Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christians Are The New Idiots?

Okay, I know I a lot of my Christian friends probably think I push the envelope of Christian propriety because I watch what can only be called "gritty" television. My most recent foray into the land of fictionalized fallen humanity is the Netflix original series Orange Is The New Black. It is based on the memoir of a nice, upper-middle class woman who finds herself in a women's prison for transporting drug money. It has all the features you might expect - sex between inmates, semi-coercive sex between inmates and prison employees, strong language and the requisite Crazy Christian. And she’s what I want to talk about. Or rather, I want to talk about why it is so difficult to find a media portrayal of either 1) a normal Christian or 2) actual Christian beliefs.

The Christian in the show is a meth addict who is in the prison because she killed someone at an abortion clinic - not because she was protesting abortion, but because while she was having one, a clinic employee “disrespected” her by commenting that she had been there five times already. She was not a Christian at this time. You know when she “became” a Christian? When a “Christian” law firm approached her and wanted to take on her case, because now she had all kinds of “Christian” fans who thought she was “defending the unborn” with her rifle.

Once she is in the prison she is constantly going on about the evil lesbians everywhere and telling everyone that she is God’s prophet and surrounding herself with a bunch of minions who play along with her so-called healing powers. You won’t be surprised to learn that she is not all that popular, nor does she ever proclaim anything resembling the actual gospel. The main character, Piper, somehow gets on our prophet's bad side (not hard to do) and in order to make peace, she says a prayer that satisfies the Crazy Christian enough to think Piper now warrants baptism. So, they clean out the muck sink in the laundry room to use for dunkin'  the former evil sinner right into God’s Kingdom. When the attractive blonde sees the murky waters of her salvation, she backs out and finally shares what she really thinks.

Piper: I cannot get behind some supreme being who weighs in on the Tony Awards while a million people get whacked with machetes. I don't believe a billion Indians are going to hell, I don't think we get cancer to learn life lessons, and I don't believe that people die young because God needs another angel. I think it's just bullshit, and on some level, I think we all know that. I mean, don't you?

Crazy Christian’s Minion:  The angel thing does seem kind of desperate.

Crazy Christian: I thought you was a Christian.

Minion: I am, but I got some questions.

Piper: Look, I understand that religion makes it easier to deal with all of the random shitty things that happen to us. And I wish I could get on that ride, I'm sure I would be happier. But I can't. Feelings aren't enough. I need it to be real.

In all my years as a Christian, I have never met another believer who 1) thought shooting abortion providers was “doing God’s work”  2) called themselves a prophet and/or 3) thought they had healing powers. But I have talked to numerous non-believers who do equate Christianity with these doctrinally unsound fringe elements and absolutely do not know what the gospel is. They do ask important questions like, well, why do people get whacked with machetes if God is supposed to be good. But why haven’t they heard that our faith is not based on feelings? Who told them dead children become angels? Why don’t they know that people get cancer because we live in a fallen world full of fallen people, and so we can all expect to eventually receive that paycheck - the wages of sin, which is death.

There are so many problems with both the Crazy Christian character and Piper’s understanding of the Christian faith. Are Christians really portraying the gospel as something it isn’t, or are non-Christian creatives suppressing the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1). I suspect it is a combination of both. Someone doesn’t have to believe in the Christian doctrine to present it correctly - well-known atheist Christopher Hitchens proves that. It’s disappointing (but not surprising, I suppose) that people who can produce an otherwise thoughtful show would fall into depicting caricature Christians (and this is not the only one to do so). But shame on us if we are lending ourselves to being caricatured.

What is the reason for the hope that is in you? How would you answer Piper?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Learning to Focus and Work "Little and Often"

I have been spending a lot of time at the Sustainably Creative site. the proprietor is a man about my age who has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and so obviously has a lot of fatigue and other symtoms which translates into not a lot of energy. He has courses and podcasts and short ebooks about learning to fit creative creative work into a life with the kind of physical limitations he has. I don't have any kind of physical issues, unless you count Brain Cell Depletion Caused By Five Children Who Have Never Been To School, but I do have limited time and energy because I have a lot of people who need to be fed and listened to and a lot of messes that need to be cleaned up and a lot of keeping-it-togethering I have to do as an introvert living a life better suited to extroversion.

