Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Creeping terror, and the damnable, frustrating waste of it all.

My mother-in-law passed away just before Christmas. She died at peace with her family including me. What she left behind however, her estate, is not peaceful but rather an enormous cacophony of stuff.

I have taken on the task of managing the move, storage and organization of her many collections, in preparation for sale. It's a job that I can best do, as a service to my family, since I have no emotional attachment to her things, no fond childhood memories to revisit to slow down the job of wrapping and packing. There is a mountain of things from fine art, to decorative pieces and antiques, to ordinary household goods like the cookware from three different kitchens, to an endless supply of dark colored sweat pants and knit tops in a range of sizes.

Beverly collected. In her youth she collected Asian art and textiles from her travels, esoteric books and the fine art pieces of her artist friends. In her later years she collected catalogs, gems from cable shopping networks and boxed art notecards.

And a lot of her things are undeniably trash that she just wasn't able to release. I have placed hundreds of outdated catalogs from clothing and home decor stores into the recycling bin. Every small box, dish or basket has to be checked because lurking among paper detritus, used matches, cat treats and bottles of expired aspirin, will be a ruby ring or silver art deco hair pin. So many of her belongings are frustratingly damaged, including some of the decorative art pieces that otherwise would be of great value. So every tiny piece of wood or tin has to be examined and saved in case it is needed to repair something.

I have found boxes of garments, many new with the tags still on them, others stained and marred by scorch marks. The sizes range from Medium to 3XL. She kept vintage designer pieces and kimonos, which is great - but not everything was put away cleaned, which is not. She also kept ordinary contemporary clothes that no longer fit, rather than ever donate anything. Plus I have 10 old tube television sets, which may or may not work, but have to go to e-waste recyclers.

Much of what she saved over the years became part of what she considered her arts and crafts stash - beads, paper, interesting ephemera, shells (boxes and boxes of shells). But the sad thing is that in recent years, there is little evidence that she actually created, or at least completed, anything.

In her drawers and closets I found a few small half-formed beginnings of things - several items gathered in a dish, a beetle in a plastic box, a piece of gold wire almost wrapped around an antique bead pilfered from a beaded curtain. She kept supplies until they were beyond use, like paint tubes that had hardened, inks dried to a shadow, paper yellowed and crumbling. Then she bought more to suffer the same fate. It was as if she had many intentions but evidently little follow through in action.

It has been challenging to witness these dismaying twins of waste and lost opportunity. As a maker I too have a tendency to collect ephemera and materials. I keep things I like with the plans, oh yes the plans, to make art with them. But many of them sit for years. I have started to feel a kind of creeping panic, terror even, that I am becoming a hoarder without productivity.

I get some relief from my recent determination to organize my workspace. At least I know where everything is, in labeled boxes, which gives me a great advantage over my poor mother-in-law whose every drawer was a mish mash, and whose inability to find things among the stacks meant numerous repeat purchases. I surely don't want to die leaving a great challenging mess for my daughter to have to sort. I now believe that my recent purge was insufficient. Labeling and organizing (in her case piling and stacking) can also be tools of procrastination.

The other thing that disturbs me is the small scale of her work - and mine. I am a doll maker, so by definition sometimes my work is miniature - but that's not what I mean. I am speaking of the aesthetic value of the work. What disturbs me now is that I see, as a mirror, my tendency to dash out something small, and unimportant, because it is quicker to do, easier to set up. Small like a card or a flower pin, instead of moving forward on my larger scale - personally valuable and important - projects. It's fiddling around instead of diving in to the flow. Remember Covey's Time Management Matrix

I realized today that this scale issue has kept me focused on "crafting", instead of attacking my new business with gusto, or engaging with my next artistic goal of making large scale sculptures, or devoting real attention to my screenwriting. It's not only my personal satisfaction I am seeking, but also the idea of leaving a legacy of completed work.

Ironically writing for Natural Life Magazine hasn't helped. A while ago I wrote about my process of designing projects for the magazine (scroll down). Since my focus there is making crafts from recycled and upcycled materials, I have a tendency to hold on to stuff with the idea that it might become useful for the column, instead of simply looking in the recycling bin when I need something.

My mother-in-law lives in the memories of her family and friends, but passed away leaving only stuff as her public legacy. Some more special stuff, the family will claim as useful or meaningful; some stuff people will be glad to put to use; other stuff, being long unused, should have made its way back into circulation a long time ago.

I have a new determination - as soon as this ongoing estate disposal business concludes - to simplify my workspace, reduce the clutter of ideas by streamlining my plans, and ruthlessly eliminate those items I am holding on to non-specifically - just because they might be something one day. Gotta get rid of more of my old stuff.

Stay tuned for a de-stash - very soon.

Oh, and if you know anyone who wants a set of random antlers, let me know. We seem to have at least 20.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Road Trip to San Francisco.

Foggy morning over the Golden Gate

We took a quick road trip north, since it has been so long. We drove mostly the coast road to Carmel/Monterey and stayed in that region for two nights. Then we scooted up to San Francisco for a night of luxury and some adventures in the fog, before heading south again somewhat inland, stopping in King City for the last night, and then driving all the way home. This has been the first non-conference trip that we have taken since Jayn was a very little girl, and it's been a different experience.

One of the things Jayn specifically wanted to do was visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a place of fond memories. Last time we were there Jayn was about 4 or 5. She had a wonderful time playing in the spectacular kids section, and getting a bit wet. She didn't mind putting her fingers in the water to explore in the touching pools.

This time she was, of course, way too big for the little kids' interactive play area, and she has developed quite an aversion to creepy-crawlies or getting wet in her regular clothes. The museum was very crowded - oops Spring Break - and it was nearly impossible to get close to any of presentations. However we took some photos of jellies, and sea horses. The most interesting part was the new aviary, where shoreline birds ignore the gawking crowds even in the absence of any kind of wall. They are all rescued or fostered birds, and it was neat to see them close up, and hear their different calls.

