friends


Digital Painting of Phantom Cat by TaraFly

We dance delicately in this transparent masquerade.

Since it’s 3:00AM, and I haven’t gone to bed yet… I thought it might be an excellent time to draft a blog about a serious topic.
Which may or may not get published later today when I wake up.

So many of my drafts never make it.

We, bloggers, are faced with a difficult decision every time we sit down to type.
The decision to share or not to share. And it’s a doozy.

Many of the blogs I love to read involve sharing glimpses into someone’s personal space:

how they decorate their homes, how they manage their time, how they run successful (fill-in-the-blanks), and even how they cooked dinner last night.

If they share the recipe, even better!

Some blogs go a few giant steps further by sharing too much information… but perhaps topics which seem unnecessarily sensitive to me are precisely what someone else needs to hear.

Whenever I consider sharing something deeply personal, I always ask myself whether anyone might benefit from reading it.

And then I ask myself whether anyone might get hurt by reading it.

Because we are not blogging into a vacuum, our words being sucked into cyber oblivion… even though it may feel that way at times. Especially when staring at numbers on a Dashboard.

Someday… somewhere…. someone will read our words.
What impact will it have on them?

Freedom of Speech may grant us the unalienable Right to say certain things, but does that mean we should say them?
It’s an ethical question, without an easy answer.

This post was inspired by a blog I’ve been following, written by a jilted ex-wife who has been recounting every painful experience of her divorce, along with her husband’s rebound marriage to his lover…
You can well imagine all the lovely fodder that goes along with that sort of drama, sprinkled with a heaping tablespoon of custody and parallel-parenting issues.

Although she never mentioned the ex or his new wife by name… various innocuous clues she has scattered across her posts could lead any curious (or bored) web surfer off on a merry adventure to find these abominable sinners.
I was curious and bored one evening, and found them quite easily using a combination of People Finder, Classmates Alumni, and a few other search results…

I had more than enough information about the parties than I cared to know. Thanks Google.

Now, granted, you know I’m not a malicious sort of person who would stalk and harass complete strangers to show my loyalty to a blogger (who is also a stranger to me). Nor do I blindly accept every accusation made against them…
Having dined at both ends of the table in my own relationships, I can assure you, the truth usually takes a seat somewhere in the middle.

Apparently other readers lack the courtesy I take for granted, and have left nasty online messages for the couple.
A form of cyber bullying – from adults, no less! Juvenile behaviour which prompted the couple to take the blog authoress to court, asking that she “cease and desist” from writing about them, and thus provoking her readership.
And apparently the judge denied their request.

The defense maintains that her blog is “helping” women to cope with the aftermath of messy divorce, by sharing terrible personal experiences and their outcomes, and serving as a model for wives wanting to reclaim control and reinvent themselves.

My blog, too, has become a personal reinvention project; an online journal where I can sort through my feelings, and reach out to sympathetic individuals who might be facing similar circumstances.
Perhaps one reader has already fought a battle I’m currently engaged in, and they’re willing to impart some of their hard-won knowledge…
And perhaps I’ve learned a couple of things worth passing along as well.

I’ve sat here at this desk many, many times… questioning whether or not to spill juicy bits.

And most of the time, I don’t spill. Sorry guys!

And here is why: most of these experiences involve not only me, but family, friends, co-workers, exes… a whole cast of characters, in fact… none of whom auditioned for a starring role in my made-for-internet soap-blog-drama.

I may joke about the ex who dumped me because the Hale-Bopp comet was interfering with his brain… or sigh with relief over the breakup with the obsessive man who texted me 156 times per day, and demanded I answer each text.

But did I give you all the dirty details? Do you really know anything about these people?

Nope. And I plan to keep it that way.
For their sakes, as well as for mine.

Once upon a time, only celebrities needed to worry about their private lives being exposed.

Normal people didn’t have an audience willing to devour the embarrassing published photos from paparazzi, the sordid memoirs of ex-lovers, and the unauthorized biographies of their estranged family.

We didn’t need a PR representative to maintain our “image” for us, working tirelessly to put out every fire, tracking down credible sources to refute the allegations.

But unfortunately, the internet has created a new breed of celebrity… and not the media attention-seeking teens like Justin Bieber and Rebecca Black.

Normal people are becoming famous simply by sharing too much information, and everyone associated with them will be dragged along for the ride, kicking and screaming in protest.

Mr. Comet Man could potentially become something beyond his control, a symbol of a man whose brain is easily manipulated by extraterrestrial influences.
And I’m sure he would thank me for that bit of disclosure. ;)

There are certain sensitive topics, especially pertaining to my childhood, which I’ve hesitated to lay bare… even though my stories may speak to someone, because they also have the potential to inflict a great deal of pain and embarrassment on people who aren’t prepared to handle the repercussions.

A couple of these people are no longer with us, and therefore unable to give their testimony.

One non-life-changing example involved a post concerning my mother’s aversion to owning pets.
My description of her attitude towards caregiving, which I feel is accurate (at least in my eyes), landed me in serious hot water!
She had never visited my website or read my blog until that moment… Coincidence or karma?

The issue I have with many bloggers is their total lack of consideration for the feelings of others, as I struggle each day with being considerate myself.

Balancing precariously on a very thin tightrope, taking one cautious step at a time… to avoid falling into the “Tell All” temptation which may feel like liberation for a few seconds, but in reality is a free-fall to the ground without a safety net.

In the case of this jilted wife – she and her ex have children… and all this mud-slinging and negativity will not help them develop a meaningful relationship with their father (who shares custody).

Whether her accusations are true or not…. Whether she is within her Rights to speak freely or not…
Publically disrespecting and humiliating the man who is actively helping to raise her children is the equivalent of a mortal sin under the Commandments of Divorce.
(I have cement copies of these stone tablets serving as bedroom nightstands, so I know they exist).

And the poor kids caught in the middle of this verbal assault will be the ones who ultimately suffer.
I know this also, sadly, as a fact…

I can hit the “fast forward” button 20 years and predict their futures… the emotional barriers, the jaded attitudes, the broken bonds of trust…

I’ve walked barefoot in their shoes for a long, long time…

Before reality TV created stars who were famous simply for being famous.

Before our neighbors were filming YouTube music videos and auditioning for American Idol.

Before divorced parents had blogs, and the internet.

We still had our words…
and words can hurt.

To share or not to share.

A question of ethics.

Christian A. Harvey tribute

Christian Harvey, November 15, 1976 - March 20, 2011

Sometimes life throws an unexpected gut-wrenching twist into your predictable routine, and like the first ice-cold blast of water shooting from the shower faucet – in that instant when your mind is cruelly jarred into alert panic, you realize the water heater is not working….

Then the dread creeps in, frozen fingers tickling your spine, as you contemplate how long you’ll survive without the comfort and convenience of warm water.

Freezing water is just the tip of the iceberg, pun poorly intended.
We take nearly everything in our lives for granted – the things which give us pleasure and amusement, the things which keep us safe and healthy, have all become such an integral part of our environment that we cannot imagine life without them.

We may romanticise life in Colonial America or Regency England, but I doubt whether any of us would survive one week in such primitive conditions, without having a nervous breakdown and subsequent re-evaluation of our priorities.

When we strip all the excess finery away, we’re left with humanity’s basic needs. One of those needs is companionship and social interaction with other human beings.

The greatest technological achievements of mankind were developed specifically to connect people to one another.
Transportation to bridge the gap between towns and families, telecommunication to send messages farther that people could easily travel, and the invention of various appliances meant to ease our workload – presumably so that we would have more time to socialize.

Christian Harvey, Lorrie Whittington, Tara Fly Facebook conversation

Friends react to my horrible confession... I follow Martha.

 

People need people.

Yes, it’s corny… and I cringed writing it, because I can just hear Barbra Streisand’s voice crooning in my head:
“…are the luck-i-est peee-ople…”

(Go ahead, I won’t tell… you know you want to sing it!)

But it’s the truth.
And sadly, people are one of the ‘things’ we tend to value the least.

We get short-tempered with the incompetence of our sales clerk or waitress.. and vise versa.
We belittle our spouses when gossiping with our co-workers… and vise versa.
We lose our patience with our children, our parents and in-laws, our supervisors and “The Man”… and sometimes even wish
We could escape from them all.

We desire a quiet island or mountain-top, to sit and meditate, to commune with our own thoughts.. a place free from those blasted people who dare intrude into our lives and demand our attention.

