look good in the shop and knew he would take care of it. We lived in Mexico for about a year, and then moved to New York briefly before returning to Austin in the early days of 2006. We lived in an apartment before buying our friend’s house in East Austin. We had had many parties at that house, with that same group of friends who had, long ago now, been on that trip to Mexico.

When we returned, Cody and I started on a giant tattoo project that originally was supposed to be very small. He tattooed my heart on my sleeve and surrounded it with growing apple branches and rosemary, for remembrance. At the time, I was working way too hard and long at a very difficult school, and was swamped with work and responsibilities. My marriage was not going as smoothly as I had hoped, as we couldn’t really communicate through problems and my husband was having trouble figuring out what he wanted to do. I was overcompensating and taking care of everything, and the toll of the stress of it all impacted our home life in palpable ways. Over time, we grew apart. Over time, Cody and I worked on that tattoo, coloring it after a couple of years of black and white. Once, we went to have dinner at a taqueria on the side of 290, a crazy stucco place that looks like a space pod, and then I sat in his shop all night grading papers while he drew up the final details of the tattoo.

Cody moved shops sometime around 2007 I think, to a great new space in the heart of downtown. I was proud of him and excited for him; he was going through a lot but still maintained his philosophy of love and care and compassion despite the stresses of his daily and home life. He was struggling with the details of life, but remained stalwart and kind. I always enjoyed our time together and our deep talks.

By 2009, my marriage had fallen apart and ended, and we had sold that house that had held so many parties with our loved ones and friends. I was living in a tiny house in Hyde Park, and Cody and I were still working on that dang tattoo; adding color here and there, but mostly, our tattoo sessions were long talks that lasted hours and the tattooing was pretty minimal.

On New Years Eve of 201q, my friends Rodi and Lyndsy and I were invited to a party and arrived not knowing anyone, but armed with a giant bottle of Bulleit Bourbon, succeeded in meeting many people. We were all smoking outside at one point, and Cody happened to be sitting on the porch, smoking as well. It had been a while since I had seen him and was very happy to see his face and listen to his funny stories about what was new in his life. At midnight, we were inside the living room, drunk and in the half light of the Christmas lights, and I kissed him, immediately remembered I had a boyfriend, and we laughed and he said it was ok. Somehow we missed each other in the goodbye phase of the evening, and I didn’t see him again.

In early 2011, I decided to leave Austin for points North. I couldn’t deal with the memory bombs of my present, felt ashamed for many decisions I had made, and decided to make a geographical change to see if it would help. Off I went, in a giant truck, for Philadelphia and to begin what would be the hardest year of my life.

Time passed, and in the interim, I would often think of him because I saw his art on my arms every day. I came back to visit in the fall of 2012 and tried to find him, but didn’t. I think that his shop had been sold out from underneath him, and for whatever reason, during that week, we didn’t find each other to catch up and talk about the world in which we found ourselves. I stayed in Maine, always wanting to go to Austin but afraid to make the trip that I feared would be fraught with the pain of the past. That is, afraid until about two months ago, when I bit the bullet and bought a ticket south.

Turns out that everyone I love had kept moving and working, just as I had. Turns out that Austin had grown and changed and was full with what seemed like ten times the amount of people that were there when I left. Turns out that facing the past meant that it didn’t mean as much anymore, and I was able to enjoy myself and my time with my friends and my time in the beautiful Texas sunshine. Turns out that I missed it, a lot, and realized that maybe my homesickness meant more than I had thought. Two of my best friends, for the last three years, have asked me to come home, and I militantly said no. I said no out of fear and out of a sense of “you gotta make it wherever you are”, but when I was home, seeing everyone so productive and motivated and happy, I realized that I missed that spirit and those feelings.

