February 26, 2012 § Leave a comment
Found this in @WriteonEdge’s weekend link-up. So perfect for this moment, as one of my daughter’s friends lost her mother this week to cancer, just several months after the diagnosis. Please be gentle with each other.
“Well, now, you’ve just to get over it, don’t you?” she said kindly, and placed a card expressing her condolences on my desk. It was a question that required no response.
Get over it… over it… over it.
The words resounded silently as I absorbed them, and transformed them into a heavy mantra. No, that isn’t quite accurate. The words were a challenge.
When would I get over it?
Perhaps they should have been asking, could I get over it?
Or even more significantly, should I get over it?
It was my first day back at work after learning that my younger sister died in an accident while riding her bike to work in New York City. I’d left the office abruptly on a Thursday afternoon, and hadn’t returned for several days. Her memorial service was held on a Monday. I may have gone back to work a few days later, or the following week…
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February 24, 2012 § 4 Comments
As a kid/young teen, I had three pipe dreams.
1. To be a catcher on the NY Mets.
2. To be a professional ballet dancer.
3. To be a glassblower.
I knew pretty early on (like, before I was 9) that due to a number of physiological issues, Number 1 was never going to happen. I had slightly more (but not much more) hope for Number 2. That dream of being a dancer lasted a little longer, but had pretty much evaporated before I hit the teen years.
The glassblowing dream, though, behaved in strange ways. (You can read about its origins here and here.) It sort of popped its little head in the doorway every once in a while well into my young adult years. It took years-long sabbaticals, only to re-appear all refreshed and well-rested, tanned and toned (bastard) and tease me with thoughts like, “Man. If I won the lottery, I’d open a glass studio.” Or “I could have a glass studio on one side, and Rachel (my sis) could have a flower shop on the other…YEAH! That’s it! People can watch me making the vase their flowers were gonna go into!”
While glassblowing is expensive and unusual, I sensed if I could really study and practice, I just might have the ability to do this professionally. However, unlike the first 2 dreams, I was only vaguely aware that this was a real aspiration of mine until I spent a week in an intensive glassblowing class in Pittsburgh when I was 42. As you’ve probably read, though, it became clear to me over that week that this dream, too, was unlikely to pan out.
It probably goes without saying that putting a dream to bed at 42 is a lot harder than at 9 or 12 years old. My parents weren’t there to buffer the blow, like they were with ballet. I had to deal with this myself. I dealt with it by staying as far away from the glass studio as possible. Not thinking about it, not writing about it, nothing.
In the meantime, though, I did something else creative. I continued blogging on Catonsville Patch. I started my own blog. I wrote about bullies, truck-drivers, gender, politics, you name it. I started having breakfast with a friend whose writing I LOVED and we started talking about ways to get our writing out there more. In fact, it was she who pointed me towards an essay contest in the Bethesda Literary Festival. Here was the topic: “Who or what has influenced, motivated or inspired you and how has it shaped your outlook on life?”
Oh, this was too easy. Mr. Andros, of course. My childhood ballet teacher – I had written what was essentially a love letter in the form of a blog post to him last August! All about how he influenced and inspired me! I really had fun capturing his attitudes and mannerisms in prose – it was perfect for the contest! Except for the second half of the topic. I hadn’t written or thought about how he shaped my outlook on life. I had to do that (along with editing it down to 500 words…)
When I tackled that task in January, it came really easily, too. While most teachers help you succeed, Mr. Andros taught me how to fail. Rather, he taught me that limitations do not equal failure. That I was valuable as a dance student, even though I wouldn’t be a professional dancer. That it was possible to let go of that dream and keep my dignity and sense of self-worth. That accepting my limitations didn’t have to mean rejecting the art form. (Does anyone else see where I’m going with this? Who needs help with the analogy?)
If that wasn’t enough to make me glance sideways at the glass studio again, there was this. A tweet from my friend, Billy – and old buddy and music geek from camp. That’s right. Buck’s Rock camp, where all this glassblowing began. He tweeted the following: “Your biggest fear should perhaps be ignoring your true voice’s true calling. The trick is: it might be different than you think it is.” Now, he wasn’t writing to me – he was just having one of his many Oprah moments. But boy, was he speaking to me.
