I Did It Myself…*to* Myself

Do It Yourself (DIY) projects, when well executed and realized, are impressive and admirable. They double one’s pleasure in the end product by being not only beautiful and useful as desired but also the satisfying result of her own skilled labors. Personal investment increase value exponentially.

I can claim a few DIY accomplishments on my resume, happily, despite my ordinary limitations of resource, monetary or of expertise or ability for the project in hand. But having mentioned hands, I must also confess to having a DITY (Do It TO Yourself) record as well. On the occasion of the hand-made hand injury, I was fortunate that my second of inattention resulted in no worse mishap than a tiny nip on my finger.

Being an artist, I did however do this with a certain degree of style: when I stuck my finger with a single tooth of my nice, sharp little hand saw (too aptly named, perhaps?), I did manage to insert the steel into the only small spot on my hand that already had a visible scar. Puncture becomes punctuation, so to speak.

As always, the tiniest wound is magnified by other pains, not least of them the injury to ego and dignity when on the instant of infliction I succumb to a combination of reactions that to the uninjured could only have a sort of serio-comic ridiculousness perfect for cutting me down to size. The unpleasantness of having made an unwanted incision in my personage is compounded by the leap back that threatens to throw me over a chair and onto my tailbone; the pinching clamp of fingers on the cut to stanch the bleeding hurts almost more  than the initial stab; the yell of pain that, in my nephew’s youthful terminology ‘scares my ears’ is also loud enough for the neighbors to hear and enjoy. On top of all this is the diminution of my sanguine pride, reminding me that my handy skills are sorely limited no matter what I tell myself.

Does this prevent my attempting further DIY projects? Hardly! Being by nature a timid and lazy and not-so-brilliant craftsman hasn’t made me give up but instead tends to make me plan and work things out fairly exhaustively before I begin, and to assume that I’ll make mistakes or need help before I finish. It all slows me down, to be sure—and that’s not a bad thing, mind you. Any DIY work is bound to be only as polished as patience and occasionally remedial work can make it.

When I speed up too much, I get sloppy and unfocused; I make silly mistakes like sticking my finger on a saw tooth/a saw tooth into my finger. Luckily for me, I didn’t have a power saw going there, so all I lost was a few minutes, my composure, and a few red cells rather than a digit. In return, I got a good reminder to sharpen my attention, to use tools with greater care, and to call in expert help when needed.

After all, I’d far rather sacrifice some dollars and a touch of my DIY pride than an appendage. This is how I’ve survived to my advanced age without losing any body parts or breaking any bones. I have recovered numerous times from being an (or falling on my) ass. Self image is ever so much more resilient than such things. Arguably, a little too much so in my case, or I wouldn’t tend to get into these fixes at all.

Of course, getting into a fix is something I can easily do all by myself. For that task, I do have all of the necessary experience and expertise.Digital Illustration: In Which I am a Silly Ass

Tree-Totaler

I have a new toy! I’m not an early adopter when it comes to tech; in fact, I’m a slowpoke, and pretty much a big chicken, since learning new things intimidates the heck out of me. I know things come slowly to me, so it takes a while for me to even get up the nerve to try. But I have a new toy, and I’m liking the process of learning what I can do with this one.digital illustration

It’s an iPad, my new toy, and I bought a stylus to use with it, and downloaded several drawing programs (freebies and super-cheap ones, of course), and I’m having a grand time fiddling around and trying to see what I can do with the new artistic tools I’ve gotten. No amount of technology can make me into what I’m not, but some of those things I can do with the things I’ve now got could help me to make myself, however gradually, into a better artist. And that’s a fun thing to the degree that it does a remarkable amount to overcome my normal reluctance to trying to learn anything new.digital illustrationIn times past I have managed to kill a lot of trees in pursuit of my artistic growth. In my heart I am a great big tree-hugging plant lover, but my instinctive urge to make art has often trumped my tree love, at least to the degree that I make many works on paper. It’s easier to use when making marks into drawings than other, non-flat surfaces. I’ve been happy to use recycled material when possible, but paper is paper and, well, finite too. I’m liking the option that electronic tools give me of deleting or, better yet, erasing, layering, and redoing all kinds of things over and over again without needing to go to print unless and until I’m good and ready to do it. Here goes!