On Monday morning, I was texting friends to see who was around at the awful time of 7 in the morning. I thought of Cody, not even knowing if his phone number was still the same. I texted him that I was in town and wanted to see him. Immediately he texted me back, saying “what? you’re here? I’ll call you later when it gets closer to quittin’ time”. I thought, maybe he will, maybe he will forget, but, being Cody, he didn’t and called me right at 5:30. We talked for an hour and then he came over to pick me up so that we could go and cook dinner at the farm where he is now living in Southwest Austin, out on the road to Driftwood. He showed me around the farm, I hung out with his roommates and their dogs, and we talked the whole time, cooking pasta in the tiny kitchen of his trailer, drinking beers and laughing and talking about philosophy and belief systems and what was going on in life. Later, we were outside in the gardens, looking at the stars, and I told him a little about Philly, but mostly about how I loved the stars and could see the same constellations from the top of my driveway. He laughed and said how glad he was that I was there, and I said the same thing. He hugged me, and I him, and he asked me if I remembered kissing him on New Years five years ago. I said yes, and that I was sorry and that I was really drunk. He said he’d been thinking about it for five years and would I like to kiss him, again. I said yes.

A couple of days later, hanging out in his trailer, I had my hand on his heart and his on mine. A day or so before, we had talked about how we had always liked each other but never could do anything about it due to life circumstances, but that we had a lot of love for each other and truly loved the other one. In that moment, while he was wearing an orange shirt and standing in the doorway of his kitchen, he said to me “this is so great!” and I said, “this IS so great.” In that moment, I recognized a sense of love that I didn’t really understand until right then. I realized that the cliche of “when you find the person, you will know” was absolutely right, and that I wanted to be with this person, this gentle, strong, stubborn, beautiful and quirky person, always. I wanted to hold his hand to my heart and his to mine for a long, long time.

Over the next week, we spent as much time with each other as we could, talking about what to do and how to be together, and how neither of us had had an experience quite like this before. We went and got tacos one day and I told him I was nervous because I liked him so much. He pressed me to give more details. He told me he didn’t know what to do since I live in Maine and he in Texas. I told him that, in my opinion, once you find the person, all the other stuff is just details. He asked me if that was really how I felt, and I said yes, and he said the same thing but that he had been worried that I was just going to go back to Maine and forget about him. I told him that people like him hardly ever come around, if at all, and that I loved him and wasn’t going anywhere.

Soon, after my week of enlightening experiences, facing the past, seeing the present, and being inspired by my wonderful family of friends, I had decided to come back to Austin for the winter. Long have I tried to become friends with Maine winter, and this year, she just plumb beat me with all the snow and the dark. I decided to be a snowbird. Late one night, in the airstream trailer that is fast becoming a greenhouse, we were laying around and I told him about my plan. He offered to come and help me move in the fall, and I said, “you would do that?”. He told me that there was very little that he wouldn’t do for me.

So here we are: in love and about 2000 miles apart, for the moment. But as he said, after five years, another six months just doesn’t matter. Oh yeah, and that Ludisia discolor that I had given to him ten years ago now resides in the kitchen window of his roomate’s house, blooming like crazy in the sunlight. He had macramed a pot holder for it and given it to his roommates. He said to me, “see? You’ve been here the whole time!”So my lesson in this, lovely readers, is that you never know what might happen when, after some serious soul searching in a new place, you go home and see an old friend in the early spring in central Texas.

I think it was about dang time for a love story here, don’t you?

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A Vintage Valentine

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“Only once in your life, I truly believe, you find someone who can completely turn your world around. You tell them things that you’ve never shared with another soul and they absorb everything you say and actually want to hear more. You share hopes for the future, dreams that will never come true, goals that were never achieved and the many disappointments life has thrown at you. When something wonderful happens, you can’t wait to tell them about it, knowing they will share in your excitement. They are not embarrassed to cry with you when you are hurting or laugh with you when you make a fool of yourself. Never do they hurt your feelings or make you feel like you are not good enough, but rather they build you up and show you the things about yourself that make you special and even beautiful. There is never any pressure, jealousy or competition but only a quiet calmness when they are around. You can be yourself and not worry about what they will think of you because they love you for who you are. The things that seem insignificant to most people such as a note, song or walk become invaluable treasures kept safe in your heart to cherish forever. Memories of your childhood come back and are so clear and vivid it’s like being young again. Colours seem brighter and more brilliant. Laughter seems part of daily life where before it was infrequent or didn’t exist at all. A phone call or two during the day helps to get you through a long day’s work and always brings a smile to your face. In their presence, there’s no need for continuous conversation, but you find you’re quite content in just having them nearby. Things that never interested you before become fascinating because you know they are important to this person who is so special to you. You think of this person on every occasion and in everything you do. Simple things bring them to mind like a pale blue sky, gentle wind or even a storm cloud on the horizon. You open your heart knowing that there’s a chance it may be broken one day and in opening your heart, you experience a love and joy that you never dreamed possible. You find that being vulnerable is the only way to allow your heart to feel true pleasure that’s so real it scares you. You find strength in knowing you have a true friend and possibly a soul mate who will remain loyal to the end. Life seems completely different, exciting and worthwhile. Your only hope and security is in knowing that they are a part of your life.” 
― Bob Marley

At the End of January

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Coming home, I light a fire: coaxing flames and warmth from cold and sometimes frozen wood.