Enough layers for ya? Through writing, I discovered I could go back to glass. Maybe my true calling is writing, not glassblowing. Glassblowing can and should take its place with dreams which are now beloved past-times and activities in which I still engage with great joy. I mean, crap – I already know how to write well…and getting better at it is a helluva lot less expensive than getting better at glassblowing.
Don’t worry, though. I’m still getting better at glassblowing. Here’s proof. And if you didn’t feel like watching the video, here’s more proof.
February 22, 2012 § 8 Comments
At the age of 42, I got ready to take a week-long intensive glassblowing class at the Pittsburgh Glass Center after having studied and loved glassblowing since I was 10. It was going to involve 15-hour days and lots of learning, exhaustion and sweat. The end.)
My week in Pittsburgh at PGC was exactly what I’d expected. Almost.
When I say it was what I’d expected, I mean I gained lots of experience, practice, and studied the masters. I spent my afternoons and evenings trying to improve my judgement and skills. As I knew would happen, most of my pieces ended up kissing the concrete floor rather than riding back to Baltimore with me. In fact, the number of pieces I brought home added up to exactly zero.
I spent my dinner breaks searching for any scraps of meat within walking distance. That was a spectacular failure. I don’t understand it, but every place around PGC was vegetarian, or worse – VEGAN!!! I mean, this was PITTSBURGH, for god’s sake! I’m sure 7 blocks away they’d not only be okay with serving meat – they’d probably be happy roasting a Ravens fan on a spit or serving Baltimorean Tartar, but noooooo…not near the Glass Center. Anyhow, I digress…
So, I was doing everything I’d planned and been excited about. I was practicing for hours on end, I was watching amazing teachers, working with my partner, and hanging out with great glassblowing people. I saw improvement in certain basic aspects of my technique. I lost most of the pieces, but truly, that didn’t bother me. As I said before, I didn’t come to this class hoping to produce. Somehow, as the week went on, though, I felt more and more sad.
I couldn’t figure it out. What about this class was disappointing me so? Wasn’t I doing everything I wanted? I started to agonize about this by Wednesday night. In typical hyper-analytical fashion, I obsessed and began to dissect. Slowly, on Thursday, it ate away at me. I spent less time focusing on my work and more time looking at those around me. Here’s what I saw:
Most everyone else was better than I was. So many of my classmates had many things I wish I had. More muscles. More coordination. More intuitive understanding of how the glass worked. More ability to assist their partner. Smaller jeans sizes and faster metabolisms. (I mean, hey, while I’m at it, why not beat myself up about the extra weight, too?) I kept hearing this line from “A Christmas Story” over and over in my head. It was Ralphie, after he gets his Christmas theme back, and he had gotten a C+. “I was surrounded by HAPPY children who were all going to get what THEY wanted for Christmas…”
By Thursday afternoon, I was a mess. I did what any mature, well-educated, clear-thinking adult would do. I had a tantrum. It was a quiet tantrum, but as I was re-heating my piece in the glory hole, I felt tears on my cheeks and my lip kind of quivering. I excused myself, took one of the teachers aside and told him I wasn’t feeling well and had to go for a bit (and to please not make a big deal or worry) and I left. Walking back to where I was staying, I felt like Buddy the Elf after he finds out he’s not really an elf. I probably looked just as ridiculous, but I wasn’t wearing yellow tights or curly shoes. (What is the DEAL with me channeling all these boys from Christmas movies???) I cried my eyes out and took a nap.
I wish I could say it made me feel better, but I was still thinking dark thoughts as I went to that evening’s practice session. At the end of the night, the teachers sat us all down for the nightly wrap-up. Both Ben and Alex emphasized how GREAT they all thought we were doing – how much improvement they see, and they couldn’t understand how we couldn’t see it ourselves. They said they’d never met a group of students so hard on themselves, which had me looking around, thinking, “Wait, I’m not the only one who’s bummed here?” Then came the kicker. Ben said something meant to cheer us up, like, “Lighten up! You guys are in such great positions! You’re doing this for fun, you’re doing it to learn, and nothing major is riding on it. Not a job, not a grade – nothing major depends on this for you guys, so enjoy yourselves!”