Housekeeping with a Flamethrower

Why should I do anything on too small a scale, with too little passion? If I’m going to go to any trouble at all for any sort of reason, why shouldn’t I just take it to the greatest extreme I can manage? Anything worth doing, as my father has assured his children all of our lives, is worth overdoing. This, of course, is the same man who told us that ‘they put low dosages on these’ before taking double or triple the prescribed quantity of medication, and who when sent out to prune the trees left something that to his loving spouse resembled less a suburban backyard than a moonscape. Still, he’s managed to live a pretty healthy life and hold down very respectable jobs and raise happy daughters and all of that sort of thing, so he can’t have been all that far off the mark.graphite drawing with digital highlightsAnd, truth to tell, I think that engaging our full strength and will and enthusiasm whenever we can is a pretty good strategy for living altogether. Even though I’m an admitted loafer and a lollygagging lout at heart, I do believe that if I’m going to go to any effort, it might as well be to do something to the best of my ability and, if I’m dedicated and lucky enough in the process, something of value. And I can either thank or blame Dad for my belief in that. (I guess it means that you can, too.) Why, when I got old enough and lucky enough to attach a second Dad, my father in law, to the family, I quickly learned that he has a similar attitude about doing things with complete dedication and raising kids who show that same kind of committed involvement, so I can say that in my experience of fathers in general, they have a remarkable aptitude for living life to the fullest. And really, isn’t it that fine idea after all? I know it inspires me!

Happy Father’s Day to two standouts in the field!

Tools and Techniques, Ingredients and Inspirations

ink drawingSometimes the best way to get started with something new is to jump into something old and rethink it. Writing letters–really, reeeeeeally long and extravagantly detailed letters–to my friends and loved ones was a favored pastime for me in my youth, and only transmuted (rather than muted) over time. It’s not necessarily that I had so much to say, nor that it was terribly original, it was simply a pleasant way to keep my sense of the connection between us open and flowing freely. It was Relationship Anticoagulant for me, in its way. Most particularly because I happened to have friends and loved ones who indulged me by writing letters back in my direction.

Yes, the telephone had already been invented when I was young. (I heard that!) My letters weren’t even delivered by Pony Express, let alone chiseled on stone tablets, though those would’ve made nice doorstops, once read. But as I have never liked telephone chitchat overmuch and have always had a slight tendency toward commentary that could perhaps stand a little more editorial restraint, and most of all because I am so defined by my visual experiences, a written, tangible and yes, correctable medium like a letter suited my personality more.

I think it was at least partly that that led to my downhill slide into essays, poems, short stories and the various other Dark Magicks of creative writing. Maybe I thought that developing my fictional skills would make my long letters more entertaining and excuse their verbosity. But of course, when the mystical world of the internet appeared before me, it was inevitable that I should embrace its friendliness towards the mass production of verbiage and the speedy transport thereof unto all and sundry. “All” being my actual known connexions and “sundry” being anybody else who was incidentally caught in the overspray. The latter being people who, if they foolishly responded to my wildly flung words, were likely to get sucked right into the vast vacuum of joining my poor captive audience if I could manage it at all.

ink drawingWhen I figured out how to put visual images along with all of the wordy wonders, then Boy Howdy, I was off on a new tangent. And you’ve all seen just how tangential I can become. Why, just the other day . . . oh, see, there I go again. The additional enhancement of putting pictures with stories need not be examined here. You and I know that the telling of a tale not only frequently requires images for completeness and clarity but sometimes is enhanced and enriched by the presence of visual cues that lead the reader to start thinking about the stories tangentially as well.

I was of course drawn* in immediately by artists’, photographers’, designers’ and other visually rich websites and blogs (*this pun’s for you, yearstricken). Then I felt the magnetic, hypnotic pull of foodie blogs, with their perniciously gorgeous food photography. Glorious gardens and magnificent architectural edifices reached out of the ether to grasp at my ankles as I passed. Tripping, I dropped into the well of travelogues and vehicle- and furniture-restoration sites and aaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh! It was the beginning of the end for this visually obsessed fool. Pretty soon I was swapping recipes and anecdotes, recitations and antidotes with all of my new Old Friends. I almost made a Freudian typo there and wrote Fiends, because of course I have been enchanted and enslaved by you all and am now helplessly in thrall, thirsting after the goodies you dangle in front of me on your every post until I succumb and retaliate with posts of my own.

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So here we all are, the relatively new digital tools in hand, cooking up marvelous messes of every sort and, far from being penitent, diving ever deeper into the strange and cheerfully dangerous tangles of what we are collectively wreaking upon the unsuspecting of the world. What began as relatively innocent missives to sisters and schoolmates, great aunts and great mentors has evolved into a different sort of Post that explodes with the weird and whimsical, the frightening or florid or sometimes just plain fishy, and whether factual or fictional, wanders the globe and the magnificent bubble of nonsense surrounding it, and the old urge to write a letter is made new again.

