Forty-Six Things About Me or a Not-So-Lurid Confessional of Middle Age, Part 1

When I was young and in the throes of the new blogging world (back in 2002 or so when I thought I was more interesting than I do now) I had a “100 Factoids About Me” link in my sidebar. They were just pithy little sentences that didn’t really tell that much about me (as I was even less willing then to really share than I am now) and I think I probably chose them to illustrate my idea of cool quirkiness. A lot of them are just simple facts about my life, which has obviously been quirky, and not always in a good way. But as I look back, at least a few of them seem to be me deceiving myself. Like Keith Green sang, “No one believes a thing you say, not even you“. I wonder how honest these new ones will seem in ten years?

1) I couldn’t stand Ann Voskamp’s immensely popular book One Thousand Gifts. I have also disliked 99.75% of the blog posts I have read on her immensely popular blog, A Holy Experience (full disclosure, I haven’t read all that many). I have a hard time with her writing style, I don’t find it inspiring or moving and it doesn’t make me fall to me knees in gratitude or want to buy her spinoff books. It confuses and annoys me on a good day and weighs me down with guilt on the bad days. I honestly have an easier time reading Calvin’s Institutes with its somewhat archaic theological language. I do, however, really like her daily habit sheet.

2) One of my longest-running (but still somewhat sporadic) external manifestations of sin is sometimes being a high functioning stoner. I have self-medicated with pot off and on since I was about 16. I went a full 8 years without smoking at all, from 2004-2013, but have once again had bouts of smoking since that time. I don’t think smoking is any more inherently wrong than drinking margaritas, but of course, it’s illegal and I use it in unhealthy ways. And like any drug or substance, it gives diminishing returns and also deceives you into thinking that it’s helping you when it really isn’t. It relieves stress for a time, jumpstarts creativity for a time – but after a while it increases stress and it’s horrible in terms of creative follow-through. I recently read a book called Grace in Addiction, and while I don’t know if pot is addictive in the same sense that street drugs or alcohol are (it isn’t all that physically challenging to give it up and it certainly hasn’t caused me to destroy lives, steal, cheat, etc. to get some) I definitely feel mentally powerless against it’s allure when it is available (see the first step of AA). Thankfully, accepting that coincided with being very burned out on the stuff and got me back on the proverbial wagon, where I will hopefully remain.

3) Motherhood has killed off way more of my brain cells than smoking pot ever did. I can hardly focus to read any more after all these years of constant interruptions to my thought process. I think it may be God’s way of humbling me for being somewhat prideful in my past intelligence (which was never really all that impressive, and in fact I have never been more than a pseudo-intellectual).

4) I’ve gone to a Presbyterian church since we first started going to church about 14 years ago, and while I am committed to the doctrines of grace, I don’t know if I am full-on Reformed. In general, I have struggles going to church and often get stressed about it on Saturday evening. That might be because I have had little children for so long that just the process of getting everyone up and fed is a struggle, not to mention being there with all the wandering attention spans, desires for drinks and (insert thing kids do at church that basically makes the whole thing just another period of unfocused multi-tasking, not much different than every other day). I feel guilty about it, but Sunday has never been a day of rest and prayerful re-creation for me. I also struggle with the whole “fellowship” situation, because by Sunday afternoon, after a long week of non-stop interaction with the many people in my household, my Inner Introvert has pretty much shut down. I literally get to church harried and parched and crave to simply hear the benediction that God grants me grace and peace, and then I want to go home.

5) One thing that really pisses me off is when people tell someone they are taking something too seriously or that they should “lighten up”. People take seriously what is a serious issue for them, and not everyone’s serious issues will be the same. Just because you think something is lighthearted or a joke or not a big deal doesn’t mean that another person won’t see it in a more serious light. I’m considered a pretty funny person who laughs a lot, but I have been told this more times than I can count.

6) I have male friends who are not also friends of my husband. One of them died a few years ago. He was my first love when I was about 15 and I saw him off and on since those days of youth, the last time being in 2010. We talked on Facebook every so often, and after he died in 2013 I printed out our entire chat history and put it with the many other papers I have which chronicle my life. I’m very glad I didn’t marry him, not like that was ever an option. I also keep in some contact with a man I worked with back in my young adult years before children. One of my Alter-Egos would probably have been a good fit for him, but not my real self. My third and final male friend is someone half my age whom I have known since he was about 10. We have coffee together occasionally and sometimes I feel like we are very much alike and other times I feel like he is unknowable and my exact opposite. While my relationships with them are (or were, in the case of my dead friend) platonic, I feel different about them than I do my female friends. There is just this Other quality. My husband knows about these friendships and has never asked me to cease and desist. I don’t know how I would feel if he had women friends, but he really doesn’t have any male friends he hangs out with either, so if suddenly there was a woman friend it would be glaringly strange.

