Sparkle and sisal

My beloved ocotillo died in the stupid freeze last winter, so this year I had to put our little strings of solar-powered Christmas lights on a Texas sotol instead. That bloom stalk came up a year ago and is now completely spent, so when it comes time to take the lights down we can probably chop it down and pull the lights off that way.

I think the sotol will be happier when the stalk is gone, too. They don't die after they bloom like century plants, but it has been looking noticeably grumpy lately. (I don't think I'm projecting here.)


Here's the ocotillo in better days. I knew that planting one in Austin was a risk, since they're from a warmer, drier climate than ours, but I had to try. Eric and I took our honeymoon in West Texas and they were blooming like crazy that spring. On the last day of our trip I opened the back door to our hotel room and gasped because the back fence was made of ocotillo stalks--they were all blooming and it looked a little like the fence was on fire, and I was like, god damn! So cool. When I got home my friend Katherine and I built a drainage mound to compensate for the heavier rainfall here in Central Texas and plunked one in, and all was well for years until a week of ice and snow and single-digit temperatures did it in.

It never did bloom for me, though; I think it has to go through some serious drought cycles or something to produce flowers. Still, it was a very striking plant. Someday I might plant another one, or I might go all in on the native-and-adapted thing for the front yard instead of hosting a plant that doesn't really want to live here.  


All that is a very roundabout way of saying we put up some Christmas lights this afternoon. I also finished the mermaid mosaic this morning--the demo a couple weeks ago was fun and went well, though it was lightly attended--and I'm happy with how it turned out. I have a Christmas commission to do for a friend and then I want to start experimenting, getting a little weird. I'm not even sure what that means yet, exactly, but I think I'm technically adept enough now to start playing around.

Pop and fizzle

I kind of crapped out on this daily writing project, didn't I? The truth is I have had a nice couple of weeks lately, full of friends, family, weekend trips, and the appreciation and generation of art. This is a welcome streak after what has otherwise been a frightening, dull, and trying year; I feel like I passed a test I didn't know I was taking at the time, and now my reward is to appreciate things again. 

I have no doubt the pandemic and climate change and the political landscape and my own middle age and and and will bring horrors anew, but for now I will absolutely take joy where I can, even if it distracts me from the important work of fulfilling an arbitrary challenge on an obsolete platform. 


I got Pfizer shot three on Sunday and felt chilly and achy and feverish all day yesterday. I don't think I've ever had a fever without some sort of respiratory or gastrointestinal unpleasantness to accompany it, so that was a novel sensation. Once work was done for the day and I was settled on the couch with a blanket that I could draw around me or toss off according to whim, it wasn't too bad.

Then I see today the hospitalization numbers in Texas are starting to edge up again and I...don't care? No, that's not accurate, I do care, quite a bit, but like most people I'm weary of this stupid show and would like to change the channel, please. 

I remember feeling at the beginning of the pandemic that people who insisted on gathering despite the restrictions and the warnings were selfish assholes, and ok, they kinda were, but I've also come to realize that being around the people we love, who give us connection and energy and belonging, is not a luxury. We need each other. And so I desperately want the transmission numbers to stay low, so I can keep seeing the people I care about, and so those who are more vulnerable than most can go to work and school and meet their friends without too much anxiety. I would even like to go back to the office part time, although I have to say by now that the thought of getting dressed, driving downtown, and spending all day in an office building whether I'm needed there or not for five days a week now seems ludicrous. 

I know I'm lucky. Like everyone, I've lost some things, mostly opportunities, to the pandemic, but I haven't lost anyone, and that is something to be grateful for. And in a lot of ways I'm able to participate in the things I like and care about again, and that is also something I am careful not to take for granted.

But limping along in this uncertain, not-yet-fully-formed new normal--man, it's exhausting, and I don't see an end to it any time soon. So in the meantime I will live my life as best I can, with some restrictions, and wear a KN95 if it feels prudent, and I will take every damn booster shot that's offered to me until my left arm falls off or the pandemic ends, whichever comes first. 

Ain't no sunshine

If you follow me elsewhere, or know me in person, you know our dog Willa had a seizure and died a little over a month ago. I've finally stopped crying every day, but her absence has left a huge hole, and if you know grief, that treacherous asshole, you know it abates for a while before striking again in full effect, without warning. And when it does I feel like I've been punched right in the heart.