However ignoring people comes with a heavy price. When you shut people out, it’s like turning off the hot water heater.
You don’t notice anything has changed, until… you turn on the faucet to take a shower.
Then it hits you, the icy frigid water, the lack of heat…
The lack of human company.
Suddenly everyone is… gone.

Christian Harvey and filmmaker John Waters

Chris and legendary filmmaker John Waters (from his FB album)

I lost a friend over the weekend, someone very special to many of us, but unfortunately I can’t say I knew him as well as I should have.

He and I had both managed large departments for a global, evil retail super center (Toys and Grocery, respectively)…
We made small talk in the company break room and during group functions.

I knew that he was passionate about charitable and environmental causes, that he grew his hair long and then cut it off for Locks of Love (at least twice that I can recall), he had an anti-establishment view towards government and authority.
He listened to punk rock and heavy metal bands, worked in his spare time as a sound technician for local rock bands and theatre groups, and generally considered himself a misunderstood outcast.

Christian Harvey technician in recording studio

Christian in the studio, courtesy of his Facebook Tribute page

He struck me as having a somewhat esoteric nature, that I wanted to get to know better but my reserved nature held me at bay.
Nevertheless, when we both gave up our jobs in order to pursue other careers, I decided to locate him on Facebook to “keep in touch”.

And as I imagined, we clicked right off the bat, and he became one of the most engaging and entertaining commenters on my somewhat mundane posts.
Each morning when checking my e-mails, I’d see a notification that “Christian replied to your post”, and I knew I was in for a real treat:
“This will be good; get ready to laugh!”

Christian Harvey, Sarah Phillips, Tara Fly on Facebook

He was always quick to reply with a quip.

 

Occasionally, I’d post something especially bizarre knowing he wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to respond; he was also one of the few people on my friends’ list who could appreciate the morbid side of my humor.

Christian Harvey, Michelle Ahlstrom, Tara Fly joke about meat cleavers

For the serial killer who has everything: sterling silver meat cleaver earrings?

 

But while we teased each other with observations and witty cracks, it was still the online version of break room small-talk. I never took the time to dig beneath the surface of Christian’s charming exterior, to examine the personal demons that he kept chained in the basement.

Christian Harvey Facebook photo album plaque

He was the 'nice guy loser' in his mind....

 

Despite how far we’ve progressed in the year 2011, how easily we can communicate and share every bit of our lives with the rest of the world, people are still keeping each other at arm’s length. We still maintain this level of privacy and anonymity, and are very selective about who we let into our inner sanctum.

The trouble is, we have so many “friends”… but we don’t really have any friends.

Who are these people anyway?
We collected them because we wish to know them better… but many of us never make that effort.
We just string them along on our social networking sites, leaving breadcrumbs for them to follow and nibble on, and pat them on the head with our thumbs up of praise.

When it comes to a matter of great importance, a matter of life and death, could we depend on them?
And could they depend on us?

The news of Christian’s death, knowing we had just chatted on Facebook days earlier, made me keenly and painfully aware that I never really knew what was going on in his life.
I wasn’t checking in with him regularly, and paying close enough attention to the changes in his mood and behaviour.

Instead, I was performing my joint roles as wife and mother, obsessing over my silly website portfolio malfunction, worrying that my allergies and the full moon were hampering my creativity… truth is, I’ve been completely self-absorbed.
And sadly, this revelation doesn’t come as a surprise, as I’ve been introspective for years.

Christian Harvey Tara Fly facebook conversation March 17th

Complaining about my allergies on March 17th... three days before

 

But I lost someone who mattered to me, and it was someone I didn’t even realize mattered so much to me… until he was gone.
Like turning on the faucet and fully expecting to get hot water….

And as I contemplate what happens next, and pine over the lost opportunity to reach out, and dwell in darkness over how his mother must be suffering to lose her precious child…

I’m also making a vow to myself.
And to my son and daughters, my husband, my relatives and friends – both off-line and on-line…
That I will be more attentive in the future.

I will take those extra few moments to write back, to click your profile and read your messages, to give you more lap-time and cuddle-time (if you live in my house!), and make sure that everything I say and type is expressed in a kind, compassionate manner.

It won’t be easy for me.

I’m one of those people who craves “space”, and that ever-elusive “peace and quiet”….

But anyone who has lost a family member knows how depressing that “peace and quiet” is, which comes with an empty house, an empty room, an empty chair…
In all that newfound space, you’ll see shadows moving, and you’ll turn to see – hopeful and still-expectant to find your loved one standing in the doorway, alive and smiling.

All the technological advances, greed, and ambition in the world cannot replace what we need most…. other people.

Without love, we are nothing.

So I give you my love. All of you.
Oh, and a can of SPAM too!

Christian Harvey, TaraFly joking about SPAM cans

Sharing some crazy craft project ideas...

 

Those of you who read these words, those of you who don’t… and even the ones who are too young to read, but are sitting on my lap watching me type. You get kisses instead. Unless you’d rather have SPAM. ;)

Let’s hug and embrace each other, reconnect, and share who we really are.

[And on that note, I'm going to confess share that one of my favorite songs was written and performed by Metallica.
I'm dedicating "Nothing Else Matters" to Christian, even though he preferred Pink Floyd.]

School Girl Cat on Football Field 50 Yard Line by TaraFly

“I have not had the pleasure of understanding football.” – @writershouses

Writers’ Houses on Twitter echoed my feeling towards the panicked momentum leading up to Sunday’s Big Game.

Michelle Scott @mscottdjh followed up by tweeting:
“Incremental victories are coupled with exuberant celebration and punishing admonishment.”

“Is such an indiscriminate display of force by the stronger sex truly necessary? Indeed, it does them a disservice.” -@rosannecash

And thus heralded the Sunday night Twitter phenomenon affectionately known as “Jane Austen at the Super Bowl”, a title coined by Rosanne Cash (singer/author, and yes, daughter of Johnny) to politely mock the brutish sport in a manner befitting our beloved 19th century gentlefolk.

Whenever football season rears its ugly head, Joe and I lock our doors, turn off all the lights, and hide in the hall closet… until the yellow and black banners slowly disappear like melting snow from windows and porches around our neighborhood.

“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?”
@WesleyStace (John Wesley Harding)

Pittsburgh street celebrating Steelers

photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Maryland does have a football team of its own … wait, let me Google it… yes, the Baltimore Ravens.
And of course, the Washington (D.C.) Redskins, whose reputation is legendary even to those of us who aren’t following their career.
Are they winning again??

However, since Hagerstown sits on the Pennsylvania border, with its close proximity to Pittsburgh only a few hours drive, many of our neighbors feel excused to switch their allegiance in favor of the golden Steelers who have already won six Super Bowls and can “beat the crap out of everyone” (or so I’ve been proudly informed).

“One wonders whether the gentlemen’s actions will rival the braggadocio on display.”
@CrossHare (Hisao Yatsuhashi)

“Are they to be murdered on the field?! Such an ill-advised display of manhood is indeed alarming.” – @rosannecash

Terrible Towels Pittsburgh Steelers

What are these terrible towels all about? Photo: Wikipedia

“It is not everyone,” said Elinor, “who has your passion for terrible towels.”@asavwms (Asa Williams)

What the heck is a Super Bowl anyway?

I blogged about my retail in-experience with football madness two years ago, as a grocery manager forced to deal with Event Planning for the Big Game.
I joked that it was taken as seriously by food-connoisseurs as Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts… with elaborate spreads of “finger foods” and dips being prepared.

“You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love your Buffalo Chicken Pizza.”
@heymrmiked (Michael Dunn)

“No one knows how I suffer. Such flutterings of my heart and pains in my head. Perchance too many jalapenos.” – @anamcara1004 (Jen Nash Humphrey)

Apparently, America does indeed consider Super Bowl Weekend to be a national holiday, even if the government hasn’t officially declared it so. And Wiki claims it is the second-largest day for food consumption, after Turkey Day.
(No wonder I was feeling stressed, while Frito and Pepsi displays devoured every square inch of my salesfloor!)

“One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.”
@katekilla

“Super, you say? I have a far superior Bowl at Chawton – Jasperware decorated with the most delectable chinoiserie.”@WesleyStace (John Wesley Harding)

Last weekend, I couldn’t have honestly answered the question “Who do you think will win?” because I didn’t know which team was opposing the Steelers. It wasn’t obvious from my trips into town, where only yellow and black paraphernalia were on display and for sale in shop windows.

“The men, all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all.”
@mfortuin11 (Matilda)

Finally on Saturday night, I overheard someone in the grocery store griping about the lack of local support for the Green Bay Packers.
The other team.