7) Despite being able to write long rambling blog posts, I have less to say now than I ever have in my life and/or I literally do say much less. In some ways this is a good thing, but I’m also concerned that I am getting further into my introvert shell in a negative, self-protective way. I was walking the other day and listening to Tim Keller’s sermon The Wounded Spirit, and I heard this:

“If you take a look at the third proverb in the list, it’s a very interesting proverb. “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.” What in the world does that mean? You say, “Well, I have friends. They can share my joy. I have people who understand me.” Do you know what this is saying? Again, don’t relativize this. Here’s what this is saying. Your insides, the movements and motions of your heart, are so complex, they’re so inward, and they’re so hidden there’s an irreducible, unavoidable solitude about human existence. Nobody will ever completely understand you.”

I impressively demonstrated my coordination as I walked and simultaneously nodded in agreement. Of course, he didn’t end on that depressing existential note and I wasn’t actually feeling all that nihilistic. But my point is that I think I am acquiescing too much to this very real existential aloneness. My husband has never been a chat-er, and I’m not so much either, but more than he is. I used to try to get him to talk to me more (or listen more about what was going on with me) which didn’t work very well because, well, no one likes feeling pressure to do something they don’t want to do. So while in a way that has been good for our marriage (me releasing my expectations that we should talk together more), it has driven me further into myself and I wonder how interested anyone is in anything I think or do, and what purpose trying to communicate really serves. I worry that I may be forgetting how to communicate and share, which is not good for someone who is naturally emotionally repressed anyway.

8) These days, when I honestly say I am “doing my best”, that is not very impressive.

9) I let my kids spend waaaaay more time in front of screens than I am comfortable with, which is a fairly new development. I figure that is better than the alternative of them visiting me twice a week in the loony bin. In the past I would have put together some big plan to change this, but now I think it is just better for me to let it run its course (For my sake, not theirs. They seem to be doing fine and their brains don’t seem any mushier than they ever have.)

…To Be Continued




In Which I Take Jane Spakowsky’s New Workshop

Jane Spakowsky (aka Gritty Jane) is probably my favorite of the mixed-media women artists I know. I especially like how her stuff is colorful, somewhat whimsical, but never cutesy and has the feel of masters portraits to me (she is also an art doll maker). I took one of her online courses about 5 years ago, before I was really ready to paint for the sake of painting. She just released a short class which documents her process making this painting:


You can take this workshop here:

This is the reference photo I used with her techniques:


I made mine in my art education journal (which is why there is that line across the photos where the pages meet) and it was neat to see how many layers of paper and paint that 140lb watercolor paper could take.







This next one with the spirals is more a homage to Jane’s older work (about when I was taking the other class – but there are a few spirals in her current painting too). But I didn’t leave the spirals, so the pic above is the finished piece (but I might add the spirals back in because I like them).


Here are some macro shots:



I think I did a pretty good job using Jane’s process. I wasn’t able to capture that “looking up” pose in the reference photos, and her face is a little more classically “pretty” than I like. As usual, my skin tones and shading need some work, but I think it is improving (albeit almost imperceptibly). The skin tone in real life is somewhat less pale than is showing up in the photos.

45 Minutes at a Time and the Stuff That Brings Up

I’ve liked the idea of breaking a day down into manageable blocks of time since the old days of Managers of Their Homes (although scheduling every minute of every day into 20 minute task-specific blocs is not for me).  In my journal from last summer (which was pretty much a detailed record of my self-improvement-overdose) there are more than a few pages where I mull over that idea. It was definitely good for me to give up self-improvement as a lifestyle and an idol, but I do need some kind of framework for my time or I will literally walk around the house all day jumping from task to task but not accomplishing much that is tangible. (I was amazed at how many steps this generated when I wore a pedometer). Because I am such a perfectionist, though, something as broad as “pick something to do for 45 minutes” can get me all stressed out. I start feeling like I must (for all eternity henceforth)  fit all my life into neat 45-minute segments. I would wonder whether this or that activity should go into  1) a housework block 2) an enjoyable but productive activity block 3) a something I dread or feel a duty to do block, or 4) a true relaxation block (which is how I would likely break it down). And what about the things that don’t fit neatly into any block! We can’t have unmanaged time running around now, can we? I’m serious. Especially when I am generally stressed out or hormonal, my thought process has some uncomfortable similarities to this humorous dramatization.