My last post here was a run-down of all the stuff I like doing and want to have time for, but what I tend to do is wait for the big chunks of time to come along to do any work, and instead spend the small bits of time being resentful about how rarely that happens instead of just doing some little thing during those brief moments. I also realized recently that my ability to focus is pretty much shot. That is caused by a combination of my life circumstances (which have not allowed me to finish more than 20 thoughts in as many years) and all the voluntary distractions that most of us struggle with, especially in this age of instant communication and unending topics that need to be explored right now via the search engine of your choice. See, as I write this I am reminded that a friend mentioned a new search engine to me yesterday, and my first inclination is to just open another tab and real quick-like look that baby up. But I have a timer set here for 20 minutes (the amount of time Mr. Nobbs recommends for short focused working) and by golly, I am not going to follow the little bluebird of distraction.

When I had only one kid and was still involved in the whole Perfect Wife and Mother and Homeschooler Club, I had the Managers Of Their Homes book. This is a system made for large homeschooling families that teaches you to break your day into 20-minute blocks of time so you can Fit It All In. That sucked. It was just another way to overplan and overschedule and it made me depressed. I am way more into Mr. Nobbs' thought process, that it's okay to just have one thing to do each day, even just one 20 minute block of focused time working not on what needs to be done or should be done, but on what Your Important Work is, as defined by you. Since I am not as limited in my energy as he is, I think I could probably fit in more than one 20 minute period most days - but there are days when I couldn't even do that. He is also big on self-compassion and self-care, another idea I have been drawn to over the past few years, as I have been learning to toss aside my whole lifetime of unreachable personal expectations and tendencies toward constant self-improvement and productivity. I am tired and worn out from all that and I don't want to and can't keep it up mentally or physically anymore.

Second 20 Minutes Begins

Mr. Nobbs reminds us that working "little and often" can add up to a lot of completed work over the years. I think I might get brave and make a video tour of all the work I have after 20 years of working. I admit that my style of work has alternated between the little and often and the rare binge...but either way, whether I am working consistently for a while or have a 3-week binge of work, I have never made a "habit" of doing my creative work and I still have proof that always going back to it gets results. In a way, Mr. Nobbs' stuff reminds me of an artist's version of Stephen Covey's first 3 habits:

1) Be Proactive
2) Begin With The End In Mind and
3) Put First Things First.

In fact he uses the illustration of the jar with rocks that Mr. Covey uses in his book

...the point being that if you want to get big rocks into a jar (the jar being your life, I suppose) you have to put them in first...before all the pebbles and sand.

Unfortunately, most of us have filled up our Jar of Life with the little rocks, and even if they are the pretty polished ones they are not all that satisfying after a while if they are just busywork, or even if they represent good important work that should be done, but not necessarily by you.

I do know that a lot of my anxiety and depression stems from my inability to focus (not necessarily on art stuff either...I don't even want to start doing ANYTHING most of the time because the inevitable distractions depress me before they even happen) and also from all the stupid pebbles that are in my jar. And I am not even a busy person by American Mother Standards. I want to dump out the jar and put some of the big rocks in.

Third 20 Minutes Begins

One of the things that really resonates with me at the Sustainably Creative site is the idea that rest is important for healing. For the past several months I have been thinking, "I need a vacation", but that didn't seem to really get across what I was feeling. But in the last few weeks, even before I found that site, I was starting to understand my situation as a need for healing. Healing from all the pressure I have always put on myself, healing for my tired mind and body. I am a person who honestly does not know how to relax. I am 44 years old, and I doubt if I have truly relaxed for 44 hours during those years. That is why I have always loved to sleep, because that is the only time that I actually stop and don't do anything but, well, exist. And hopefully have interesting dreams. You can understand why I fell in mad love with the television a few years ago, because I discovered that it was True Relaxation that came with Intellectual Stimulation (meaning I could totally rest while I was watching, but it still gave me food for thought afterwards).

Another thing that I am guilty of doing - which gets in the way of both resting and working in a truly productive way - is unnecessary planning and/or "getting things ready" to work. I am not talking about things like mise en place while you are cooking, but rather deciding to straighten up the art supplies instead of using them during the precious half-hour the kids are out in the pool. Mr. Nobbs talks about how important it is to make sure that your setup for working is conducive to just jumping in. I think that my work area usually is ready to use, but what is that inner THING that whispers, "You can start after you have done this small thing that appears to be related to the real task but actually isn't."? Not sure if that is fear of failure or what. I know that it's pretty much a universal situation we artistic types deal with. But then there is the very real need to not work sometimes...either you really have no energy or you are in a percolating period. It's can be hard to discern if you are getting all procrastinate-y in the bad sense, or whether your subconscious mind is being productive for you, ruminating on recent experiences, ideas, etc. with the full intention of making them available to you as creative fodder at some point.