My only recollection of the Packers involved a high school friend (Bobby) who was craaazy about them, wore their green jerseys everywhere, and got teased by the other guys for it.
He also poked gentle fun at my mother, because as a Minnesota resident – she’s a Vikings fan by default (because my stepfather is).
I gather the Wisconsin Packers and the Minnesota Vikings don’t like each other… *shrugs at the understatement*

I was so tired of hearing about these blasted Steelers, that I hoped the Packers would win, just to shut everyone up!
And to brighten Bob’s day, of course… :)

“I’ll not leave this house until its been universally contradicted that you intend to paint yourself green, Miss.”
@BusterBNYC (Bill Buster)

Plastic cheese head hat Green Bay Packers Wisconsin

A cheese hat, photo courtesy of Wikipedia

One funny thing about the team from Wisconsin, a state infamous for its cheese production: all the die-hard fans wear cheese!

Yes, they really do.

Well, it’s plastic molded into cheese shapes…
but still…

“A cheese bonnet!” exclaimed Mrs Bennett unexpectedly. “I have always wanted a splendid cheese bonnet!”
@WesleyStace

“Some ladies are determined to sport bonnets made of cheese. I must take to my bed.”@rosannecash
“And other ladies have made corsets of cheese. Very shocking indeed!”

Continued Mrs Bennett unadvisedly. “There is nothing so merry as a ‘chapeau de ‘fromage'”@WesleyStace

The silly state of the Packers’ fans’ attire sent the entire network of Janeites twittering…

“The cheesehead wished to say something very sensible, but knew not how.”@abroshar (Abroshar)

“The season was full, the room crowded, and the two ladies squeezed in as well as they could in their cheeseheads.”@janinelaporte (Janine Laporte)

“All in all, an unusual display of circuses. Presumably bread was also available”@dan_ad_nauseam (Daniel Reitman)

Although Sunday night was as quiet and uneventful as nights could possibly be with 3 young children… and football was banned from Joe’s 42″ flat-screen pride and joy… the glimpses of Super Bowl fever that I caught on Twitter almost convinced me to sneak into the bedroom to catch the action…

Not the gaming action, mind you. The entertainment!

It began with pop-siren Christina Aguilera flubbing our national anthem in a moment of extreme emotion.

Kathryn Bass was concerned over the poor girl’s health:
“One wonders at the unexpected ululations of Miss C____ A____. Is she quite well?”

“I believe the misspeak by Ms Aguilera greatly vexed many. Perhaps the result of too many excessive diversions.”@anamcara1004

“You have delighted us long enough, Miss Aguilera.”
@Julian_West

“Before she could reply to entreaties that she would sing again, she was eagerly succeeded by the other performers.”@Amyloo (Amy Bellinger)

The other hot topic of the evening centered around the half-time performances. Just like our favorite night at the theatre, football games have intermissions. During the break, attendees will be treated to a live show of musical guests.

In the earliest shows, the entertainers were typically college marching bands… but over time, the producers realized that big stars would gain better publicity.
Past celebrity performances included: Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Queen Latifah, Aerosmith, Britney Spears, and Janet Jackson (who accidentally lost a bit of clothing during her number).

“One hopes the unfortunate incident involving the lady’s corset is not repeated on this occasion.”
@rosannecash

For Sunday’s spectacle, fans were treated to a live show by a hip-hop group called The Black Eyed Peas. It was a futuristic montage of flashing lights, silver jumpsuits, glowing dancers, and well… you get the idea.

“Regarding the Legume Chorale, it grieves me to note that the spectacle exceeds the musicality.”
@rosannecash

The poor Peas, now officially dubbed the Legume Chorale by Rosanne, received a public thrashing all around.

“Legume Chorale, you have delighted us long enough. Let the football teams have time to exhibit.”@janetrutter (Janet Rutter)

“Devil take those young dogs! How they are singing out! Stop your confounded pipe or I shall be after you.”
@itsthebunk (Liza Bernstein)

“They resumed with relief, and perhaps a mutual desire of never meeting the Black Eyed Peas again.”@abroshar

People watching at home are also entertained by the commercials played on TV during halftime. Apparently, the Super Bowl is one of the highest rated programs on television. According to Wikipedia, this year’s Super Bowl attracted 111 million viewers and has become the “most viewed television broadcast of any kind in U.S. history”.
Yikes!

So advertisers pay hefty sums of money (think $3 million) to have their commercials aired during the game, most notably at halftime.
These ads are usually major productions themselves, with people tuning in just to see the spots.

We didn’t. But Joe later admitted that he was tempted to check out the ads.

“The commercials are tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me.”
@dkrobledo (Danie Robledo)

“Though I find the sport itself coarse,” said Mrs Cawthon, “still I must admit to enjoying the advertisements.”@briantedjones (Brian Jones)

Brett Favre Green Bay Packers

Mr. Favre, Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Despite the humorous parodies being flung about, it was obvious to an observer that at least a few of these literati were actually watching the game. And knew what was going on, and who was involved with whom.

“I cannot think what is the matter with me!” said Mr Rodgers when his legs were removed from under his body.”@itsthebunk

“There will be several embarrassed gentlemen in white if the gentlemen in green are the victors.”@dan_ad_nauseam (Daniel Reitman)

“Mr. Favre was not a sensible man, and the deficiency of nature had been but little assisted by concussions.” – @dylanw (Dylan Wilbanks)

“I do not wish for opinions of men wearing stripes when the actions of a man w/a pigskin have spoken so plainly.”@avb (Ashley Van Buren)

“I may boast that no gentleman of my acquaintance would be in a position to be called for unnecessary roughness.”@pcarlson001 (Pam Carlson)

And as we’ve all heard by now, unless you’re still hiding in your hall closet…
The Cheeseheads from Wisconsin won the game.
My friend Bob was notedly ecstatic. It’s safe for us to emerge and wander the streets again.

“I will not say that your Steelers are dead, but I am afraid they are not alive.”
@janiceharayda (Janice Harayda)

“Lydia’s low spirits upon the regiment vacating Merton were revived upon sighting young swains in green and yellow.”@elizabethkarr (Elizabeth Karr)

I wanted to compile a list of all the witty and remarkable tweets from the #JaneAustenAtTheSuperBowl discourse, earlier in the week, but many honorable ladies of the Austen blogosphere were burning their midnight oil and beat me soundly to the finish line. ;)

Here are a some of my favorite random quips:

“I do not perceive the greatness in this ball, there being no dancing and the gentlemen acting too much with wine.”@EFAmericana (Andres Rojas)

“Such lust for possession of an inanimate object so entirely lacking in aesthetic merit does not bode well.”@HumidCity (Humid City)

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, a single man in possession of the pigskin must be in want of a touchdown.”
@dandavenport

“It is your turn, Mr. Darcy. I talked about the shotgun formation & you ought to remark on the snap count.”@Ohiofoodlovers (JPoleon)

“What a commotion! There runs a man with a ball as if something were after him! He’s lost all sense of decorum!”@BusterBNYC (Bill Buster)

“A cheerleader, especially if she has the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can.”@andevers (A.N. Devers)

Perhaps next year, I’ll invite you to take a turn with me around the sidelines, as I hear the sport can be quite refreshing!
The gentleman and brutes can admire us much better from their positions on the field.

Purchase, where might one procure a bonnet and corset made from cheese?

January 2nd was my 31st birthday. I’m officially “in my 30’s” now…. but no matter, I haven’t celebrated my own birth in years.
But would you believe my husband and oldest daughter completely forgot? :P

happy birthday wishes on tara fly's facebook profile wall

My family forgot, but Facebook remembered my birthday!

The kids are too hung over from Christmas, Joe has typical absent-minded “Male Brain” and can’t remember which day it is, and I feel stupid making a fuss over myself.
Although I dropped a few hints yesterday about “feeling old”… comments which are always guaranteed to get an eye-roll and/or lecture from the man who is 21 years my senior.
Revenge was sweet, however, as Facebook reminded everyone to post well-wishes on my Wall. Thanks guys! Your thoughtful comments humbled my housemates. ;)

But Friday really was a significant day.

Firstly, Friday was the 31st… which is just like the 13th, except written backwards.
Does writing something backwards count as bad luck or good luck?

It shouldn’t matter to someone who lives with a half-black cat and refuses to eat her sauerkraut and black-eyed peas. I find superstitions simply curious.

