Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride

Crazy eyesThis is me, circa last day of work (note the last-day crazy-eyes).  But more on that in a bit.

You could say I bought my ticket 8 years ago when I started taking interior design classes.  Sneaking out of my magazine job to head uptown to class, I’d perspire heavily on the 6 train, hoping equally that 1) no one saw me leave work at 5:30, and 2) I’d make it there on time.

It’s funny I used the word “sneak.” I don’t think anyone really cared what I was doing, but I did feel the need to hide my creative side back then out of fear that people would think I couldn’t devote myself fully to work and pursue something on the side.

But over time, things shifted. Perhaps I’ve become more open with sharing that other side.  I owe part of it to working for Google, a company that encourages its people to nurture their side gigs and fly their freak flags.  But I owe some of it to my own awareness, tuning in to the passage of time, aging and my own authenticity.

This has all shone a light on how I spend my time. And I’m not talking about spare time per se; I’ve already tackled the matter of making sure I have it and spend it wisely.   I’m talking about those workday hours that tick by between 9-5, those hours of life we’re told – at least my generation – to make a living.

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View from the Goog

Aren’t those equally precious?  Mine have served me well, especially after 6 years at a company that’s made me feel appreciated and rewarded, alongside some of the best people ever.  But I’ve had a nagging feeling that my creative side work was ready for its time.

SO!
I left my job.

I’m now an intern at an interior design firm here in the city.  With a month under my belt, it’s been exciting, humbling, rewarding and overwhelming at once. I walk out at night tired and spent, but happy.

I’ve found there’s a sense of feeling lighter that comes from new and different work.  This new work feels organic to who I am, and allows me to combine things that come most naturally but that I also enjoy: thinking creatively, drawing stuff, solving problems (dare I say #puzzles), and working with people. And I’m hoping this intersection may actually provide a sustainable career.

Don’t get me wrong: I encountered plenty of noise during all of this. But it was my own noise, telling me to stay safe, stay put, because you may not be good enough.

But it’s the other voices that won out in the end. For someone who’s prided herself on self-reliance and staunch independence, I’ve found that confiding in others and being vulnerable about my insecurities has brought more encouragement from friends, family, and oftentimes perfect strangers, than I expected.

It’s funny, this change came slow but fast at the same time: I thought about it for years, and then all at once, it’s here.

I’m drawn to narratives about aging, memory, and the passage of time (see: 85-year old Kate), so naturally I watched The Curious Case of Benjamin Button a few months ago, for the first time. If you’ve seen it, you know that Pitt’s character Benjamin ages backwards. So while he’s a kid trapped in an old man’s body at the start, by the end, he’s looks like a 20-something, just with a lifetime of experience and knowledge underneath his youthful (smoking-hot) exterior.

At the end, his voiceover reads from a letter he’s written to his daughter. It’s about living life without being afraid to try new things. The visuals show Benjamin working in a toll booth, traveling through India, and living the less-conventional life of an “old” man. His words were powerful enough that I wrote them down. To me, they serve as a reminder to take my own path, and to look at life less in terms of goals and destinations, and more in terms of the journey, a message that came just when I needed it most:

For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.

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“Uncover Your Soul”

Sneaks New“Uncover your soul.”  This is one of the opening lines in a TED talk I heard recently.  It stopped me in my tracks as I was running [trotting slowly] through my neighborhood, and made me pause along the waterfront to take in the view and hear her out.

“Her” is Elizabeth Lesser, a co-founder of the Omega Institute, who was speaking about one of her first careers as a home birth midwife in “Say your truths and seek them in others.”

This first job of hers taught many valuable lessons, one of them being (and there were many in this short, extraordinary talk): each of us comes into this world with a unique spark.

Through years of delivering babies, she got an up close and personal look at these little souls, noticing that every single one of them had a wild soulfulness that made them light up from within.   But as we age, she notes, babies become fully-formed adults, and we learn to cover up our souls, layer by layer, conforming, doing what our culture tells us we should do, hiding parts of ourselves along the way.

It made me think about who I’ve become over the years: the layers I’ve added to conform and achieve, the armor I’ve worn at work, the masks I’ve worn to hide my vulnerability in relationships, and the things that fill my time that move me away from what lit me up as a kid.