Fourth (and Hopefully Final) 20 Minutes Begins

I am not thinking that I will necessarily be able to regularly finish things in 20 minutes, although an awesome artist recently started a 20-minute painting project and those look great. But there are some things I could finish in 20 minutes. In fact, for the past few weeks I have been setting the time for 20 minutes when I start anything, even something annoying like kitchen work, because when I focus and just work through that time, even if I hate what I am doing I know I can manage to do it for 20 measly minutes, plus I am usually surprised by how much I got done in 20 minutes.

My problem with this short focus period idea is that I have a lot of things I want to do and I never know if I should pick one and work on it (even in these 20 minute snatches of time) until it's completed, or whether I should (gasp) PLAN to do art journaling one week, painting the next, zinemaking the next, etc. I don't want to spend any of the 20 minutes deciding what to do. Of course, even if I have a plan I am always free to ditch it and work on another thing. But I am serious, this kind of question about something can literally paralyze me so I don't do anything at all. The main reason I didn't continue the Bible copywork project I started years ago was because I did not know how I would bind the work, whether I should work on individual sheets and store them in a box, etc. I just stopped because of that little problem and have never started it up again. I know I do need to take some time (20 minutes here and there, hahaha) to consider the big picture and how the projects I want to eventually complete can break down into small steps that won't make the itty bitty 20 minutes cower in fear and despair under the huge looming shadow the project casts.

Mr. Nobbs also talks about the importance of making your intention public, and I am not so sure how I feel about that one. There was a time, back when I was a prolific blogger, when I would do that regularly. Sometimes it helped keep me motivated and sometimes I ditched whatever it was and I was left eating my words, which are sometimes tasty and can be nutritious if I allow my consumption of them to teach me something. In her book Refuse To Choose (which goes well with these other ideas) Barbara Sher debunks the notion that it is somehow bad to start something and not finish it. That is practically an American mantra, that to quit something is to fail. It can be a negative thing if you quit something you truly enjoy to avoid hard work or because you are discouraged with being a beginner, but if you have started doing something and you have learned what you wanted to learn, or decided that the activity really doesn't interest you, or it does interest you but you don't have time for it...why spend the minutes of your life finishing something that serves no purpose for you?

Wow. I had four 20-minute periods to work with today. Cool.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

I Only Blog When My Mind Is More Chaotic Than Usual

There once was a mind so chaotic.
At times it seemed almost despotic!
So a purge it did seek, with the freewrite technique,
Which prevented it turning psychotic.

Thankfully, the chaos is not combined with nasty hormonal moodiness. Although it might be if I take more than a few days to finish this post, and we absolutely want to avoid mixing the two. Bad hormones plus an overloaded mind is my middle-class American equivalent of a Whedonesque-type scenario like unintentionally transporting yourself into a demon dimension because you stupidly read aloud the Sanscrit writing on that old amulet you found at a yard sale. The current cranial pandemonium is caused by the horde of ideas and projects that long ago applied for visas into the outside world, but have been kept waiting like folks in a bread line in the former Soviet Union. They are getting impatient. They are getting pissed. In fact, they are about to riot. As a benevolent dictator, I do want to prevent that. But also, since I am a dictator, they cannot leave without my permission. Herein is my proclamation that will set them free. Go forth, Ideas and Projects! Affect the world in a positive way! Make money! Inspire people! Get OUT of my freaking head! Okay, after all that drama you might be wondering what these ideas and projects are. You may know (if you have slogged through my thoughts for any length of time) that I am absolutely terrified of goal-setting, or making resolutions, or trying to plan any kind of scheduled time to do anything. You may also know that despite that fear, I am a total self-improvement junkie. I realize that's kinda oxymoronic. But I must make a disclaimer and say that this is absolutely Not a Manifesto About What I Will Do and When I Will Do It and When It Will Be Done. This is simply giving freedom to the Mindstuff, and if/how it eventually manifests itself in the tangible realm remains to be seen.

As always, the Mindstuff consists of things I want to do/accomplish either soon or eventually, but about which I either procrastinate and/or literally have only a small amount of time for at this stage of my life. Sometimes I am surprised at how much art, writing, etc. I have actually produced over the past 20 years, because I have never been any better at time management than I am now. Even when I had fewer kids and fewer other grownup responsibilities I still wasted time and allowed fear to distract me. Now I'm more afraid that I will drop dead before I can do the things I really want to do. But I  think that God might have finally given me the make-a-craft gift set that will bring into focus the para-domestic side of my life. Shall we open the box and see what it contains?