Secondly, it marked the end of the year 2010. Although I didn’t pay attention to the clock, and realized it was midnight only when my Twitter feed lit up with “Happy New Year” written all over it…

Leave it to Twitter, because even this girl, who still can recall the license plate number to her high-school crush’s car, needs an occasional reminder as to which holiday we’re celebrating. ;)

happy birthday wishes continue on Tara Fly's Facebook wall

And the Birthday Wishes continue throughout the day... ((hugs))

But New Year’s = Resolution making.

Remember how grudgingly I caved to the popular practice of penning my business goals? I haven’t forgotten about it this year… I guess it’s time to take a closer look at how successful I’ve been, huh.

Lastly, and most memorably, I had bits of shredded cheese embedded between my keys which made typing gooey.

From Thursday’s shin-dig, no doubt, which I was unfortunately not invited to attend. I was told it was a rowdy affair, and the kitchen was ransacked – the contents strewn around the living-room like confetti.
I was engaged upstairs, ministering to a suicidal pile of CDs that had formed a group pact to jump from the tower, falling six feet onto the carpet.

There was one fatality – a Dave Matthews album I hadn’t listened to since high school. The funeral was closed to the public.

little girl playing in pile of CDs on floor

Mia was the sole witness to the tragedy.

After the events of this past week, I find it humorous to reflect on the goals I made for this past year.
When I sat down last January 1st and resolved “to create 4-5 new pieces each month, not including commissions”, I was being incredibly optimistic.
Unrealistic even.
But the dynamics of our household were very different then.

My 2 and 3-year-old have reached many physical and intellectual milestones this year, not least of which has been the mastery of overcoming barriers and outwitting child-proof doorknobs and cabinet locks. Their ability to cause mischief has increased tenfold, due to their “divide and conquer” method of splitting my attention between downstairs and upstairs messes. Now that we actually have an upstairs/downstairs in our home, not to mention an open floor plan.

They run positively wild here! LOL

“Let’s cause a disturbance in the kitchen that will occupy Mommy long enough for us to empty the contents of our dresser onto the floor.”

The spare bedroom which serves as my studio has been a godsend, in terms of keeping my art and supplies organized and out of danger, but doesn’t allow me to work while supervising the little devils. Unless I keep the door open and invite hell to come inside.

Needless to say, my productivity took a dip this year. In 2009, I was averaging a painting per week; in 2010, I managed to complete one per month (with a few side projects, like Cat Cameo necklaces).

Nor did I reach my ultimate sales goals for this year, although I did earn more overall in 2010 than the previous year. That my sales remained steady is a good thing, especially considering the slight increase in price needed to accurately reflect my expenses and give room for growth. :)

I’ve set my current prices so that I can work with wholesale orders and consignment shops, which is something I didn’t manage to do in 2010… but I’ve made initial contact with a couple of gallery shops, and have all the info necessary to submit my work for review in the next few weeks. I promise I will!

I’ve also done some research into three seasonal art festivals in the Washington D.C. area that I’d like to participate in this year. If I’m accepted, a hefty booth fee and inventory budget will need to be set aside.

Birthday Wishes from Tara Fly's Facebook friends

Still feeling the love from awesome peeps. And even a poopy litter cake!

I did, however, manage to update my blog each week (Or thereabouts), and I added a few functional items to my shop (namely note cards). Joe and I have lots of product ideas cooking!

2011 will be an exciting time spent experimenting with wood and cloth. Psst, he has been talking for months about purchasing a sewing machine for me – as a BIRTHDAY present, no less! – which means I’ll be cursing and stitching my fingers to assorted fabrics in an effort to create some stuffed animals for my shop. ;)

Furthermore, I began working on my cat adaptation of Pride and Prejudice… even though I must have been under the influence of some strong cold medicine when I gave myself a 4 month deadline to have an entire book written and illustrated. I deeply apologize to anyone who believed I could accomplish that.
Nevertheless, the characters are coming to life one by one. Check out Mr. Bennet Cat, Mrs. Bennet Cat, and the Gossip Girls (Kitty and Lydia).

I might not have accomplished everything I set out to do, business-wise, however I’ve been blessed in so many ways this year:
We have a lovely home, with quiet neighbors…
Our own backyard … (free from cigarette butts and empty beer bottles, hooray!)
Three bright young children who greet me each morning in Chinese … (thanks to Nickelodeon – “Ni-hao!”)
A man who supports my decision to stay home and doesn’t gripe about our lack of money (too often)…
A wonderfully supportive online community of Facebook/Twitter/blog friends…
And a passionate small group of customers who love my artwork and gush about having a framed picture of Mr Darcy Cat on their desks. :D

More Happy Birthday greetings from Facebook friends

Oh, look! More folks took a few moments to wish me well.

So to welcome the new year, and everything it may bring to me, I will set forth my goals as follows:

1. To *ahem* increase my blog posts to 2 posts weekly… and keep them fairly relevant/on-topic.

2. To list a new item in my Etsy shop each day, instead of renewing over and over.

Even if that just means a “new” size, matted option, sets, etc. Since I won’t have new artwork to reveal everyday, unfortunately.

3. To continue producing *at least* one new piece of artwork each month. Hopefully more.

4. To get my Zazzle shop up to speed.

Many purchases are made through Zazzle, even though it’s been terribly neglected. I just realized over the holidays that Christmas ornaments have been available for sale. But I didn’t add any to my shop. Ooops!

5. To create more functional stuff (like, um… Christmas ornaments!) and that wood and fabric I was hinting about earlier. ;)

6. To make my website more marketing-friendly, i.e. adding a press kit, and better navigation.

I might even make the transition to a WordPress premium theme to run my entire site, although I know absolutely nothing about WP coding and I loathe giving up all my hard work… hehe, we’ll see.

7. To finally get my work into a retail shop and/or gallery.

8. To participate in a craft fair and/or art show.

9. To become fearless in my self-promotion off-line, and get those freaking business cards created!

I have two whole boxes of free Vista Print cards featuring Fire-Breathing Dommie on them, but my branding has taken a 180-degree turn, so new materials are needed to showcase Monsieur Darcy. ;)

10. To keep in mind, and continually work towards, my ultimate goal – to grow this career into a full-time family operated business… so Joe can kiss the soul-devouring, mass-crap-producing Retail Giant good-bye. ;)

More Birthday Wishes from friends

Do you think my husband gets the message yet? LOL ... Don't forget next year.

Of course, I have a few personal goals as well that aren’t worth sharing. But mainly to become a more compassionate and patient person.
And to whine less about my lot in life. I genuinely have too much to be thankful for to waste my time (and your time) complaining about my lack of time! ;)

Although an occasional rant may still escape if I feel it’s worth sharing. hehe ;)

So grab a glass of kraut juice, and let’s toast to the New Year 2011: To Less Complaining + More Art Sharing!

Mrs Bennet Regency Cat Thank You Card by TaraFly Art

Mrs Bennet says "Thank You", from The Crazy Cat Family

One week until Christmas – and I’ll bet your tree is up AND decorated! Your gifts are probably tucked away inside the closet, attic, trunk of your car, or else they’re in route with guaranteed delivery.   (Forgive me if I chuckle a bit over those dubious postal deadlines – it’s an old inside joke shared by the secret cult of online merchants).

Most likely, you have – this very evening – returned from the grocery store to stockpile your pantry with yams and cranberry sauce. If you live in the Northeastern United States… that includes 10 gallons of milk, a case of sparkling kiwi-strawberry or peach flavored water, 12 loaves of sandwich bread, some deli meat, and enough toilet paper to keep you in comfort in case the snow buries your house up to its shingles.
And you’re forced to dig air holes in your chimney.

And naturally, I’ve done none of the above. As in years past, we’re keeping Christmas (and Mia’s birthday next Friday) relatively conservative and quiet.
No guest list, huge table spreads, or mountains of gifts. I’ll send the cats out in a sled team if we need anything.

But despite the fact that I didn’t quite reach my sales goals for this year, and wasn’t able to splurge on fancy toys and gadgets for the kids, I’m extremely satisfied and appreciative of the support we’ve received from my loyal fans and new customers. :)

Purchases made from my two shops (and Zazzle, too) are meaningful, because they directly contribute to my family’s welfare, in addition to the small percentage I’m donating to sponsor a cat from BestFriends.org… an animal sanctuary, which is akin to tithing to a church owned by cats.

You’ll hear this all the time, especially in recent years – that helping the small business owner is also helping the community … but it’s the simple truth.
Each sale is important because it puts food on our table and diapers on our children, and enables a stay-at-home mother to live above the poverty line and not seek help from government welfare.
And you know me, I’d rather cut off my hand than beg.