But this blog has helped me peel back many layers.  It’s where I’ve learned to stop hiding my creativity, where I’ve confronted the fear that I’m not artistic or good enough to share it with others.  That’s why this talk hit me:  it gives me more permission to keep digging for that spark from my littler soul, giving it what it wants:  more time to indulge in painting, putting pen to paper when I feel the urge, not putting it off for when “I’ll have more time to focus,” allowing me to be more authentic, instead of shying away from sharing what makes me come alive.

And funny enough, I’ve started doing the same thing to my home, peeling back its layers, returning it to its former self.  I’ve been cautiously restoring it, focusing on small things first like replacing fixtures that didn’t fit the style of the 150-year old building in favor of those that feel authentic.

L:  Nope.  R: Yes please!

And now it’s on to bigger projects like my kitchen, as I peel away the plastic, the linoleum, and the unnecessarily-large refrigerator, replacing them with wood and butchers’ block, porcelain and clay, making decisions that are in line with the original soul of the building:  restoring, peeling, uncovering.

Kitchen Reno early

With each change, my home gets closer to how it was meant to be.  And while it’s not pretty (proof to the left), bearing through it and being uncomfortable along the way seems to be the only way to go.  Slowly, carefully, I watch as it’s stripped of its layers, revealing a more authentic core.

And just like that, so am I.

 

The Joys of Unplanned Time

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Radishes, 2016

There’s nothing like a city snowstorm to really slow you down, in a good way.  This piece over the weekend said it best: blizzards have a way of punishing the ambitious and rewarding indolence.

I took the cue and planned my own un-planned weekend (yes, I understand the irony here), starting with an old-fashioned sleepover with two of my closest girlfriends.  Our agenda items: 1) wear sweatpants 2) be cozy in said sweatpant, 3) catch up with each other. (Carbs and Moscow Mules may/may not have been involved).

So you’re wondering about the above radishes?  Well, when the girls left on Saturday to avoid a snow-in situation, I took to my watercolors, facing hours of (yay!) time at home.

I returned to watercoloring this past year as a way of practicing my rendering, but also because I just really enjoy it.  Fast forward, and my little furniture studies have given way to winter veggies.  I started with a red onion, and while I still won’t eat them, I now I see them as beautiful, with just one of them showing several shades of some of the prettiest purples in nature.Red OnionI moved on to sweet little bunches of baby carrots, then radishes, first putting down a light sketch before getting into the painting action.  Note:  time is not your friend when painting fresh produce (I now know).  These puppies will wilt and change in front of your eyes if you don’t paint fast enough – a lesson in decisiveness and speed, both essential when watercoloring, which rewards both.Carrott Vignette

I’ve learned that painting, for me, isn’t about filling up free time with a hobby.  “Totally” free time can be hard to come by when most days are composed of working, playing, learning, schooling, commuting, socializing, chore-ing, errand-running…and so on.  So for me, it’s quite the opposite:  painting is about loving something so much that I carve out the time to do it, often casting aside my to-do list in order to spend an hour or two brush-to-paper.  So I chose to enjoy the swaths of free hours this weekend at home.  While many of us were inconvenienced, I was – in fact – convenienced*.  Lucky me.Carrot Comparrison

 

*not a real word

Watercolor Chairs

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I made a promise to myself this summer to spend more time creating, doing, immersing myself in some of my old, favorite hobbies I loved as a kid.  If you remember, this summer I talked a lot about the passions you have as a child and how they never really go away – and they’re a great indicator of what you should do now.

Enter the watercolor thing.

I started doing these watercolor exercises two years ago in a Rendering class, where we learned how to paint the textures and nuances of furniture.  We traced chairs and other pieces from old design magazines, then rendered them in color however we chose.

It was a blast.  There was something exciting about how different each rendering can appear based on how the paint dries on the page.  And for a non-committal soul like me, there’s something gratifying about placing color on paper, letting it dry into its final form without playing with it too much, watching different shadows and textures take shape.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, how much I enjoyed creating these little studies and thought, why don’t I do this more?  Well, I know why.  It’s obligations, chores on my to-do list, and the ebb and flow of life in general that can pull one away from something that’s so simple but can be deeply gratifying.

