FOCUS – New Zine to Be Published Mid-June

This feels like a transition time. Baby is almost 4 and seems to be finally coming out of a long-term, hard-core gotta-have-Mama-at-all-costs phase (which has, in all honesty, lasted her entire life). My score of readers knows that I always have a lot of things I want to do or feel like I should do, but right now the overarching important thing for me to do is relearn how to FOCUS, both for my own sanity and to facilitate actual progress on the to-do list items.

I regret what has happened to my brain and my nervous system during the childbearing years way more than I regret my stretch marks or other physical signs of motherhood. I saw a documentary once about stress, and it said that many people in our culture are always in fight or flight mode. That put into words how I have felt for years, maybe all my life. It’s the pressure of “perceived threats”. That can mean being afraid that my past will come back and haunt me in some way, or worrying myself sick about what might happen in the unknowable future. There are also the ever-present threats of the present – like my all-too-common (though usually mostly subconscious) sense that somewhere, someone (could be my husband, the old woman at the grocery store or someone reading this blog) is judging me or expecting something from me that I cannot deliver.  All these things are actually incorporeal  – my feelings, neuroses, angst – but FEEL physical like threats that I want to run away from or come at with teeth bared. What that looks like for each of us will be different, how we manifest fight or flight –  but I assume (as a fellow human being in an often scary world) that you also deal with this unfortunate aspect of life in some way and have developed a few more or less ineffective coping mechanisms and/or annoying habitual behaviors in response.

I honestly believe that my body now reacts to the constant interruptions of children (and the over-complication young kids bring to otherwise simple or straightforward tasks) the way a proverbial caveman would react if they were suddenly being chased by the proverbial saber-tooth tiger. This doesn’t mean that I literally think my kids are out to get me (although they can be as manipulative as any sinner at any age). It’s like this:


And that’s just one example. It’s like my brain can no longer hold a thought for more than 10 seconds even if I am alone. I think this is probably what they call neural pathway development (or in my case, neural pathway destruction). I notice this problem especially when I try to read, but it has affected everything I need or want to do. Having to do something like run a simple errand or do a basic household chore is almost a trigger in itself. I get anxious  and even somewhat panicked even thinking about doing whatever it is because I know it will require so much more from me than chopping celery. My body interprets it as a threatening situation. I can fight by literally fighting – or at least getting really grumpy and showing it. I can take flight by simply not doing “it”, whatever IT is.

My own self-improvementy thoughts (completely apart from dealing with other people) usually also feel, if not always threatening, then at least exhausting.  In practice, this makes me inefficient, because I will let my ideas (if I am feeling competent and/or productive) or my emotions (if I am feeling depressed and/or stagnant) distract me from what I am doing. I will literally be in the middle of washing dishes (a good and necessary, if sometimes maddeningly mundane task) and in response to a thought like, “Such-and-such would be a good thing to have in my next zine”. I will turn from the dishes like some mind-controlled person in a sci-fi show responding to her master’s inner call or something, and head to the computer or notebook. That’s if I’m feeling productive. If I’m feeling depressed the thought at the sink might be, “Oh crap, I’m already washing these dishes but those (insert your favorite expletive) sheets have to go in the washing machine. Man, I am a total failure at this job.” So, I turn from the dishes (in the same sci-fi manner, only looking more despondent) and go get the sheets off the bed. The most likely next act in this scenario will be someone in the family inserting their need or request or simple comment into the fray, and neither the dishes, nor the zine work nor the sheets will get done.

So, I need to focus in at least two senses. I need to focus on what I am doing at the moment and, yes, pay attention to it in a zen-like manner but mostly just finish it already. I also need to plan at least some focused time for the things I say are most important to me. This could be having a mental date with myself at 2pm every day for a workout DVD, or a plan to sit with my 7-year-old for thirty minutes to read aloud, or setting aside the whole day for only basic housework and zine stuff. I’m not sure of the specifics, in fact it is specifics I am afraid of, because when something has been specified or codified that’s when it’s most obvious if (or when) you deviate, which (in perfectionist-speak) translates to FAIL.

A new zine comes into this situation because it, in itself, is a form of focus. So, it’s a natural container for six weeks or so of my thinking and planning and (most importantly) execution of FOCUS. It should be ready for mailing by mid-June. I don’t think it will a Thirty Days Zine exactly, but it will be done quickly, in that Thirty Days spirit. I’m going to charge for this one. Not sure how much yet, but that info will be made public when it has been determined.


My First Painting That Will Hang On Someone Else’s Wall

This is my second painting done using the basic technique I learned in Jane Spakowsy’s last workshop. In general, I like it. I can see that I am making progress in skin tones and shading, though that is still a challenge for me. I really wanted the background to be more of a deep maroon, but when I did the final sanding, with all the underlayers it became this more reddish brown color. I do like how all the texture underneath shows up well. This is the finished piece and a detail picture:



Here are some of the process pics:

marla1 marla2 marla3 marla4 marla5

The only thing I may still do to the final piece is change the eye reflections a bit, as I seem to have a lost a bit of the “looking right at you” quality. In some ways, I almost always prefer the “almost done” stages when I look back on them. They are more raw. marla6

My influences in this piece were, of course, Jane, and also Klimt for the gold. Although I wasn’t thinking about his work when I did the painting, if the portrait reminds me of the work of any Master type, it would be William Waterhouse (without the bright trueness of his colors.)