Losing an old pet is very sad, but it's no tragedy. It's a pain we all sign up for, knowing our time together is short; the clock is already ticking the day we take our new friend home. Willa died fairly quickly--though it certainly didn't feel that way at the time--and maybe a little on the young side; 11 doesn't seem that old for a dog. But the painful arthritis that warped her front paws was progressing and our exuberant girl was very slowly but noticeably becoming more withdrawn, even grumpy. We were going to have some very hard conversations in the not-too-distant-future.


I know all this. I know. But today was a clear, perfect fall day, and damn it, I would trade a lot to sit in the backyard with my dog in the November sunshine for a minute and stroke the soft, perfect triangles of her ears while she sniffed the air and turned her intelligent eyes to mine, as if to say, are you getting all this? 



Last time I did a mosaic demo it was a Christmas market event at an art gallery in Georgetown, Texas, in 2019, and I brought a piece featuring a manatee that I had just started working on. I picked away at it for a couple of hours, politely answering questions from the occasional bored adult who wandered through--until an entire Girl Scout troop stopped by. They were probably nine or ten; that cool, interesting late elementary school age. Their troop's float had won first place in the town Christmas parade that morning, so they were super effusive and high on their success.


They unselfconsciously hijacked my project, gluing in tiles any which way and advising me that I should really incorporate a tsunami into the design. It was an absolute blast. (Though I admit I did scrape most of their work off the board after I was sure they were gone.) 


I'll probably never quite recreate the magic from that encounter, but I'm keeping the fun of that afternoon in mind as I prepare my piece for Saturday. The idea is I'll have a primary image already in place, and anyone who stops by will be welcome to add something to the background. I'm in an interesting spot, design-wise, as I'd like to have something elaborate and pretty enough to give people an idea of the possibilities of the art form, but also something simple enough that no one will feel weird about letting their six-year-old glue a bunch of shit to. I think I can straddle that. 

Filling in the gaps

I saw a dead red-shouldered hawk in the grass on my walk to the library to return a book this morning. Then, at the library, people were setting up a press conference for a guy who was announcing his run for city council. I'm not in that district, though, so I didn't stick around to hear what he had to say.

I didn't see much of interest on the walk back. 

I spent the rest of the day working from home, moving plants around the backyard, and doing a grout study for the demo I'm doing on Saturday. 



The idea is to lay out your tiles in multiple, identical configurations and then use different grout colors to compare the different effects.



In this case, light gray, medium gray, and dark gray.



It always blows my mind what a difference grout color makes. A very pale piece with all white tiles might call for a lighter grout, and a medium grout color can help pull together contrasting colors without washing one of them out. But in a case like this, I almost always prefer the dark grout. I love how vibrant it makes the tile colors in comparison. Although the medium gray splits the difference nicely. It's really a matter of preference. 

The Cleansing

I finished deep cleaning my home office this afternoon. Before the pandemic, I would frequently go in there before I had to leave for work in the morning to grab something I needed or spend a few minutes on a project, and I would linger in the doorway on the way out for a moment. The room has a north and an east window and looks great in the morning: sunny brightness from the east cut by the soft, diffuse light from the north window, barely green from being filtered through the leaves of the pecan tree outside. It's very inviting and conducive to creative work when it's like that. I would look at this light and sigh and think it would be so great it I could spend the whole day in there all the time instead of getting in my stupid car and driving on the stupid highway to my stupid office building; god, could I be retired already so I could do that? And then I would clomp down the stairs to the garage, chiding myself to not be one of those miserable people who wishes for her life to speed up and be done with so as to be through with the less appealing parts of it. But somewhere, a cursed monkey's paw must have curled a withered finger and waited patiently for circumstance to catch up, because soon enough I was working from home every day in that room, often well into the night and on weekends too, driven to agitation by endless Slack notifications and goggle-eyed from glaring at a computer monitor while my unfinished personal art projects taunted me from the adjacent table. Womp womp, bitch. 

So the deep clean was cathartic if also a little traumatic. I wiped up all the grime, threw out a ton of papers and crap, and found a place for everything else, even if that place happens to be a teetering stack of stuff in the back corner of the closet. It looks great in there now, and I can't wait to start cluttering it up again; for the time being, the ratio will skew more toward the personal projects than the professional. Eventually we'll go back to the office at least some of the time, and I can start messing up that space again as well.

