Happy EFFing New Year

It’s raining, it’s cold, I have two visiting dogs under my feet but no one else, and it’s only 10:00, early enough to believe I have plenty of time to ready the house and larder for a new wave of guests arriving tomorrow. And it occurs to me that this moment is the closest I’ll come to a quiet, contemplative chunk of time before the dreaded New Year.

It may surprise you to learn that I loathe the approach of any new year almost as much as my ultimate fear, The Tidal Wave. And of course it’s both comforting and heinous that as time passes, new years arrive with much more alarming frequency. I won’t bore you with my hate list; after all, there is much to love about December 31 — sequins, party hair, dangly jewels and pushed-up breasts, Prosecco, expensive cuts of rarely-enjoyed red meats, laughter, friends, family, and maybe a kiss or two.

No, this year I’ll write about the bits that remain a part of our lives no matter the date: creation, decisions, choices, beauty, ugliness, successes and failures, but always love and always seeking.

I’ve cleared the business checkbooks off the kitchen table and replaced them with possibilities — a good start to any day — a small copper substrate and my prettiest ornaments — glass, copper, ceramics . . . and a cup of tea. I finger each in turn, assessing both its beauty and its meaning, the blatant and the quiet. I’ve already chosen a name for the piece, but haven’t yet settled on the partners that will commingle to make it whole.

And then (of course, you saw it coming), I can’t help thinking how so much of life is about the choices we make — and those that are made for us — sometimes by our allowing and other times in spite of our kicking and screaming. I can’t help wondering how our choices combine to make us who we are. What would you have done, and who would you be, if life — in all its incarnations — had not interfered? Who would I be? Would I still make art if I had grown up like other little girls? Would I write if I hadn’t been too shy to speak? Would I have danced if I had been good at kickball? Would I be a mosaicist if drawing came naturally to me? Am I a laundry list of second choices, or was I blind to a deeper truth for too many years?

Have my choices been internal or external? Of me, despite me, or not me at all? And the choices I make for 2012, now that I am old(er) and (wise)er, will my choices be more on target, or have I learned to settle? Will I wish for more of the same because my life is blessed, or does my spirit still long to blaze a trail?

I’ve never been called spontaneous, and I’m tickled pink to love what I love. I’m happy to eat the same cereal every morning, wear the same jeans, and walk the same well worn streets (of Rome).

But in the minutiae of life, I confess that I have a special affection for the unexpected — the tarnish on the bling, the twisted touching skirts with the sublime. Our time on earth is so very much not a one-note dance, and I love the barely-noticed reminders of LIFE where we seldom think to look. And so it’s a no-brainer that I will select at least a bit of the everyday to tell my story in mosaic.

And of course here’s the thing: I like to think that my choices in art, as my choices in life, are intensely deliberate. But 90% of the time it’s the deliberate choices that I end up tossing into the bin, and the seemingly random finds that grab my heart. It’s almost as if my presence on this earth is not only arbitrary, but completely unnecessary — as if the “I” that I so carefully cultivate is no more than a worker bee robot for someone else’s fresher ideas, clearer vision, spot-on choices.

And so I end 2011 much the same as I started it — working, dreaming, becoming, creating, loving, encouraging, choosing — and wondering how much of my life has to do with me, and how much of it could have been the guy down the street.

But I’m learning one thing, and that is that in the end, it probably doesn’t matter. Maybe being the vehicle is a cool enough ride.

Down Deep

I’d been looking for ten months and one week. Not constantly, of course, but there were more than a few sporadic foraging forays when my aggravation billowed to extremes. Where could I have put them? Were they gone? I remember thinking, “I’ve got to move this before Vernon sees it and heads to the trash can. I know — I’ll hide it under the bed.” But it wasn’t under the bed — not a single one of the many times I fell to my knees and poked my hands and head beneath the dust ruffle, scanning, of course, nothing but dust.

It wasn’t in any closet in the house, carefully secreted behind ski parkas, the wet suit or boxes of Matchbox cars. It wasn’t in the attic, playing coy behind a bag of tinsel or that inflatable reindeer. It wasn’t in my trunk, which inexplicably still holds some giftwrap bought on sale four summers ago. It was just gone, and I moaned about the loss often — and loudly.

Naturally, we all suspected Vernon, who often views my “treasures” as mouse fodder, and 160 used napkins from a barbecue dinner ten months ago stored in a Hefty bag would certainly top that list. But I had big plans for them, and he swore up and down that he hadn’t touched them. And after all, I had told myself that I had to move them. Didn’t I move them? And where the hell were they, hidden so well that I hadn’t stumbled across them in ten whole months?