My natural style is obviously somewhat realistic. Whenever I try too hard to achieve a more quirky look or the more skewed realism of modernism, it hasn’t worked all that well.

This will be the first real painting that ever leaves my house and will live on someone else’s wall.

Forty-Six Things About Me or a Not-So-Lurid Confessional of Middle Age, Part 2

Part 1, Here

10) Natalie Goldberg says, “Get to know your obsessions…ask yourself, what monopolizes my mind?” It has always been the “big” topics which have monopolized my thinking since childhood. Death. Sex (not having it necessarily, but rather how twisted ideas and my twisted experience of it has affected me – see #14). God. Philosophy and Psychology. All of my lasting interests and obsessions fit into one of these categories. Unfortunately, I have not yet taken all that deep stuff and produced mounds and mounds of honest writing.

11) I don’t usually think of myself as a person with a lot of regrets, but sometimes I find myself not starting something in the present because I wish I would have done it in the past. For example, I just got Danny Gregory’s book Art Before Breakfast (which I like best of all his books) and one of the suggestions is to draw your children. If I started doing that, I know I would regret not having drawn my other children, so I might not even do it now because I don’t want to feel that regret. Of course, later I would regret it even more since I won’t have drawn any of them. One of the unhealthy manifestations of my life as a memoirist is this weird feeling that I should be chronicling my life more thoroughly and consistently than I do, which is, of course, one manifestation of my sometimes almost crippling perfectionism.

12) I am really trying to be less emotionally repressed. Even when I was a kid (my childhood life being the start of my emotional problems) I was emotionally reticent, but I still felt my feelings. As I have gotten older I feel things less, which I know is a protective mechanism of some kind. One thing I am doing to try to combat this is to listen to more music from my past, which I usually avoid because, well, it does bring up feelings. I’m not talking about the music from my young childhood, I can’t listen to that at all or I get an anxiety attack. But music from my young adulthood and the babyhood of my older children can be hard for me to listen to. I have also been watching some television shows that are about family life and all the varied emotions that brings up. I seem to be able to feel negative emotions more easily, and some of those are normal, like the frustration that is all too common when dealing with the never-ending demands of young children. I also feel anger a lot (not that I really fly into rages or anything) but I do believe that most of my anger is a cover-up for all the emotions of vulnerability and abandonment and stuff like that. I’m trying to look at my anger when it shows up and see if I am turning my pain outward. I heard a Tim Keller sermon where he talked about anger, and how to make it productive rather than destructive. He recommended we ask ourselves two questions about our anger: What am I defending? What am I attacking? It’s embarrassing how often what we are defending is some selfish desire for our own comfort or peace or relaxation or whatever, and how often what we are attacking are those people we see as getting in the way of that. But I see how those two questions can help me when what I feel seems to be anger, but on closer observation the real underlying emotion is probably some kind of grief. I am learning to recognize when the the anger is only a front, and trying to let myself just feel whatever emotion wells up when I look deeper.

13) I am absolutely not into nature. I mean, I like being outside on a nice day (which means way below possible sweating temperature) and the quiet of a natural place (sans kids) can be meaningful. But I don’t really enjoy outside activities (except walking while listening to podcasts) and I don’t get inspired by nature in a creative way. I am so bored by the journaling books I have purchased that are full of drawings of plants and animals. If I were to draw something, I would always go for some kind of man-made object in my house, rather than go outside to draw trees or flowers. If I were forced to draw outside, I would likely draw my mailbox or the barbeque. What I most appreciate about nature is listening to birds, which I can do quite well from inside with the windows open in the morning. If I could have any kind of experience in the natural world, I would love to be transported to a time when wild birds were everywhere.

14) Although I still don’t love it (meaning it doesn’t turn me on) I think that it has been a positive thing for me to see mild to moderately graphic sexual situations in television shows when they are not stylized depictions of impossibly beautiful people having impossibly perfect sex or are abusive in some way. I’m not making any moral pronouncements about whether or not we should see these things, so please don’t give me a hard time about it if you disapprove. Being exposed to a lot of pornography before puberty really messed up my idea of myself as a sexual being, and I pretty much grew up having the cognitively dissonant thoughts that 1) my worth was totally dependent on how sexy I was and 2) that I was inherently undesirable. So, as you can imagine, in my mind I was screwed (no pun intended). In the past, whenever I would see a sexual scene  (I never really had this problem if it was a sex scene in a novel) , I would get high anxiety from this weird unarticulated feeling that sex was for other people, that somehow in the game of sex I would always be chosen last like the loser kids in P.E. Of course, I have been married for a long time and so have had a fair amount of licit sex, plus various pre-marriage illicit sexual experiences and people who have been attracted to me though we never had any kind of sexual contact. Seeing sex scenes in shows like Six Feet Under where even older people are having and enjoying sex, and some of the British shows where everyone is average looking has somehow helped me see that I’m entitled to my place in the normal human sexual experience, about which pornography lies.