Really, I would like a black hole of some sort where I can stash the things I don't need right away or don't feel like dealing with quite yet without actually having to allot any physical space to them. Don't tell the monkey's paw I said that, though. I'm pretty sure it'd get things all twisted up again and I'd end up living at the edge of a quasar, cursing my luck. And even there, somehow, I'd still have to respond to those fucking Slack notifications. 


It rained all day today, a fairly unusual occurrence here. We're having the exterior of the house painted this week and the painters taped translucent sheets of plastic over all the windows to keep them clean, and I worked from home all day, so I felt like I was underwater as long as it was still light out. 


I printed some of my latest design this afternoon. This was the first linocut I'd done in months; the ink was rolling out like velvet and sitting on top of the paper exactly right today, and the only challenge was placing the paper over the block correctly and not getting ink all over the place. So that was a fun, meditative hour. I had some interest when I posted my test copy, so I think I'll sell the prints on Instagram once they're dry.

I also got an invitation to sign up for a demonstration slot at the fantastic nonprofit secondhand art and craft store, Austin Creative Reuse, during one of the weekends of the East Austin Studio Tour (which this year overlaps with the West Austin Studio Tour to become the Austin Studio Tour; the whole event has gotten out of hand and I love it but also it's overwhelming). Anyway, I'll be there from noon until 2:45 on Saturday, November 13, demonstrating the art of making mosaics using castoff and upcycled materials. I need to start planning what I'm going to make and how I'm going to make it in an attempt to get the maximum visual excitement out of a medium that can be slow and tedious, at least when it's in my hands.

I know! I should challenge myself to make mosaics seem as unappealing as humanly possible: Dull brown tiles on brown backgrounds. Overly detailed explanations delivered in a halting monotone. Discouraging looks, greasy hair, the occasional whiff of an odd smell that no one can quite identify. Swing on by ACR that afternoon to see how well I'm achieving my goal! 

P.S. This is the first post I've ctrl-F-searched for the word "just" before posting and come up with zero hits! I did have to delete one after I typed it, though. 

Life minus

I work almost exclusively from home these days, but today I rode my bike down to the office to get some exercise, water my plants, and get a free flu shot. A coworker was there today, too, which was nice because we got to catch up, and also being up there by myself feels like I'm wandering through an apartment block in Pripyat. Next time I go I'll get rid of all the calendars and notices that are still from March 2020. It seemed novel for a while--look at how much time has passed since this event, unprecedented in our lifetimes, began!--but now they are accumulating dust puffs. It's depressing. 


My office plants are doing ok. It's apparent that someone comes in and waters them enough to keep them alive, but not so often that they thrive. Which is how a lot of us are feeling right now. Eric calls it "Life, Lite." We can see friends and have small gatherings and do things in public, but for us  it's always laced with caution and anxiety. The socializing I do partake in seems well worth it at the time, but I know I'll feel like a real jerk if handing out Halloween candy at my friend's house or having my coworkers over on my back deck for a happy hour somehow turns into a superspreader event. 


On a whim I decided to do NaBloPoMo* this year, which is a terrible name for the blog-post-a-day-in-the-month-of-November version of the also horribly named NaNoWriMo, in which you buckle down every day in November and write like a skillion words a day until you have a novel. (Thirty skillion words equals one novel, right?) 

I'm probably not ever going to write a novel, but daily blogging, I can handle. And now I have some time on my hands and, due to nearly a year of extreme schedule irregularity and overwork, no current routine or creative discipline to speak of. 

To make things even more challenging, I'm going to do this without using the word "just" as a minimizer even once. I wayyyyy overuse "just," along with weasel words like "I think" and "It's possible that..."  because I am a woman and gosh, I'd sure hate to make anyone uncomfortable. That would be such a shame, to write something and have people think I am confident that I know what I'm talking about! 

Oh, also I'm in a terrible mood lately, but I'm sure you can't tell. (Going by the conversations I've been having lately, odds are you're in a terrible mood too, and in fact you actually can't tell what kind of mood I'm in. And in that case, I'm sorry, and I hope you feel better soon.)

Anyway, this is gonna be fun. I promise! 

*Apparently now defunct. Blogging truly is dead. This should be a Substack newsletter: insipid content, served fresh to your inbox every morning.