Without the super fun of the Splashzone, and with the crowds, the aquarium did not hold our attention to the same degree at all, and we left fairly quickly.
Mission at Carmel. Note the out-of-whack star over the door - hand cut stone.

We drove the 17 Mile Drive in Pebble Beach, and again enjoyed the scenery and took plenty of photos. Plus we visited the  San Carlos Borromeo Mission at Carmel, which is a working parish church, beautifully restored, and currently undergoing earthquake retrofitting. There are two museum areas, but it is the interior of the church itself and the gorgeous statuary and Nativity diorama I most enjoyed. To me, by definition, if a figurative sculpture is dressed in textiles garments, then that makes it an Art Doll. The church was also full of Easter lilies.
Dressed Mary, about 24 inches tall.

The next day James and I drove out to Salinas to visit the John Steinbeck Center, which I really liked. Steinbeck's life story is told with images, words, audio snippets and artifacts in great detail. The exhibit is interactive and very cleanly attractive, with the Hollywood connection to his works integrated really well. I love text used visually, and text is the foundation of this whole shebang, with quotes screen printed in odd places within the full size dioramas. In addition there was an exhibit of local art, at this time landscapes in oil, and a photography exhibit - art photos of items and architectural detail from the California Missions. It's a very interesting space. However, I'm sure Jayn would have tired of it way too soon, so I'm glad she wanted to nap at the hotel instead.
Steinbeck book cover display at the Center Gift shop

In San Francisco we stayed at the historic Nob Hill hotel, the Mark Hopkins. Here again was a sweet little multimedia history exhibit featuring a time line, souvenir art and various rescued historical items like a key from 1939 and old menus along with a couple of short films about different people who were part of the hotel's story. One was an interview with a 100 year old lady who had been the artist's model for a permanent and famous mural in one of the hotel's ballrooms from the 1920's.
Main entrance at night of Mark Hopkins. Note the beautiful plasterwork decorating the arches.

Both of these exhibitions are fascinating to me as a scrapbooker - combining images, ephemera and journaling to record history but also to create a harmonious whole.

San Francisco was foggy and chilly overnight. We had watched the bizarre inversion layer off shore as we drove North, with a sharply delineated top line that looked like a second horizon. But the fog in San Francisco was deep and thick, swallowing the tops of tall buildings and the points on the bridges and making everything at ground level moist. We started walking in the late afternoon, took our first cable car ride, and went in search of a store that makes nothing but an assortment of bread puddings. The City Hall in SF is gorgeous, and so is the Symphony Hall.
Waiting for the bus in a light drizzle, outside of the Symphony Hall.

San Francisco is like Sydney in more ways than just having a spectacular harbor with a well known bridge. Both cities have many beautiful, historic buildings downtown, with carvings and detail in sandstone, juxtaposed with very modern architecture. It's important to look up as you walk or ride the trolley. Both have row houses and dense urban populations. Loved the three storey house made from stacked shipping containers, and the five storey former office building converted to artists' lofts with 10 foot tall (my estimate) slanted windows on the top floor. The city is magnificently clean, and all the public trash bins have an attached basket on top for glass and can recycling.

We all noticed the high level of fashion and style demonstrated by the population. Somehow leggings, boots and a trench just look orders of magnitude more chic on girls hiking up the hills in SF than the girls manage in my local mall. Everyone's clothing seemed to fit very well. I guess walking up and down those hills every day doesn't hurt anyone's fitness level either.
Foggy vista outside the hotel.

After a luxurious night with room service and a misty view, we drove down the twistiest street (Lombard St), then across the Golden Gate Bridge and back, then went to Yerba Buena Gardens to check it out. We didn't have a lot of time to spend now for museums or galleries (next time!) but I was very moved by the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial there. I have promised myself that next trip I am going to take one of those sight seeing buses - the kind you can get on and off - and see the whole city.
Martin Luther King Jr memorial at Yerba Buena. Behind the waterfall fountain is a path with the "Dream" speech engraved on the walls and images, in many languages. The glass walls reflect the waterfall and the noise adds to the whole experience. (Below)

In King City (more interesting history) we found an elegant superfluity of 4 star rated Mexican restaurants - all lined up one after the other along the main drag, Broadway. We ended up eating what was my favorite meal of the trip at El Sinaloense. Odd twist of fate - everywhere (EVERYWHERE!) we went to eat we beat the rush by about five minutes. By this I mean we would enter an empty or nearly so joint to be seated, only to watch the place fill up and lengthy line form shortly thereafter. This even happened at a roadside fruit stand where we got fabulous fresh strawberry shortcake direct from the growers. Don't know why, don't wanna know, just hope the magic continues.
We passed the Old Mission San Miguel steeple and old wall. There is also the working church and 
restored mission, but Sunday services were in progress so we didn't stop.

On the road again, and I learned what Jayn likes best about road trips now is the actual driving, especially through scenic forests. It was fascinating to watch the scenery change from lush green, cypress and oak woods slowly back to desert through the Salinas Valley. When she was tiny it was so easy to travel with her. Generally she slept a good deal, but when we stopped, even at roadside rest stops, she would find endless fascination in watching birds or lizards, or finding a ramp to run up and down. True she had little interest in art galleries, but she was satisfied with any playground, and if there were water....Now she is easy to travel with in a different way. She has her technology, and she is contented to look out of windows and take a few photos. Still little interest in art galleries or museums - but she likes people watching, buildings, vistas and trees.

Keep watch for some scrapbook layouts with more of my family photos from our trip.