Glowing embers, twinkling lights, and old brass lamps brighten my small home that is blanketed by cloudy yet starry skies and surrounded by a sea of glimmering January snow.

On the stove is a red pot of beef stew, and in the oven bakes cornbread in an old cast iron skillet.

“I am lonely, yet not everybody will do. I don’t know why, some people fill the gaps and others emphasize my loneliness. In reality those who satisfy me are those who simply allow me to live with my ”idea of them.” – Anais Nin 

Amidst the Blizzard

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Here we are, about 22 hours into a blizzard, with warnings of more to come tomorrow. I am shocked by the amount of snow outside and also dismayed that my epic shoveling attempts have now been completely covered over by more and more snow. After a walk in 40 mph gusts, staring at the snow flurries blowing over my desolate stretch of highway, it is natural that my heart and mind start….wandering.

I spent this evening making artwork for a restaurant in Bar Harbor, a place I truly love and for which I have been given carte blanche this season. During this process, I began researching hobo poems.

This was my favorite:

I’m wondering son with the nervous feet,
That never were meant for a steady beat,
I’ve had many a job for a little while,
I’ve been on the bum and I’ve lived in style;
And there was the road, stretchin’ mile after mile,
And nothing to do but go.

Good words to think about: ideas to ponder whilst one is stuck inside, listening to the whistling wind and wondering what is in store for us tomorrow…

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When Things Get Weird

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I wrote this text earlier to a friend of mine, and it was about socks. I said something to the effect of “don’t make me come over there and throw them all around to show you to appreciate what you have!”. After texting that little gem over, I realized something, which was that I needed to read that statement as much as I snarkily needed to send it.

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This post is not about socks, obviously, although I am a huge collector of socks and really, really appreciate them, especially on days when it is hovering around 0 degrees. Right now, as I write this, I am wearing two pairs of socks, thigh highs and silk tights, a wool cardigan and a wool hat that was almost snaked off my head last night by an unmentionable character. But that is another story.

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I have been thinking about winter, about things getting weird, about analogies like sharks and minnows. In short, winter is beginning and so are the deep thoughts: the thoughts that cover things like: what am I doing? How am I doing it? Am I doing it well enough? What do others think of what I am doing? What do I think of others? What is the meaning of all of it? Is it temporary or is it really a giant game of dominoes, sometimes cascading quickly and sometimes piece by piece?

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It is January 6th, 2015. On January 6th, 2010, I was living in a small house with white walls in Hyde Park in Central Austin. On January 6th, 2005, I was living in a small apartment with orange walls in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico. On January 6th, 2000 I was living in a terrible but cheap apartment with tapestries on the walls in South Austin. On January 6th, 1995 I was a freshman in high school in Conroe, Texas, and was learning alot about people. I had met my first love and was tossing around the idea of having a boyfriend for the first time, not yet knowing that I had met my first love because at that time, we just shared Capri Suns and tangerines at debate tournaments.

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I was just reading another blog by a very talented flower artist, Sarah of SAIPUA, and she mentioned the self-indulgent nature of end of the year wrap-ups and instead focused on goals and hopes for the new year. I am hoping (ha!) to do the same as her: instead of focusing on what happened, because holy hell what a year, I am looking ahead knowing what is behind. She made a statement in her year-end review to the effect of hoping that she keeps doing what she is doing with love and intention, and that it doesn’t get weird, and neither does she. Her quote “…I hope I don’t get weird. Because that shit happens in the creative world, you and I both know it” really hit me, because “getting weird” is something I do think about in terms of being an artist. In myself, I know myself to be an ethically conservative, politically liberal person who looks to outside observers, probably, like a tattered bouquet or a well-traveled moth: many colors thrown together, prints, patterns, textures, all topped with wild and crazy curly dark hair and eyes that are green-blue-grey, irises ringed in dark. I am distinctly black Irish in appearance, in my face: in my clothes, I am a walking ad for loud prints that somehow complement each other most of the time.