What??? Nothing major depends on this??? Didn’t they realize that I had all these professional and artistic aspirations stemming from my childhood dream riding on this? That when I signed up for this class, I was hoping to find out that I had what it takes to be a glassblower professionally? That I was expecting something to click and for me to realize, “Hey! Yeah! I can totally do this with my life! Boy, Wait ’till people at the studio see my mad glass skillz when I get back to Baltimore! YES! I TOTALLY have what it takes!!!” And that all I’m discovering is that I DON’T have what it takes??? And that I don’t have the ability, time and/or money to make it so that I do? I mean, what is WRONG with these teachers, don’t they know ANYTHING?????
Oh. Wait a minute. Ooooooooooooooooooh. Now I get it. Hm. I thought, “THAT’S why I’m so bummed.” Clearly, I infused this class with more meaning than I realized. I wasn’t being honest about my expectations, or at least, I wasn’t consciously aware of them until that point. If I wanted to go to MICA for a degree in Fine Arts, I could be a glassblower. If I could turn time back and locate myself near a studio from the time I was 14 and work there 40 hours a week for 15 years, like Ben had, I could be a glassblower. If I could change my DNA so that I was taller, stronger, more naturally gifted in this art form, I could be a glassblower. But I needed to come to terms with the fact that none of those things was going to happen. And how best to do that? I did what any mature, well-educated, clear-thinking adult would do. I got blitzed. But not until the next day.
Well, my friends, Friday we had class in the morning, cleaned up the shop in the afternoon, and we all went to a place that served BURGERS and got totally wasted. Let me tell you. I bar-hopped like I hadn’t since college (sorry, Mom and Dad) and ate like the carnivore I am. Not only did I eat a bacon-cheeseburger. I ate fries. I drank appletinis. For dessert, I had alcoholic root beer floats. (Yes, you read that right. PLURAL.) A week of 15-hours a day in front of a 2500-degree furnace, a week of being away from my family, and a week of eating vegan had combined to break me and turn me into the Alaskan Bullworm from Spongebob, eating and drinking anything that had the misfortune to cross my path. It was decadent, ugly release.
Miraculously, I awoke sans hangover. I put the Ravens magnet back on my car BEFORE I left Pittsburgh (I KNOW! I’m crazy like that…) and could not WAIT to be back with my family, who thought I was cool regardless of my imagined failure. I didn’t blow glass again for eight months. I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to think about it. I did, though, want to write about it. Eventually.
To be continued…stay tuned for the finale.
February 19, 2012 § 2 Comments
I did not cry. I only teared up once on the car ride…when “Our House” by CSNY came on the iPod, because it’s what I sing Leo at bedtime and he loves it. (Though it hurts my feelings, he likes the CSNY version better than mine. Rotten kid. What does HE know?) Anyhow, it was a really nice ride to Pittsburgh – June, great weather, music, solitude, blah, blah, blah.
I wrote about the 30+ years that led up to this June ride in my last post. In case you haven’t read it, or don’t want to, here’s the short version.
At the age of 42, I got ready to take a week-long intensive glassblowing class at the Pittsburgh Glass Center after having studied and loved glassblowing since I was 10. The end.
I pulled up to the efficiency I rented for the week and unloaded – sorta REALLY feeling like a college student in that I realized I’d be living in a basement apartment for a week, like I did my entire sophomore year in college. Two tiny windows, one filled up with an air conditioner and the other basically looking up at the sidewalk. No matter, though – I was only going to sleep and shower there and very little else.
My expectations and hopes for the class were very simple. I wanted to get better at the basics. I wanted the process to become more intuitive for me, as in, knowing more of what step comes next all by myself. To become more independent as a glassblower. I was perfectly happy with the idea that I wouldn’t come home with much actual glass – that practicing fundamentals over and over again is not glamorous, nor does it yield a high volume of finished pieces. I just wanted the practice and the experience. And to get better.