They weren’t just any napkins. I handpicked six different fabrics and hand-pinked them for my son and daughter-in-law’s rehearsal dinner. Besides the sentimental value, which was elephantine, they were splendid, happy fabrics, which allowed me to justify the purchase because I knew I could use them for fun dinners on the lawn, and make patchwork fabric for a sundress and some nifty studio aprons. And now, it was an absolute necessity to make a string (or five) of bunting flags. Quite simply, no other fabric would do.

And so this morning you could have found me again on my knees, poking impotently about beneath the dust ruffle and pulling back empty-handed and pouting, tiptoeing through the attic to peer high and low in the dim morning light, opening and closing one closet door after another.

And then suddenly I found them. Sitting in the very same bag in the very same corner they had enjoyed for the last ten months (and one week), with a snowfall of boxes hiding them quite neatly. I thrust my hand down and claimed them, slung them over my shoulder like a jolly old guy, hoisted them into the washer, and jumped into Vernon’s unsuspecting arms as he was climbing the stairs. “I found them! I found them! I found them!” Sometimes it’s the little things . . . .

I knew a girl in high school, Karen, who used the following as her Senior Quote: “Itching for what you want doesn’t do much good; you’ve got to scratch for it.” And usually, you gotta scratch pretty damn hard. They say Seek and Ye Shall Find. I seeked, sought, soaked — nothing. Sometimes you gotta dig down deep. As humans, we have an aversion to it, but in my opinion, that’s where your life is waiting.

Or in my case, bunting!

Bunting

Bye Bye Baby . . .

When I signed the lease on a small and buggerdly ugly space on May 20, 2008, a former friend wrote me the following: “It was a rainy day with big dark clouds and secret whispers floating throughout the air the day Pam Goode moved into her new studio space. Her head was heavy and felt full of cobwebs, and the room was not worthy of energy. It was just a smelly, dank, gross, dark, negative space with a terribly big bad vibe — and nothing could be done to save her from the frightening fate that was ahead.”

I bought a lime-scented candle and went at it.

Frightening fate, indeed. When I opened Ciel Gallery + Mosaic Studio, I had zero experience running a gallery — but I knew there were artists who needed a space to exhibit, and I knew I could provide that. I had zero experience selling art — but I knew I could speak knowledgeably about the work. I had zero experience teaching, but I knew I could share my passion. I had a very, very minimal bit of experience in social settings — but I knew I could be articulate about my love of mosaic art, even if more frivolous chit chat wasn’t my thing. I wasn’t much with a hammer, but give me a crowbar and a paintbrush and I can do wonders.

In short, it worked. And it worked because it was everything I love all rolled into 588 square feet. “Find your passion,” they say.

Frightening fate, indeed. I walked in three years and three months ago with little more than an idea, a smidgeon of unexpected cash, a perhaps ill-advised amount of energy and optimism, and an enthusiastic husband. Today, I closed the door and walked out an entirely different woman.

It all began with a fairly modest plan.  But you know how our offspring are . . . . She wanted to grow, wriggling and pushing against her baby-ness, swimming laps around the woman with one toe in the water, testing for tepid. Finally, I stood back and let her have her way with me.

A favorite mantra is that in order to bring change to your life, you must first make space for it. In this instance, the “space” was very literal and, uncharacteristically for me, more external than internal. That 588 feet changed my life, not only with her lime green floors (she insisted), but with her open-door policy and her abundant trust that everyone who stepped inside would become a friend. She was right, of course, and the “space” that we made together with several hundred artists and students was not only a gathering spot for mosaic art, but a sanctum for laughter, learning, letting go, and forging ahead.

I do think it’s possible for a place to have a smelly, dark, negative vibe. But I also believe that sometimes that smelly, dark, negative vibe is coming less from the smelly space, and more from the smeller.

It’s funny how some of us believe that nothing is possible, and others of us believe that everything is possible. Reality, of course, is surely somewhere in the middle, but as always, we tend to get what we’re looking for. Actually, we usually get a whole lot more.

The new space is perhaps more frightening than the first — crumbling floors, three layers of bad ceiling that need to be removed , uneven walls and missing plumbing. Crowbar heaven.

Old Ciel, you were my first, and I’ll never forget you. New Ciel, bring it on. Cold water, trepidation, frightening fate and all.

Bye Bye Baby — see you around.