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I am getting off topic. Things Getting Weird — whether this is with self, with space, or with vocation, it is something that I worry about. I am embarking on this life that very much evolves every day, in the sense that there is no outside structure that I am working within anymore, like I did when I was teaching in the public schools. Now I am inventing the structure, embarking on what I hope will be a huge adventure that sustains me emotionally, spiritually and financially as well as providing space and skills to others who wish to hone them. At this point, after these last two years, my contention is that artistic expression and care for yourself and others is THE answer to THE question of Why. We are here for each other, we are here to create beauty, we are here to make the world a more beautiful place, a better place.

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I know that artists, typically, see the world through a more colorful lens than other people. I only know how I see the world, being that I am only privy to my own experience. I know that I have always seen the world my way and have sought to express my feelings within it by making things for as long as I can remember. When I was five I was carving stamps out of linoleum and trying to watercolor clouds on blue sky backgrounds. Soon after, I learned to sew. Later, I learned how to bead, and then to make jewelry. Somewhere in the middle there I started making the boxes that are my favorite things to make, the assemblage sculptures as they are technically described.

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I also know that artists are regarded with a bit of chagrin from the general public: our passion and our emotions are regarded as questionable in a sense, despite the fact that the general public benefits from our ideas as they are constructed through physical objects like paintings or clothing or jewelry or sculptures. I know that our strong connection to our emotional selves can sometimes be overwhelming, although I suspect that all people, even hedge fund managers, get overwhelmed by emotions some of the time. Sometimes artists are regarded as lazy or flaky, and while our behaviors may dictate those judgements (mine definitely do), it is often that our thought processes, our spinning wheels if you will, are diving into the Weird, into the Dark, into the Heart of the matters of our lives. Without those dives, nothing we would create would have the meaning to ourselves or to those who consume our artworks. Oftentimes, I find that people find meaning in small elements, in the minutiae, and that in my creations, people will see things entirely different than what was my intention or my take away from a creation. I like the personal and the profundity of objects: our markers of our time on the Earth. Many artists, I know, fall from time to time into what I call the Deep Well: the mental cage of fragility and doubt and loneliness that can cloud and confuse our judgement of others and of ourselves.

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So, when things get weird in the creative world, as they are bound to do, how do we communicate out of those spaces so that the weird doesn’t become crippling, or that we truly distance ourselves from everyone, regardless of their merit? In other words, how do we maintain the creativity as a positive force, and not just a vomitous outpouring of emotion and insecurity? How do we maintain and function despite the delicate ins and outs of our conscious and subconscious beings? As I continue along this path that I have taken, a path to create a school and opportunities for more artistic resources in this community, I have to consistently take stock of how my own worries about how others see me is really not a part of the project as a whole. What I make is my own, what I do is my own, what others take away from it is theirs. Lately, I have been working hard on understanding that I have to have the confidence to do what I believe in, and that everyone may not like me or understand my choices along this path, but that if I am true to my heart, then that is what is most important.

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This is rather a lengthy and rambling treatise of fear of the unknown and expectations of a new year; I need to stop for a moment and remember that the fear of failure, or fear of disappointment, is illogical and also immaterial. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is what I do on the Earth, because for my own experience, my own self worth, is predicated by decisions that I make for myself.

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What is the takeaway here? What do I mean: what do I want to say? Little else than I am trying to look forward and spend less time in the far ago. I am going to try to be more emotionally available, finally, and this means that I am also becoming more responsible and less selfish. I am going to try to be more comfortable in my colorful skin: to connect the pieces of myself within myself and not doubt it all so much. I am going to have more fun.  I am trying to stay true to my beliefs and be okay with being a little bit odd, but not become “too weird”, because you and I both know that shit can happen. Art and the business of art is a beautiful way to live in and create a world, one for yourself and one for others.

Maybe I am the shark, and maybe I am the minnow. Maybe I am both.

{…all paintings in this post are by Egon Schiele}