When I began writing this post, I was reminded of an interview I’d read, which was published back in the late 80’s. One of my favorite actors, Michael J. Fox, was talking about the importance of his fans, and he said,
“My attitude is that this one paid my rent, that one bought my car, and that one paid for the hockey tickets.”

Essentially recognizing each fan as having made a direct contribution to his quality of life, and acknowledging his gratefulness for them….
it sums up exactly how I feel right now.
Of course, most Hollywood big-shots will thank “the little people” out of obligation, but the wise ones understand the truth: We created those celebrities ourselves, and purchased the crystal palaces in which they live, by spending the money required to make their films and franchises a hit.
Or not.

Mr Darcy Cat by TaraFly Regency Cat Portrait in Frame

Mr Darcy Cat handsomely framed in the hallway

Although sales of Mr Darcy Cat aren’t paying my rent yet, I was able to help alleviate my husband’s monthly financial concerns …here and there, by paying a utility bill, keeping the car filled with gas, and making a trip to the grocery store without using our shared debit card. ;)

The last few weeks leading up to Christmas have been blessed with fresh attention and excitement over my artwork, and I have a few prospects lined up for the New Year, including venturing offline and into an actual gift shop. Shhhh… fingers and whiskers crossed.

Even more importantly, to me, is the shift in Joe’s attitude towards the time I spend online and upstairs in my studio. My recent sales were steady enough to carry us through each week.   He has been more appreciative and positive-minded, even going so far as to plan an expansion with new products.   His lofty dreams involve chopping and sanding fallen logs…. which will, of course, have cats painted on them. ;)
I’m beginning to feel that encouraging sense of team camaraderie that has long been eluding me… and I have you, dear readers and fans, to thank for it!

Without you, I would be just another mom of half-feral, young children, who sits at her computer… blogging about pipe-dreams and doing nothing to fulfill them.

But this journal is more than just my mindless ranting. It is also an account of my beginning – the cold-hearted retail cocoon that I’ve emerged from, the obstacles and inner struggles I face as a growing artist (and mom), and the career roadmap that I’ve lightly sketched onto a ketchup-stained napkin.
I don’t exactly know where I’ll be 10 years from today, but I am determined to reach my ultimate goal of a self-employed, family run business.

It will be interesting, and probably amusing, to look back and read this first-person narrative of my progress over the years. And someday, you and I will be able to reminisce and say:
“Remember when…?”

You’ll make some obscure reference, we’ll both laugh, and my future hardcore fans will shake their perplexed heads.
Because it is our little inside joke.

Should we create a secret club, with hand signals and passwords, too? ;)

Dominic the tuxedo cat looking out window at snow

Dominic was disappointed by the snowfall this morning.

Being a working artist, whether self-supporting or struggling, is a mixed bag of delight and disappointment. I can’t paint a rosy picture for you, and if I could, I’d sell it for a billion dollars because everyone wants one.

There is one thing about being an artist that totally rocks, however… and that is my social circle. I have the creme of the crop talent-wise at my fingertips, and not only do they inspire me daily with their imagination and ingenuity, but these kind-hearted creative folks are always willing to give me a few words of knowledgable advice or thoughtful encouragement.

2011 Calendar designed and illustrated by Jessica Doyle

A 2011 Calendar, designed and illustrated by Jessica Doyle

Jessica Doyle is one of the most talented artists/illustrators out there; she specializes in ink drawings, colored pencil and watercolor, although she can jump to acrylics or digital media effortlessly when the mood strikes.
If you aren’t already familiar with her work… you soon will be, but remember where you “discovered” her first. M-kay? ;)

I first found her while searching for a review on the Epson line of printers that Carrie Hawks, another awesome cat artist, recommended that I try. Carrie’s favorite model, the R2200, was discontinued … and a search for the next upgrade (the R2880) led me to Jess’s fabulous blog.
I devoured a year’s worth of posts in one afternoon, and one private goal of mine is to read the entire blog from beginning to end.

2011 calendar illustrated by Jessica Doyle

Printing and measuring the calendar

Following her on Facebook, Twitter, Etsy, WordPress, Buzz, and Flickr… eh, does that sound stalkerish? …over the last year and a half has been really meaningful for me, because she is full of insight and wisdom. And she doesn’t mind sharing it with us.

I’ve especially enjoyed watching her e-commerce baby being born… The Handmade Cloud, she calls it.
We both took the self-hosted webstore route, but her patience and dedication has paid off with a beautiful online retail shop to showcase her work, that she designed herself with some help from a coding expert.

Imagine how tickled and honored I was to be invited to test-drive a new feature! A select few lucky folks (hehe) were able to freely download a PDF copy of her very-much-in-demand 2011 calendar…

Cutting the Jessica Doyle calendar with X-acto blade

Trimming Jess' calendar with an X-acto knife

The calendar is available for purchase by everyone else here on Etsy, and on Handmade Cloud.

I didn’t yet have a calendar purchased for next year, so her gift was greatly appreciated. The other day, I organized the studio (again) and de-cluttered it, so today I enjoyed a bit of quiet time printing Jess’ calendar on – our – Epson printer… and assembling it under Merlin’s supervision.

Merlin the cat and Tara Fly in art studio

Merlin demands a chin scratch or else the printer gets it!

I guess he didn’t trust me with X-Acto knives. Funny thing, I’m scared to death of pricking myself with a sewing needle, but the real danger in slicing into one’s finger with a razor blade never occurred to me.
Did Sleeping Beauty traumatize me as a child?
I’ve ripped into hundreds upon thousands of cardboard boxes during my 12+ years working retail, that box cutters seem like a useful claw attached to my hand.

I did, however, encounter one particularly terrifying thing while printing this little calendar.

A scary nightmare alternate reality Jessica Doyle calendar

Mushrooms from my nightmares....

Mushrooms!

One of Jess’s paintings featured mushrooms… and I’ve been scared of toadstools and mushrooms since childhood.
Seriously.

Did I ever tell you about the evil mushrooms that hide in tall grass, waiting for young children?
They spring up and attack the innocent frolicking girls, and tear into their flesh with razor-sharp fangs… blood-thirsty toadstools can eat an entire child in a few grizzly hours.

As a five-year-old, I commanded my grandfather to hunt and kill all the toadstools in our yard before I would play in the grass. I stood fearfully on our brick patio and watched him scour the lawn, uprooting any he could find. He also fashioned a piece of twine into a lasso, as a weapon for me to use in self-defense. I practiced throwing it over their monstrous heads from a safe distance.

Yeah… don’t get too philosophical with me. I’m sure there’s a Freudian explanation buried in it somewhere. ;P

Jessica Doyle 2011 Calendar September and August artwork

Those paper mushrooms will not hurt me...

So… anyway… I might just cut August’s page in half and reuse that artwork for September. ;)

Jessica Doyle 2011 calendar with ribbon tie

Tying the pages together with a scrap of ribbon.

A bit of leftover ribbon that was too short for any other purpose was perfect to hang it from the wall, in place of my ugly, utilitarian calendar. It was still displaying the month of June…

My goal for the new year is to actually make some long-range plans, to set deadlines for myself, and to create my own calendar (and some Christmas ornaments, too) for next fall.
If the world is going to end in 2012, I can’t procrastinate too long, huh? :P

Jessica Doyle calendar on wall with stink bugs and computer

I discovered two stink bugs while hanging her calendar...

When I took the current calendar down (hey, it was June, for crying out loud! I doubt it’ll be missed) I found two stink bugs hiding underneath it. Everyone following my updates on Facebook or Twitter knows about the obsession I had with our infestation of stink bugs this summer. (They taste like cinnamon!)

At one point, I actually followed a group of them around, documenting their every move with my camera… with the intention to write a dramatic dialogue for them. No need to worry if you don’t recall reading it, because I didn’t post it anywhere. LOL

two stink bugs on wall

A Few Days of Our Lives, starring Annie Bugstede and Taylor Stinkler

I took this romantic interlude as a good sign. I am slowly surrounding myself, and my workspace, with positive vibes from dear friends. With Jess’s artwork now hanging on the wall, and Merlin the cat cuddling with me, and the stink bug couple dreaming their dreams and building a nest…

The life of an artist is pretty fulfilling, sometimes scary, always colorful, and slightly cinnamon flavored.