Paper, lots of different kinds
Paint, pencils, inks and related art supplies
Books to cut up or scan from
Cutting tools, stapler, needles, embroidery floss, ribbon
Instructional books

Insert reads: Hours of Creative Fun!!! Just add words of all kinds, psychological angst, spiritual meanderings and self-deprecating and sarcastic humor.

Hey, this is the same type of stuff I have been using for almost 20 years! But hopefully since it is the God Stuff and not some cheap Dick Blick knockoff, it will have some kind of irresistible power over me.

Given these supplies, I see that I am supposed to keep making zines, hand-binding books, doing art journaling and learning how to paint...and I sense that I am supposed to add in teaching workshops and writing at least one book. But let's be honest, for most of my life I have been a dabbler and spent a lot more time reading about these very hands-on things than actually practicing them. I hate to say it, but I believe I need to make myself some kind of course of study (for lack of a better term) mostly on the art end of things. My Rebel-O-Meter is beeping like crazy just thinking about it. But there is no way I am going to learn how to, say, mix colors without actually doing the exercises in the color book. Zine making is really the only thing on my list that I think I have "down", as far as being technically competent.

Note: We have entered the demon dimension to which I alluded in the first paragraph. Abandon hope of avoiding snark, all ye who enter here. Actually, my late-evening latte and the fact that Husband has removed all children from the vicinity may allow me to remain in the not-so-evil antechamber long enough to finish this in a more or less pleasant fashion.

So, onto my thoughts about what a smart person would do to improve in these areas, while not at all assuming I am a smart person. I set no actual goals. When I write like this, to focus or clarify things in my mind, it is probably more like I am using the very new-age concept of setting an intention, without the new-age gobbledygook. I remind myself what is important to me so that I can have an idea of what to do when it is time to "do the next thing". I have a tendency to be scattered, in case you haven't realized that yet. Remember, if any of this gets done in 2013, it is a victory. Also remember that most of this will not be new to any of the uh, 15 or so people who read this blog.

Zinemaking: I have not made a zine since 2007 (the 100 page extravaganza Eclectic Domestic/Bohemian Housewife, which will hopefully appear in digital format this year sometime). Six years is a long time to go between zines, and I have started working on one a few times, but I always gave up. I originally thought my next one would have the same title as this blog, No Spring Chicken. But that is the name for my Midlife-Crisis Self, who thankfully appears to have left the building. I am now Midlife Mama, who is much less miserable than that chicken person. But I just couldn't nail down any kind of focus for a zine, which was stressing me out. But then I realized that it's my zine and it doesn't have to have a focus besides well, me and what I want to put in it at any given moment. So I made a cover with the title Midlife Mama Presents: No Rhyme or Reason. That means it will be a good format to chronicle/practice all the stuff that I am trying to integrate into my life at this time.I want to include some things that scare me, like at least one comic and some self-portraits that are less-than-flattering. I also want to include some handmade mixed-media thing, probably some handpainted tag journal books or something.

I have a friend who is also a zinemaker (so grateful I found her!!!!!) and she feels the same way I do about the importance of keeping paper alive in this age of Digital Everything. So, we are going to start a zine distro (distribution site) to promote zines made by Christians. If hers and mine are the only ones that are ever on there, so be it. But we both hope to start infecting people with a virus whose main symptom is an unquenchable desire to create personal publications on paper, or PPP. There is no known cure once you are infected, but it is not easily transmittable, so we have our work cut out for us if we want the infection to spread. I published a How-To-Make-A-Zine zine a few years ago, and I think I will probably make a revised and expanded edition which can be distributed with the virus inside, bwahahahahahaahahah! The joys of being a mad scientist!!!!!

Art Journaling Workshops/Book: This is not the same project exactly, but I need to take a lot of the same steps to prepare. I have sooooooo many books dedicated to bookmaking, art journaling, written journaling exercises, etc. I want to go through all those books and choose projects or techniques that appeal to me and play with them until I can do them well...then I can branch out and change them up, and determine which ones I want to use for "exercises" when teaching. I think I may make a bound book with two or three of these signatures to use for experiments, and if I like it I will send it to Art Journaling Magazine. I will need to not be attached to the book to mail it off - even though they send your work back to you, it can take up to a year and well, who knows what might happen.

When I teach workshops I want to inspire people to make art without fear and judgment, and also to engage with their own lives in that same way. Any kind of "techniques" or art instruction I might give would be secondary.

There are very few art journalers featured in books or magazines who don't seem to be constantly Focusing On The Positive. You know, pages created around your favorite inspirational word or quote, etc. That gets old and boring to me - maybe because my life has certainly not been one long inspirational quote.