Next morning (Monday) began the real adventure. The class met and got to know each other for a bit. Everyone in it seemed great. They ranged in age from 20+ years my junior to maybe 10 years my senior. A few full-time college art students, one high school student, one guy who manages a glass studio elsewhere, and some recreational amateurs like me.
The teachers, young guys in their 30s, Ben Cobb and Alex Stisser, had worked together for a time in Tacoma at the Museum of Glass. Ben is still there, and Alex became a corn farmer in Idaho, or Iowa, or Ohio, or Ottowa or something. Ben seemed like the crunchy kind of guy who might wear those weird shoes with toes, and Alex was clean-cut and looked like he voted Republican. They both had young families, and were incredibly nice and approachable. Then the work began. For four days straight, this would be my schedule:
8:15 – Breakfast at vegetarian bakery place across the street from studio.
9 am – 12 pm – Watch Ben and Alex making basic and advanced glass pieces and narrating/lecturing/teaching as they do. None of us 14 students feels intimidated by their insane skill. Not one. Nope. Noooooot at all.
12 pm – 1 pm – Lunch in the conference room (was brought in by different restaurants around town.)
1 pm – 5 pm – Partner with another student (really nice college girlie) and work on our skills. Teachers walk around helping when needed.
5 pm – 6 pm – Dinner at one of the vegetarian/vegan places within walking distance.
6 pm – 10 pm or midnight – Casual practicing with our partners – teachers still around, but less formal instruction going on. We are free to not attend these evening sessions, but most of us do. Sometimes in these evenings, the teachers do amazing demos of their own types of work. Here is some of Alex‘s work from his website.
Here is some of Ben‘s work from the Traver Gallery website.
None of us 14 students feels intimidated. Not one. Nope. Noooooot at all.
(Yup. Sorry. To be continued…again…it’s just too much to fit into one blog post.) 🙂
February 14, 2012 § 2 Comments
“This is gonna be so much FUN!!! It’s gonna be like you’re going to COLLEGE again!” said my best friend. “I KNOW!” I said back. “Except it’s gonna be 10 hours of class a day!”
“Oooh, I reeeeaaalllly hope you do a blog post on this,” said my editor at Catonsville Patch. “You KNOW I will!” I said, doing a happy dance in my head.
“Better take that Ravens magnet off your car…” warned the more protective ones I told. “As soon as I cross over the state line…” I laughed.
That was back in June. First week of the kids’ summer vacation, I left them with the huz and drove to Pittsburgh. Some of the more knowing and analytical of you might consider this a fight or flight response to the kids being home, but I promise, it was not. It was me throwing myself into a week-long intensive glassblowing class at Pittsburgh Glass Center.
I began glassblowing when I was 10 as a staff brat at a summer camp called Buck’s Rock, where my dad was musical director. It’s a crunchy camp for older kids (when I attended, youngest camper was 12, though the age has since been lowered) wherein they have the freedom to explore whatever musical and/or artistic pursuits they want. Kind of like a Montessori approach to summer camp. I chose glass. I studied it every summer until I was 16, when I was a JC (junior counselor) in the shop.
Anywho, in high school and college, I dabbled…happening upon a guy who had a studio close to campus where I could rent some time. Then (to sum up…) graduate. Marry. Move to California. Move to Virginia. Teach social studies for a few years. Become pregnant. Move to Catonsville. SAHM gig for next 12 years. Neither a blowpipe nor a glory hole crossed my path any of those years. (Yes. There are lots of dirty jokes in glassblowing.)
Except every so often, I’d say to myself, “If money were no object, I’d get really good at glassblowing.” (It’s important to note I didn’t say “again” – I was well aware I was never “really good.” I was also aware, though, that I had potential.)
Maaaaayyyyyyybe approaching 40 had something to do with this, but a couple of years before that milestone, I decided I had nothing to lose by abandoning the “if I won the lottery” approach. I googled the glassblower I knew in college. Score! He was still in Baltimore! Even better, he had been experiencing success and opened a gorgeous studio in an awesome part of town, with a great staff of young talent helping him along and teaching classes.