Now, I’ll readily admit that it’s every bit as possible to create fodder for the dustbin as it was all those centuries ago when I began writing my small-world tall tales and detailing them with quaint and creaky little scratches of “art”, and I’m quite certain that there’s no more sense and treasure sneaking in the hidden corners of my productions than there ever was. But I do find that the wider range of correspondents who really do have something to say in return, and the pleasures of the process of learning and using new and different tools for the conversation, immensely entertaining, energizing and inspiring. And I’d say that’s a paint pot of a different color.

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‘Deferred Maintenance’ is a Sectionally Transmitted Disease

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There's a reason this wall reminds me of that great tale of suspense and horror . . .

The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Gilman Perkins’s wonderfully creepy short story in which she compresses the narrator’s descent into madness down to a few remarkably hackle-raising pages, is a bit like the process a building undergoes when neglected and ill-treated. The slide into decrepitude and decay may be slow and secretively incremental, as is often the case, or like Perkins’s poor madwoman the structure may disintegrate in an ever-speedier spiral rush to utter ruin. What is fairly consistent is that whoever is responsible for the maintenance of the place keeps it out of sight, out of mind enough to pretend that nothing bad is happening. What is more consistent yet, perhaps, is that any building falling prey to bad caretaking will do so in the way of a body falling to disease, that ‘thigh-bone connected to the hip-bone’ path of disintegration where the collapse of one part or system leads to that of the adjacent ones, and so forth, spreading until all are in full deconstructive mode.

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When things slip into the vortex of dissipation . . .

So I know that I can’t rest on my laurels if I happen to find a moment of seemingly settled pristineness. It’s bound to be an illusion. Somewhere, just out of view or conveniently forgotten, there’s a fine crack stealthily forming between the concrete driveway and the foundation, a swash of grime sucking into the most vulnerable point in the guts of the HVAC, one industrious ant setting up a sneaking trail to the one corner of the living room window trim whose caulking has curled back and left him an opening for invasion. And I know where each of those things leads.

I begin to feel a hint of that same crawling paranoia that the infamous wallpaper fed in the story’s hapless heroine: the sense that bit by bit, the house is gathering forces to rebel against me and my toolbox, that an overwhelming wave of implosion is building, however secretively and discreetly, and if I don’t replace that blown fuse NOW and repair that squirrel-chewed piece of siding on the instant, it’s only a matter of time until that horrific night when I will be awakened by a faint creaking that builds in a breath to a hurricane’s roar just before the house and all of its messy innards, me included and mummified in my tangled bedding, are slurped with a giant THWOOP! into some portal or black hole in the time-space continuum, never to be seen again.

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I can't just lock away the projects that I don't want to undertake, or the next visitor might be the undertaker . . .

Now, you will rightly surmise that a generally happy-go-lucky goofus like me doesn’t actually dwell on quite that level of near-nervous-breakdown over the state of my estate perpetually. Nor do I think anyone should. It’s mostly when I’ve been a little too, ahem, engrossed in my love of the yesterday-mentioned sorts of grim fairy tales and goblin-haunted wrecks of architecture that I might get a little inebriated with the idea that every bit of built space for which I’m responsible is headed for immediate wrack and ruin. The rest of the time I am with the ordinary hordes of folk who prefer the polite fiction of “deferred maintenance” over immediate activity and find a virtual infinity of ways to hide, compartmentalize and dissemble when we should be wielding our hammers. Sloth is always such a strong impulse, and the ability to fantasize justifications for it grows exponentially when fed a steady diet of To Do lists, self-imposed or not.

So far, my approach has been to drift along in apathetic torpor and evade the notice of beckoning chores for as long as my conscience can be stretched to tolerate it, and then fall about in a flurry of torrential attack on all the ills of the house for just barely long enough to congratulate myself on my excellent (or, okay, passable) mastery of the place, then fall back into my reverie of comfortable denial. It’s just possible that when that moment of dramatic self-destruction comes to my house of cards I will be safely couched in a nearby garden bed anyway, because it was too much trouble to get up and go in to such a flimsy place by then and I would have been too annoyed by the staring projects all awaiting me.

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At what point, I wonder, will my love of all things crumbling and rusty be outweighed by my desire to have them actually function as intended? I'm sure many of my friends have asked themselves the same when thinking of me . . .