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But I just realized I’m not OK with that, and here’s why.  I just finished Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, which serendipitously talks about living a more creative life.  We’re all creators, she hypothesizes, and we come from a bloodline of people who have made things with their hands for thousands of years.  Just because we don’t use those gifts everyday doesn’t mean they’re not there, waiting to be acknowledged and put to use.

The advice struck me, hard.  The fact that you can live a more creative life solely because it feels good, is liberating.  That you can pursue it not for career change, not for fame or recognition.  But for you, the artist’s sake, exploring your curiosity and creativity solely because of the joy it brings you.

My favorite morsel from Gilbert is this:  “You might spend your whole life following your curiosity and have absolutely nothing to show for it at the end – except one thing.  You will have the satisfaction of knowing that you passed your entire existence in devotion to the noble human virtue of inquisitiveness.  And that should be more than enough for anyone to say that they lived a rich and splendid live.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

So selfishly, I’m creating these studies for the sheer enjoyment they bring me, posting them here to hold myself accountable.  Chairs are fun!  But so are landscapes, trees, and hell, maybe vegetables.  I hope you enjoy them.  But most importantly, I enjoyed creating them.  And that’s what matters most.

Summertime Throwback

Shell - Edited

They say the things we did for fun at 8 years of age are the things that will – then and now – make us happiest.  I’m not sure where I heard this, but when I did, it struck me.  And it did so again during a recent visit to my parents’ home.

I found this shell on display in a powder room, inscribed with its date of creation:  1988.  I was 10 at the time, and pursuing a budding career in shell painting.  These little studies took up much of my summer afternoons, and I spent hours churning out pieces for friends and family.  (There were many duds, of course: one gem that my sister has since “lost” screamed “Erika’s Room!” in a horrid peach-and-mint-green palette.  Not my best work).

But producing a masterpiece each time wasn’t the point.  I got lost in the blissful act of creation, and loved it.   There was no goal, no deadline; I was creating art for the sake of creating art.

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I thought of this recently when my friend Marley visited me at the shore.  She arrived with handfuls of colorful embroidery floss in tow, and we whiled away the day weaving bracelets, recalling the knots of our youth, muscle memory at its best.

With each new project, I spent an embarrassing amount of time choosing colors and designing my pattern.  Like painting shells, each new design presented me with a limitless combination of colors and an empty slate, the possibilities endless.

Bracelet cropped

I wove together this number after I got the hang of it (again)

And I realized:  this isn’t too different from dreaming up a concept for a room.  In fact, little creations like these can act as a springboard for new designs: like how a room would look with a with a buttery leather sofa, lavender and orange throw pillows, brass accents, and a patterned rug to bring it all together.

And I guess that’s the point of all of this:  by letting myself get totally wrapped up in something so simple yet so consuming, I not only created something beautiful (to me), but came out of it with renewed inspiration.

On that note, I’m diving more freely into my little creative projects, starting now.  Projects I’m pursuing purely for the joy they bring me.  We all get caught up in the speed and hustle of everyday life – at least I do.  Things may move fast around me, but it doesn’t mean I can’t slow down and find time for the things I love.

So I’m watercoloring more, painting more, sketching more.  And in the spirit of sharing, I’ll be publishing a different sample of work each month, starting with some watercolor studies I’ve been working on.

Hey, what’s old is new again.

Shoe Storage Upgrade

In my scurry to move forward on new projects, I’ve been remiss in posting some of the nice little moments that have come together in my apartment.  One of my favorite nooks is this one by my front door.  It’s a chair + crate combo that’s nice on the eyes, and also holds and conceals my shoes.

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The chair is CB2, and the wood crate is a find from Maine during a drive home from my friend Kim’s wedding.  A few of us stopped by some antique stores in Wells, and I founds this Hood Dairy crate for $28.  It dates back to…well, I’m not sure.  But it’s old.  And I was drawn to its red check pattern, and of course its crustiness.  I think this montage is a good reminder that mixing old and new is easy, as long as you can find the similarities that tie the pieces together.  In this case, the red tones do the job.  I may add wheels or sliders, TBD.

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OH and my friend Silvia scored a mink that day and we got a $20 discount for paying cash and bundling our purchases.  wooo! #effectivenegotiation