I do use them occasionally, though:

But I lean more towards what I consider to be non-nihilistic pessimism:

Most of the time I avoid quotes anyway, and just let it all out in my stream-of-consciousness non-legible way:

My point is not to bash optimism or encourage people to give up trying to find inspiration in an often non-inspirational world...I don't really have a point except to say that I want people who have only seen the cute kittens type of art journaling to know that it is perfectly fine if your personal journaling animal is more scaly than fluffy and has disgustingly bad breath.

I also want my zine to contain a 4 or 8 page mini-prototype of My Future Book which can also be used as a workshop handout. I can't realistically expect to be able to teach workshops for at least 2 years, until Baby is 4ish. Historically, the kids have been about that age when they have been willing to let me go for 6+ hours. 

Natalie Goldberg says that if you want to be a writer, simply write for two full years with no thought of making the writing into anything (novel, memoir, etc)  - so I guess it doesn't seem unreasonable that it could take two years for me to be in any state of readiness to teach. I think the process of writing my book will kill the proverbial flying animal with the proverbial hard object, because well, books like this are workshops wherein the teacher addresses you via the printed page. The book will have a memoir-ish quality that would be missing in the live workshops (because I will be including my own journal writing), but apart from that, when I have a book, I will also have a workshop.

The Really Scary One - Drawing and Painting

This is the scary one because I am truly a beginner in this area, and that is just frustrating. I do have a moderate natural talent for drawing, but it is not that impressive. And when I try to add shading to a line drawing or (gasp) use color in an actual painting, it goes from "not that impressive" all the way down to "decidedly unimpressive". But I want to be able to draw so I can sometimes use my own illustrations in my zines and stuff, and I want to be able to paint because I want to have my own art on the walls of my home.

I do have one painting hanging up already, and I like it, but it's still very amateurish. I think what is good about it was a happy conflagration of accidents.Those definitely have their place in art, but I would prefer if they occurred on top of some kind of technical competency. So, to become technically competent, I have to practice, and my Inner Perfectionist hates to practice, since, well, she wants everything she does to be perfect all the time. I'm not embarrassed or ashamed for people to see my imperfect work, but I really am just lazy and don't want to put the time in, despite mentally assenting to the platitude that It's All About The Journey.

So, what I need to do is keep a sketchbook/paintbook, made with the same Teesha Moore watercolor signatures I mentioned in the art journaling section.  I got a book on color that has a lot of exercises in it, and I guess I have to actually do them. I also want to just draw things from my everyday life, since that is what I want to use drawing for, to add a different element to my ongoing obsession to chronicle my life.  I should expand my horizons and do something besides mapping out my inner landscape. I really should have a Master's degree in cartography by now. (I just stopped and did this sketch of my coffee cup sitting on the piano. My life can honestly be measured out in coffespoons. Not a bad drawing...shading is off but that's what we expected, yes?)

I have soooooooo many cut-off-the-book book covers that I planned to use for paintings and I just need to start doing that (I have used a few of them to make covers for hand-bound books). One reason I avoid painting on them is because I want to paint large, but large canvases are expensive. I have a few large canvases (one with a super-awful painting on it..right now I can hear it whispering, "Gesso over me" in a pathetic raspy tone. Its figurative eyes are begging me to put it out of its misery.) I should probably allow myself to paint on a large canvas as a "reward" for doing color work and stuff in the practice book or on the bookboards, which are probably about 8 x 10.

The Final Frontier - To Sell or Not To Sell?

I have had a few online shops over the years, and they have always been failures...or rather, I have been a failure as a business person. I say that with all the self-love in the world. I just wasn't prepared to have any kind of business. I rarely got orders out on time, plus I was selling things I didn't enjoy making (handmade cards and rag dolls).

I also sold my zines, but even with those, I often wouldn't have enough copies printed, it would take me days to get to the copy place, sometimes I offered a "package" that included a small handmade item, and boom! the customer wouldn't get their order for a month. And no matter how much you like a thing, that kind of sucky customer service is a deal-breaker. (This is not a zine I sold, but one I made for a swap...but it is an example of how my zines look.)

 Despite that poor track record, I still think I will eventually want to offer things for sale online workshop, handbound books and art journals, even paintings if people like them. I don't relate to my past business names anymore, so I would need to think of a new name. And I would have to have an actual inventory so I don't run around frantically like the headless chicken of yore, trying and inevitably failing to get orders made and shipped in a few days' time. At least I learned something from my past experience as a bad businessperson, and I absolutely trust that I would not take this step unless and until I am prepared both practically and mentally.

Anyway, I think that's everything...can you see why my mind was so cluttered?