On a practical level, I know it is important for me to switch tasks like that.  One of my tendencies is to go all obsessive with an activity (usually for days and days at a time) and then wind up with burnout and even a distaste for the activity that sometimes last a while. I also don’t know how else I can practice mindfulness if I don’t have a nice mental barbed-wire fence I can corral my thoughts behind for those 45 minutes. But although my rambling thoughts do need a bit of corraling, I need to let some cracks form in my Armor of Emotional Repression. A few days ago I realized and/or admitted that for a melancholy type like me, there is pretty much always some level of sadness happening. Even when everything is going along blissfully (and I feel bathed in peaceful, Rivendell-ish soothing light) there is always a sadness because of the impermanence. The moment is passing away. Of course, that is somewhat more pleasant than the dreaded is-this-all-there-is-to-life sadness that comes with depressions, the times of despair, loneliness and/or (insert human suffering here).

It’s easy for me to be critical of my much younger Journal self – more externally obnoxious, wholly non-Christian – but she had some good qualities that I have lost. She was more more optimistic and/or funny in the face of the aforementioned human suffering. She was still cynical (but it was a hopeful cynicism). My disillusionment with myself and with everyone else over the years has been theologically correct (people pretty much hopeless, hence, Jesus) BUT I wish I could just suddenly transition from KNOWING that everything I need I have in Christ to FEELING it. I know our feelings don’t affect our standing with God, and I know that He doesn’t owe us spiritual warm fuzzies and all that. I just think that my general tendency to suppress my emotions as a coping mechanism is making me cold hearted in some ways. I think it’s standing in the way of my getting the gospel on a deeper level.

I know I had a lot of pain and stress and trauma early in my life, that my protective neuroses come from that. But I know that my fear of having my heart broken (in all those myriad ways this can happen in our world) is keeping me from loving people like I should. Over the years I have come back many times to the idea that we have to lose our life in order to find it, and that means letting go of it (or at least my conception of it) and all it contains. That hurts on so many levels.  I want to learn mindfulness because I want to see my life as it is, which is the life that God gave me. I want to feel the feelings my life (the living and the losing of it) brings up because I believe that’s part of the dying process of the Christian. I want to get to the living part so I’m starting to be maybe willing to go through the death.

I don’t know how I got from 45 minute time blocks to those existential musings, but ever since I was a teenager, if left to babble, I eventually link every seemingly mundane topic to some underlying stuff.

Stamp Carving Test Page Painting

stamppaintingdoneThis is the finished painting on my hand carved stamp test page. I got the look I wanted for it (with the Chagall/Kendrick plus a Modigliani/Klimt influence) and I integrated my hand carved stamps into it. That was the assignment, and I completed it. I am not yet rebelling against the Inner Instructor (a new alter-ego, I guess) who is telling me what to do.

I used the hand carved stamps, block printing ink, gesso, acrylics, Neocolor II water soluble crayons and decorative rice paper. I don’t think these colors are perfectly accurate, but they are close. It’s somewhere between the image above and the one below. The purples are more red in real life, like the final image, which is taken in odd light and is a few steps before completed.



Obviously, I’m not good at setting the white balance on my new camera, but if I had to choose, I would say that image three is the most accurate, but still not perfect.

In general, I like this painting. I think it is simple and also simplistic as far as being pretty much totally unoriginal. I feel like it needs more village elements but I didn’t want to put another house right under her chin and couldn’t think of anything else. Maybe a clothesline or something would work. I don’t like floating images even though Chagall could pull them off. My skin tones always need work, in my opinion, although something about the mask look appeals to me. The gold pattern in the back is a slight Klimt influence and it is my hand carved repeating pattern stamp, printed in gold acrylic. Also the hand carved corner stamp can be seen here in the background.


detail2This is the second or third time I have put circles in the hair and/or scarf of a drawing or painting. I guess it is a repeating motif for some reason, which reminds me of the mosaics of Empress Theodora:


I don’t know whether I should say that the stamp carving lesson ends with the completion of this painting, because I definitely want to carve more stamps. I don’t really love painting patterns like Matisse, but I think I would enjoy carving patterns and incorporating them that way. It’s also a good way to get gold in, which I almost always like to do. In fact, what this painting needs in order to be finished are some gold dots.