Chuck Walker as Horton in Suessical

Chuck Walker as "Horton the Elephant" in 2006

 

I’m a collector of odd things. Joe jokes that I’m a hoarder, but I’ve seen the documentaries, and don’t think it’s quite that serious.
But have you ever seen a discarded scrap of paper, picked it up, read it, and imagined who wrote it? Well, I do. And I keep it as a momento of two people whose paths almost crossed

For instance, I have this weird habit of pocketing lost grocery lists. I like to imagine the lives of these people, their eating and social habits, such as the author of my recent find:
Written onto a sheet of stationary, with the header: Elect Angela Rosenberry Krom for Judge… there was a link to Krom’s website at the bottom, and a disclaimer that this scrap of paper was paid for by the “Angela Krom for Judge Committee”. Was this customer a supporter who attended a rally, perhaps a secretary or associate of Krom’s, or even Ms. Krom herself?
(I have no idea who Angela Krom is, as I no longer live in PA)
But the list included:
• Fixodent
• Body wash
• Milk
• Clorox Bleach Pen
• White Raw Hides
• Bread
• and Bannanas [sic] 

Would suggest an elderly person from Pennsylvania who often stains their clothes, has a penchant for eating bread, bannanas, and chewing on bones with their dentures…. of course, I could be mistaken. ;) However, isn’t it fun to speculate? I’ve often thought about crafting a silly list of my own, to “accidentally” leave on a store shelf for someone else’s voyeuristic amusement. 

Another object I have a fondness for collecting are orphaned photographs of strangers. I once found a picture of a couple, at the bottom of the office desk drawer, when I was working at Ben Franklin Crafts in Winchester, VA. I assumed that one of them was a former employee, who accidentally left the photo behind, but nobody recognized either of them. Even the assistant manager who had been hired at the store’s opening didn’t remember them. It’s a great mystery for me to contemplate, and a decade later, I still have the photograph… occasionally I’ll unearth it when I’m digging through my boxes of family photos, and wonder whether this couple is still together and what they might be doing.  (Next time I run across it, I’ll post it here… but everything disappears when you search for it). 

The most profound experience I had as a result of my “hobby” involved meeting a chorus of male drag performers. Once upon a time, my friend Don was working for a photo-developing store, located in our small town’s only shopping mall. We were both invited to a mutual friend’s party, and he needed a ride from work to her house, so I volunteered to pick him up at the end of his shift. I was waiting for him, as he gathered up the shop’s trash, and he reached into the waste basket and pulled out a stack of photo copies… “Here, you gotta look at these!”
The film was taken at a staged event of some sort, and chronicled the show from backstage beforehand, to curtain call, and portions of the cast party afterwards. The subjects were a group of handsome men performing in drag, in what appeared to be a variety show. My first inclination was to chuckle over their costumes, but it piqued my curiosity, as this was a smallish town where everyone presumably knows everybody. I was unaware that this subculture existed in my neighborhood, and wondered whether they were open about it, or if they lived quietly as school janitors and real estate brokers by day… donning the sequin slips and feathers instead of “working late at the office”.
Did they have families? Were they supportive? Were they in attendance? Something about the guys’ jubilant smiles and carefree attitudes made me envious – they seemed to be having so much fun! I could almost picture myself in the room with them, laughing over their dirty jokes and helping to lace their corsets.
Don suggested that I keep the photos, as they were destined for the trash anyway. “We’re allowed to make a copy of each film batch”, he shrugged. Of course it was wrong, an invasion of privacy, but he didn’t care… even if his job was at stake. It was just a part-time fling. My conscience told me to throw the photos away. My habit won. 

I held onto those photos for over four years, safely kept inside my nightstand, alongside my journal. Every so often, I’d take them out and look through them… looking at each person individually, and wondering who they were, whether they were happy with life in general, what other hobbies and passions they had… “Where were they now?” was a question that usually came to mind, because I’d never met any of them. Did they live in the area? Were these taken at a convention in some far-away city?
I can tell you, however, neither of my ex-husbands appreciated these photos, or the fact that I stubbornly held onto them. :P 

In the summer of 2004, I was in the process of moving in with my second husband, and he decided to pile my belongings onto the back of his manly Ford pick-up truck, and throw a tarp over them, to haul everything to his house. Tragically, it began raining… HARD… and the tarp blew halfway off in the wind. Some of my things were soaked and had to be thrown away, including books that were literally falling apart in wet clumps. I also lost the photographs of my mystery male performers, the ink had smeared and many of the pictures were glued together. It pained me almost physically to say goodbye after four years, it felt like being dumped from a long-term relationship. Hmmm, considering neither of my first two marriages lasted that long, I probably knew those strangers better than my exes. ;) 

A couple of years later, my desire to break free from the marital cage, and a series of coincidences, led me to return to the community theatre where I had once participated after high school. I had moved out-of-town, and there were other theatres within my area, but I was hoping to meet up with the old crew I’d worked with years earlier. Unfortunately, many of them had moved on as well, so there were fresh faces all around, including one very talented actor named Chuck Walker, who was then starring as Horton in “Suessical”.
After the show, he invited me to his house for a party and an impromptu tour of the interior renovations that he and his husband were undergoing. (They had been legally married in Massachusetts in 2004) Our tour ended at the living room fireplace, where his original artwork and an unfinished painting were on display… but my attention was drawn to the mantle and his collection of framed photographs. One group portrait in particular looked strangely familiar… as well it should, because I had owned a copy of it myself for four years! 

I then realized Chuck was one of the male performers from my lost photographs, and here I was, standing in his very living room! 

I hadn’t recognized him at first, due to a change in hairstyle and a grown beard. LOL I probably should have kept my secret to myself, as it might have offended him to learn that copies of their photos had been handed over nonchalantly to strangers… but the irony gave me goosebumps, and so I found myself sheepishly confessing everything! It is difficult to read Chuck’s mood oftentimes, but I think he was amused, or else kept any irritation to himself. LOL
He asked whether I’d like to meet the other men from the photos, as some of them were also attending the party. Why, yes, of course! 

In 2004, I didn’t think I would ever see them again. In 2006, I was greeting them in person for the first time. I could write multiple blogs on the subject of Fate and predestination… for those of you who are curious to know my spiritual beliefs, simply pick up a copy of “The Belgariad” fantasy series by David Eddings.  It deals heavily with prophesy, the predetermined course of people’s lives, and how everyone on the planet is connected in some way. 

Whenever I pick up a scrap of paper, or study the faces in a photograph, my life becomes intertwined with theirs… perhaps in a minor insignificant way, perhaps in a more substantial way. If I reach out with my energy, I might as well be touching their hand. Reading someone else’s words, even on a simple grocery list, reminds me that I am not alone. Everyone has a story to tell.
I’m a collector of their stories.

“I wouldn’t want to marry anybody who was wicked, but I think I’d like it if he COULD be wicked and WOULDN’T.”
Anne Shirley, from Lucy Maud Montgomery’s “Anne of the Island”


artist TaraFly speaks against domestic violence

Controlling relationships remind me of cages, from whence I must escape...

I wonder why women idolize men struggling with inner demons? We can’t blame Hollywood, and their brooding bad-boy heroes, because authors have been romanticizing tragic tales of tortured souls for hundreds of years. Gatsby, Heathcliff, Frankenstein, Hamlet…
But true stories such as this – the murder of Yeardley Love by her estranged boyfriend, prompt me to lay my cards on the table in this blog post, which is highly difficult for me. Admitting that I’ve been involved in volatile relationships is something I’d rather not confess, because I tend to seek control over my environment and I refuse to acquiesce to a demanding partner or boss.
Never the meek and humble “yessir” from me… I’m a fighter who seeks to balance the scales, at the very least. I would never acknowledge that I cannot handle my own circumstances – that someone else can overpower me, emotionally and physically. I cannot allow myself to be considered a weakling or a failure.

Besides, airing personal drama has a tendency to backfire. There is nothing worse than confiding to someone, and then watching your problems become the subject of ridicule and gossip amongst your so-called friends. I’d rather put on a perpetual happy face and let their imaginations fill in the gaps… and believe me, they will concoct some wild stories!

I think people are afraid to admit that they’ve been abused or mistreated by their partners, because society still blames the victims. And for women like me, who adamantly refuse to be considered “victims”, the admission means we’re insecure and unable to stand our ground. People will judge us for being too blinded by infatuation, or too naïve, to recognize the “warning signs” and for not getting outside help… but ironically, many of us do turn to our loved ones for advice, to find they are also in denial. They mistakenly believe that if we “work harder at the marriage” or “avoid the anger triggers”, the relationship will improve. But it won’t. Not unless the abusive partner realizes that he/she is being a jerk-face and is willing to work on his/her OWN behavior.