I got back in touch (he remembered me) and sort of slowly got back on the bicycle, as it were. Over the course of the next four years I took group classes for beginners (it had been 20 years), then group classes for intermediate students, then private lessons. My teacher and I decided I was ready for the next step. This brings us up to last June, when I screeched my minivan wheels out of Baltimore for hostile Steelers country. (It wasn’t really that brave, as this was baseball season. But it makes me feel bad-ass, okay?)
To be continued…
February 3, 2012 § 6 Comments
In a stunning reversal on an equally stunning mistake, Susan G. Komen For the Cure has apologized and restored funding to Planned Parenthood for breast exams and screenings. Why am I not thrilled? Maybe because despite the evidence of the absolutely mind-boggling power of social media, this whole episode is symptomatic of a much larger societal ill. And I have many questions, since I by no means think the matter is settled. There is fall-out with which to contend.
1. How will pro-lifers react? According to the Nancy Brinker, donations to Komen in the last two days increased 100%. It’s reasonable to assume the increase was, in large part, a result of pro-life people pleased with their decision to revoke PP funds. What will happen to these donations, now? Will the donors ask that their money be returned? Will they have to suck it up and accept that a donation made SOLELY BECAUSE they wanted to send the message they opposed legal abortion was made in vain? Will there be even more outrage now on the part of the pro-life movement? And will it be taken out on Komen? This can only hurt Komen and the work they do.
2. How will pro-choice people react? As written in this article in Salon, Planned Parenthood is clearly more adept and practiced at handling controversy and criticism than Komen. Planned Parenthood and its supporters need to be wary, though, of declaring victory. That this whole story even happened is cause for deep concern among those who support women’s health and reproductive choice. According to Senator Barbara Boxer (speaking to Andrea Mitchell this afternoon,) on this very day members of Congress are virtually coming to blows on the issue of birth control. Birth control, people. Let’s not get smug.
3. Can Komen recover? General consensus is yes. But Komen for the Cure has been politicized, as many charities have. Before this, it was possible for people to support Komen whether or not they supported legalized abortion. Everyone wants cancer eradicated. Now, though, supporting Komen might be harder for pro-life AND pro-choice people.
4. What is really going on here? Truth be told, according to PP, about 170,000 of the more than 4 million breast exams they’ve provided over the last five years were funded by Komen’s grant. That’s around 4%. Interestingly, abortion makes up only about 3% of the services Planned Parenthood provides. I am in NO WAY minimizing the importance of even one of those lives being saved through the breast exam, nor am I minimizing the heartbreak involved in even one abortion performed. Yet, the nastiness of this controversy may have been avoided (though probably not…) had everyone paused, assessed, and been forthright.
For example, imagine if the powers that be at Komen came right out and said, “We are free to fund whomever we choose, and we choose not to fund organizations that perform legal abortions.” Say what it is and who they are. And let the chips fall where they may. I might no longer donate to them, but I might because I appreciate straight talk and sincerity. In researching, I might decide the position is too abhorrent to me, or I might decide that the good they do outweighs this issue given the relatively small amount of money in the grant.
Imagine if Planned Parenthood reacted by saying, “We are deeply saddened by this, but truthfully, Komen only funded 4% of the breast exams we performed anyway. With your support, we can make up the difference and emerge stronger than ever.” I’m sure the outpouring of support would have been significant.
5. Is this about breast cancer or abortion? If it is about breast cancer, Komen should never have pulled their funding. If it is about abortion, Komen should not have restored the funding. Here’s what I fear. I fear this entire episode had less to do with breast cancer screening OR abortion. I fear it is, more than anything, reflective of how anti-community we have become.
Here’s what I mean by that. Years ago, I joined a gym. When I joined, childcare was included in the membership. Within a year, the gym changed its policy and began charging extra for childcare. I protested, and was told, “People who didn’t use it complained they shouldn’t have to pay for it. Not everyone uses the childcare, so it’s not fair to charge them for it.” I countered by saying, “I don’t use the men’s bathrooms, or touch any free weight over 15 pounds, but I understand my dues fund parts of the club I don’t use, or even like. I’m okay with that because it contributes to the upkeep of the place as a WHOLE.”