People believe that women are seeking out abusive relationships, that we somehow want a strong man controlling us, which is untrue. I, for one, am a very stubborn-headed person who refuses to take orders from anyone… although a boss who signs my paychecks gets a bit more consideration than a disrespecting husband. ;)

In my case, none of my relationships ever escalated into actual violence – I wouldn’t have tolerated a second of that crap, and foolishly believed myself stronger for that decision. Verbal and emotional abuse were the main issues I encountered, however whenever he began threatening me with violence, I threatened back – with leaving his ass to rot in jail, and finding a better man.
For literally six months, I lived out of my packed suitcase, located in the trunk of my car. When all my “indoor” underwear was in the washing machine, I’d run outside in my PJs – pop open the trunk and grab a cold pair. One day, he called my bluff… and I called his. After a year of his broken promises “to change”, I walked out on him and never looked back. Our lives were a roller-coaster ride of drama, but I honestly didn’t seek out turmoil. I much prefer to live a quiet, unassuming routine at home.

This particular relationship began 6 years ago, when I was a recently single mother with a minimum wage job, and a cheap efficiency apartment. I was much too proud to live on welfare or in assisted housing, because I wanted to prove to the world that I was self-reliant. However, my car broke down on the way to work, and a stranger stopped and allowed me to borrow his cellphone to notify my boss. The assistant manager left the store, drove out to the deserted stretch of road where I was stranded, and brought me to work.
By lunchtime, word had spread that I was having car trouble, and most likely, deeper financial troubles. (You know how folks love to speculate). Mr. Future Nightmare, who worked in a neighboring department, was somewhat mechanically inclined, and secretly liked me, so he took the opportunity to introduce himself formally and offer his help getting my car fixed. After that, he checked in occasionally to see if I needed any help.

The man (who eventually became my second destined-to-be-ex-husband) seemed like a nice, dependable guy who genuinely cared for people… which in some respects was true. Unless he got angry or drunk, that is. Avoiding his intoxicated self was fairly simple, but you never knew when something would trigger this guy’s anger… any little annoyance or petty circumstance could spark an all-out war. Washing the cat bowl in the kitchen sink, for example. It supposedly would infect us with deadly cat germs, by transmitting them into the sink basin which will eventually come into contact with dirty plates. Apparently cat germs aren’t killed with normal bleach, so I was trying to poison the familywith my spiteful act. You think I’m joking, don’t you? You might laugh out loud, and so did I… which is baaaad.
You could NOT laugh at him when he was being serious.

His threats were often involving suicide and/or murder. He even threatened to kill Dominic if he caught me lying or cheating. I held my ground, in what I felt was a victory at the time, by declaring that would be his last act. Nobody touches a hair on my cat’s head in malice and lives to touch again. *smirk*
He then confessed that he had a foolproof plan to dispose of my body, by burying it in freshly dug grave the night before the vault is laid. Having friends in the vault-laying business, it seemed plausible that he’d have insider access to these opportunities.
Pssst, Law Enforcement Officers: when looking for missing homicide victims, check the recently buried. They might have uninvited company.

This idea that women are worthless whores seemed to be prevalent in his family; even though his 8 year old son was being raised by his grandparents in a “Christian” environment, I overheard a chilling accusation that he made against my then 3-year-old daughter, Lydia.
She was holding her doll “the wrong way” – by its legs – instead of treating it like a real baby. He scolded her by saying, “You’re a bad mother. You deserve to die.” and pretended to shoot her with his little toy gun. I told him that we do NOT joke about killing people, especially little girls, and later I mentioned to his dad that I wouldn’t tolerate it.
It is in their genetic code, I think, and fortunately I held firm against having children of my own with him. Of course, there wasn’t much time to start a family, as we barely lasted two years – from our first date, to the day I signed the lease on my Single-Lady pad… with our blink-of-an-eye marriage and separation sandwiched in between.

Although I did mention my concerns to close friends and relatives, I did so very tactfully, because a couple of them are easily excitable and I didn’t want to make a huge scene… I suppose that my carefully crafted confessions were so watered down that nobody really took me seriously. I repeatedly received brush-off answers, like:
“He doesn’t mean it. People say things when they’re angry.”
“Perhaps you should pay him more respect, and not try to provoke his anger.”
“He was raised in a strict military household, and has a bit of a drinking problem.”
“Stop kissing your cat on its mouth.”

Okay that last one wasn’t real advice, but I do kiss Dominic all the time, which made my ex angry. Petting the cats, and not washing my hand thoroughly afterwards, made him angry also.
But are any of those excuses really able to justify threats of violence?? Everyone seemed to believe them.

And deep down, even I believed them… I was the problem. I do have a wise-cracking attitude, which might be considered disrespectful. My tendency to argue and assert my opinions WAS contributing to our discord. A marriage counselor would suggest finding ways to bond, and to discuss our differences by keeping the partner’s point of view in mind… blah, blah, blah.
Oh yeah, and don’t chat with the mailman, because you’ll wind up having an affair with him.

Nowadays, every paper I open has a new story about homicidal abusive relationships; one can only hope that we, as a society, will finally open our eyes and actually see our neighbors and loved ones for the monsters they truly are.
We need to take threats more seriously, and give women the power to say: “It’s NOT me. It’s you.”

It’s easy to judge someone else suffering this kind of humiliation, and I’m guilty of judging other women as well…. I’m always tempted, when I encounter horrific verbal abuse in public, to tell the “trapped” woman to “Get the hell out! Leave that SOB!”
If he can’t see the value in her, there are plenty of decent men who can. Why give him the satisfaction of controlling her like a slave? Stand up for your basic human rights!
And this popular excuse makes me cringe: “If I leave him, he’ll kill me.” You hear it all the time from spouses of convicted murderers.
Honey, if the threat works, he’ll keep using it.
He’ll kill you if you forget to press his pants, he’ll kill you for talking on the phone to your mother, he’ll kill you for shopping in a different grocery store because they had a sale. Any sign of independence or defiance on your part is a threat to his sense of control.

However, we need to stop judging people and start helping instead.
Learn the WARNING SIGNS- such as jealousy, distrust, controlling behaviour, obsessive calling and texting, drinking/drug abuse, and blaming you for their bad behaviour, and so forth.
• Take the time to really listen (and ask probing questions) when a friend or relative comes to you for advice.
• Read between the lines, in case they aren’t comfortable discussing the graphic details.
• Don’t just find out the juicy bits so that you can divulge all her secrets to your co-workers… THAT behaviour will just shut her up and force her further into hiding. You might as well rub your hands in her blood and call yourself an accessory.

There is a book I purchased awhile back, entitled Men Who Hate Women, and the Women Who Love Them” by therapist Dr. Susan Forward, which does talk about how to break the cycle, and assert your independence, if you plan to stay in the relationship.

Alas, I’m not committed enough to stay with troubled people. I lack the resolve to marry for “better or worse”, when the “worse” might entail fighting for my life, and the lives of my children and pets. Watching my personal belongings get smashed in a fit of drunken rage, or being accused of infidelity with every man who says “May I take your order” from behind the fast food counter.

But it’s not me. Really. It’s you.

Jane Austen inspired regency portrait Love Letter

"The Letter" - a digital self-portrait of the artist.

I’ve always been fascinated by music and poetry depicting roads, paths, or traveling as a theme… Curiosity tempts me to learn the origin, the destination, and to uncover any experiences to be met along the way.

My grandmother introduced me to the writings of her favorite poet, Robert Frost, when I was still a child, too young to understand the meaning of his words. He has since become one of my favorite writers, as many of the most famous and profound poems regarding pathways and journeys are his own.
Who doesn’t feel a chill while reading “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, or can relate to choosing “The Road Not Taken”?

In fact, a quote from the latter serves as my e-mail signature, although it is NOT the infamous final sentence, which reads: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference”

Yes, I do feel stirred by that line, as many people have… in fact, people completely unacquainted with the works of Frost will probably recognize that quote alone. It has become the anthem for creative free-thinkers, a battle-cry to reject conformity and established direction.

However, when I muse about my own life in quiet moments, retracing the individual steps I took.. those seemingly random, inconsequential choices, which when added together, have brought me to this specific place… I’m reminded of a different line in Frost’s poem.

As adventurous and impulsive as I may be, I sometimes find it difficult to commit to a particular course of action, because the finality of decisions burden me. There is no turning back and beginning again; life continually propels us forward like a stream of one-way rush hour traffic. Every choice we make moves us farther from our point of origin, so we will never experience those other paths the same way even if we stumble upon them later in our journey.