Superimpose that approach onto politics. The mentality exists wherein people cannot abide even one penny of their money being used for something they oppose. In the last few days, I read over and over people arguing that if they give to Komen, they want to be damn sure the money won’t be going to fund that horrible Planned Parenthood organization. They slaughter babies, you know. By the same token, I heard people swear they wouldn’t give a dime to Komen now that they’ve made this anti-choice decision. I was one of them. Of course everyone is entitled to their opinions and are free to donate their money however they want. But how I wish we could step back and take a breath.
Take a breath and accept the fact that some of your money (taxes and donations) will be spent in ways you don’t like. Ways you find abhorrent. I understand why people don’t want their money helping to fund facilities that perform abortions. I respect their feelings and convictions. I hope that respect is reciprocated when I say I don’t want my money helping to fund the death penalty, or organizations that discriminate against homosexuals. Regardless, in the emotional whiplash of the last week, I think we could all do with a larger dose of acceptance. Of making peace with imperfection and moving on.
I won’t rule out donating to Komen in the future, and as I said before – I may have even if they hadn’t reversed this decision. What I’d love to see (and doubt I ever will) is a pro-life person donating to Planned Parenthood. You know – in support of the 97% of medical services they provide in underserved communities that AREN’T abortion-related.
(I know I may live in a dream world, but it’s nice here.)
February 1, 2012 § 13 Comments
Hooooooo boy. Just when I was gonna take a break from women’s issues to write about glassblowing or something. Now this. Komen pulls its funding from Planned Parenthood for breast screenings and exams.
Unbelievable. Just unbelievable. I don’t even know where to begin. It’s bad enough there’s a war on women’s health in this country – but to enlist breast cancer survivors and their families to help wage it? Unconscionable.
Now listen. I’ve been accused of being fair to a fault. In my discussion of HR 358, I try my level best to empathize with both sides – going so far as to defend a doctor’s decision not to perform an abortion if it goes against his or her religious beliefs. I still come down on the side of insisting abortion be legal, but I acknowledge the complexity and offer what seems like a common sense solution if the mother’s life is in danger and a doctor’s religious beliefs preclude him from performing abortions.
In my shredding Ray Comfort’s likening abortion to the Holocaust, I am decidedly less empathetic to his methods, but attempt to be clinical and logical in throwing a spotlight on his hypocrisy and fallacious reasoning.
In looking for information about this latest development, I read pieces by NPR, Fox News and The Wall Street Journal. While they differed in tone, a bit, from liberal to conservative outlets, they reported basically the same information, so I consider the information coming out about it reliable. Interestingly, I searched the Komen website and was unable to find out any information at all on the end of their partnership with Planned Parenthood. The articles report, though, that funding was pulled because Planned Parenthood is under investigation. The deafening cheers from anti-abortion groups makes this claim seem disingenuous, to say the least.
Here’s what kills me, though. In applauding Komen’s decision, Americans United for Life President and CEO Dr. Charmaine Yoest said “The work of the Komen Foundation has life-saving potential and should not be intertwined with an industry dealing in death.” REALLY??? What the hell does THAT mean? That it sometimes involves decisions that result in death? Let’s go over some of the other industries and groups that “deal in death” as part of their efforts to save lives.
2. Law Enforcement
3. Gun manufacturing
4. Death Penalty advocates
5. Drug manufacturing
Shall I go on? And, I’d love to know what Komen will do with that money instead. Will they create mobil screening trucks or set up labs in the underserved communities Planned Parenthood serves? What will they do to make up for the hundreds of thousands screenings that will NOT take place in Planned Parenthood clinics in the next few years as a result of revoking this funding? How many poor, underprivileged women will find out about their breast cancer too late because of this?
Shame on you, Komen. Shame on you for declaring loud and clear that in certain parts of this country, a fetus’ existence (viable or not) is more important than a woman’s.