Whenever I place an idea on hold, which I often do, and attempt to convince myself that it can be revisited at some future point… part of me knows it will probably be buried instead. Time will keep pressing onward, and other circumstances will arise that require immediate action, and eventually those brief portals will collapse and disappear into an alternate universe.

Although these ramblings may sound regretful, I can assure you that I’m mostly satisfied with the choices I’ve made thus far. In fact, I consider myself blessed to have Joe’s hand to hold, as well as my adorable little monsters, and the various friends I’ve connected with who continually inspire me to dream bigger each day. I wouldn’t trade any of them for the chance to alter a piece of history. :)

Once a decision is made, I refuse to pine over opportunities lost, and the roads which lie far behind me. Whichever path I ultimately choose, the trip will be worthwhile, as there is happiness to be found everywhere, here and now. I remind myself to live in the present, and look towards the future, which is just as exciting and full of possibility as it appeared at the onset of my journey.

As Frost states in my favorite passage:

“Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.”

Ballet Dancing Cats - a work-in-progress

I was almost finished writing a very boring blog, updating everyone on my BlueHost subscription, my new domain TaraFlyArt.com -
(which has absolutely nothing uploaded to it yet, so don’t bother heading over there!), and my latest digital work-in-progress for my daughter Mia (pictured above).

I went online to grab a URL I planned to link to an image, and decided to check my e-mail for the fourteenth time… I discovered an alert to a new blog comment, a wonderful bit of praise by artist Jessica Doyle for my last blog, entitled Reflecting on Respect. It was one of those introspective posts that doesn’t promote a product, give an informative summary of my situation, or serve any real purpose except to unclutter my mind a bit by scattering my thoughts out into the virtual winds.
Perhaps a seed will fall and take root, and somewhere in webland, another crazy-cat-artist will emerge – stretching her claws and yawning in flames.

Aside from the obvious appreciation I felt, knowing that she read and enjoyed my blog… Jess touched upon something personal, and most likely, she did it
unknowingly. She stated: “Your humanity, sense of who you are and love for life shines through..”

I’ve been struggling with the desire to please the crowds VS living honestly for years…
The knowing of oneself, translated into Latin as “Nosce Te Ipsum”, has been a proverb since the early civilizations of mankind… apparently everyone suffers from a lack of self-integrity at one point or another. :P

It wasn’t always an issue for me. In fact, as a child I had a profound sense of self and a disdain for conformity. My earliest childhood acquaintances, who have
recently crossed paths with me again on Facebook, have made comments to the effect “Geez, Tara, you haven’t changed a bit since 8th grade”.
They aren’t referring to my impressive ability to age slowly.. hehe … rather, my profile picture displaying Dominic, the fire-breathing cat. That Cat-Connection is
“the Tara” everyone remembers.

As a kid, I developed an affinity with my family’s pet cats.. my father’s calico, Hedy, was already a member of the household when I was born. She became a mentor for an imaginative 4-year-old, teaching me to stalk bugs, to sleep curled in the sun, to lick milk from a bowl, to climb trees and scratch furniture. Anthropomorphic cartoons like “The Thundercats” and “The Secret of NIMH” might’ve contributed slightly to my belief that humans and animals could share similar spirits… but I think being an only child, spending many hours playing alone, my obsession with being feline came primarily from enjoying a cat’s companionship.
Pretending to be an animal in human clothing, or having cat-blood, eventually became more than just a game to amuse myself. I convinced myself that it was a truth, and my willingness to defend the belief in animal spirits put me at a disadvantage in my Christian environment. In my soul, I was connected to each cat I’d known and loved. No Scripture could dissuade me to think otherwise; they were simply unaware of the possibility. An oversight Jesus failed to mention. :P

Not one to practice my beliefs in secret, I informed anyone and everyone that I was, in fact, a cat.
I behaved like a cat in public.
I hissed at my enemies and made scratching movements with my hind leg to essentially “bury them” like stinky feces. You can imagine what these antics did to my reputation! ;)
I had a few friends who were a bit quirky in their own right, but the majority of my classmates and neighbors thought I was simply an odd-ball, and kids can be
merciless towards peers. I was the scapegoat… if someone felt insecure, they could start poking fun at ME, and the whole class would laugh along with them. Perhaps friendships developed in the locker room over witty jokes, of which I was the unfortunate subject… it gives me warm fuzzy feelings to think I might’ve set a standard, “Well, at least I’m not THAT weird!”

My 3rd grade teacher tried to give helpful advice -
“You know, honey, if you stopped acting like a cat, they wouldn’t tease you. You’d have many more friends.”
I told her bluntly that any friend worth having, should accept me as I am. Pretty self-confidant for an 8-year-old, huh.

A few years later, when puberty rocked our worlds, and girls started noticing boys and wearing make-up and V-neck sweaters… I was developing as a young lady who devoured fantasy novels and the notion of other planets inhabited by anthropomorphic creatures. The more I read books and watched movies, I realized that other people shared my point of view.. and I wasn’t quite so strange afterall.
It fueled my confidence to reject a male classmate’s suggestion that I would be more likely to score a date if I stopped acting like a cat. My words to him echoed
my earlier rebuttal of the teacher:
“If a guy really liked me, he wouldn’t ask me to change. I’m not going to waste my time with anyone who doesn’t accept me.”

… I walked this earth for a time, wrapped in a cocoon of reclusive independence, neither seeking popularity nor acknowledging my influence over others.
Until my family moved to a different state, forcing me to attend a new school and reestablish my identity to a whole new group of strangers. I made the decision to tone down the “cat thing” in public, and probably came across as an average teenager, albeit a bit odd in other ways…

I was drawn towards the geeks and rejects who made the effort to dig deep enough into me and not judge what they found.
These weren’t the “Goths”, or the “Punks”, or the popular “anti-conformity” groups who thought that by emulating Marilyn Manson and Johnny Depp, they were “unique”.
Nor were they the “Retro-Hippies” who smoked pot and preached acceptance, or the abstract “Artist” types who took themselves too seriously.
I was intellectual, but not a member of the “Rich Preppy” circle that hosted alcohol parties when their trusting parents left them alone for the weekend.
The kids I hung out with could actually be considered misfits, because we didn’t really belong in any group, although many were band members and thespians.

I couldn’t call myself popular, but as more people began to accept and acknowledge me, I felt what can only be described as an addiction to gain more admirers and “fans”. I actively sought opportunities to display my talents, exercise my wit, flaunt my charms, and find validation.

In and of itself, being sought after and appreciated isn’t a bad thing. Every artist who promotes him or herself through galleries, concerts, fairs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. is trying to connect with an audience of approving people willing to buy into their image.
However, I began to lose sight of what made me, well… me. The more I suppressed the less favorable aspects of my personality, the more dissatisfied I felt with my life, my friendships, and the pressures of living up to expectations.

I’ve spent the last 4 years attempting to unravel the mess I’ve made, judging each facet individually to separate the real self from the perceived self. I’ve endured many moments where my faith and beliefs were put under scrutiny, forced to answer my own doubts and grow stronger as a result. I recently decided that I’d finally come to that point of self-acceptance once again, after having stepped out of the limelight to spent some quality time surrounded by a few close friends and new babies, who are blessedly non-judgemental. LOL

Unfortunately, with my fledgling art business and a new fan base growing, I’ve put myself in the position once again where I find myself constantly wondering “What do my followers want?”:
Will they enjoy reading this blog? Were they expecting a new painting for Valentine’s Day, or activity in my Etsy shop? Will they be disappointed if I create a religious parody – like a Madonna cat holding a bird in swaddling clothes? How many people did I offend with my portrait of Kittney?

This is who I am… one minute, I’m illustrating portraits of Victorian gentlemen… the next moment, I’m fantasizing about cats wearing Vegas show-girl costumes and nipple tassels. :P

I honestly know that I wouldn’t last 10 minutes as a super-famous celebrity, before throwing in the towel, changing my name, and moving to a cabin in the woods. Sometimes the fear of disappointing or offending a potential fan is paralyzing. I’m not quite sure what The Image is that I’ve established or where the boundaries are, but I’m dying to tear them down and scream “Let me BE who I am!”
Let my artwork be honest, served from an inspired place in my soul, and not merely fast-food-in-a-greasy-bag for the masses.

I’ll sign off with this flashback to the 1990’s…click to view…because I’m feeling a bit bitchy tonight. ;)

“I’m a bitch, I’m a lover, I’m a child, I’m a mother, I’m a sinner and a saint, I do not feel ashamed…” – Meredith Brooks.

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