May 2010


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. 😛 

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.

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church gospel singing choir cats

Hallelujah! The Web-Creator TaraFly has Finished. Amen!


This week has descended upon me like a hurricane, and I’ve been struggling to regain balance after being swept off my feet. It began when the floodgates opened after my last blog (regarding domestic violence) struck chords across my social sphere… and the onslaught of e-mails, PMs, testimonies, invites, etc. that were directed my way from friends and strangers alike. It was flattering that people felt drawn to my story and wanted to share, but disheartening to read the pain behind their words… to envision what their relationships must’ve been like, that anyone would be so cruel to another human being. I marvelled at how many recognized the signs and stood firm against their abusive partners, demanding respect or else, but I also wondered about the emotional toll paid for freedom. Physical scars may disappear, but healing a battered sense of self takes much longer… possibly even a lifetime.

I’ll have to admit, however, that I didn’t expect such a huge response… and I almost hid under the bed from all the attention. I’ve always known that “fame” was something to avoid at all costs; I could never be anyone’s role model (I’m too imperfect and hypocritical) and I value my personal space too much to voluntarily live in a glass fishbowl.

So why create art, write blogs, sell on-line, and promote myself? …Certainly not to be famous. (For that I’d need YouTube) 😉
I’d rather develop a small niche following of loyal art collectors and friends who share mutual interests. I want to be “the best undiscovered talent” among a select few… not a household name across the globe. There is enough competition in cyberspace to ensure that I will never worry about having too many fans. LOL

Otherwise, the weather was ghastly this week – cold, raining, abysmal… until today, that is. It’s beautiful right now. However, for the last few days, my children have been worse than usual. We’ve had colds AND cabin fever, and they’ve been wreaking extra havoc inside. Yesterday, I felt ill.

I’m telling you all this, because in the midst of personal chaos, I did manage to complete the major points of my website. Back in February, I mentioned wanting to install my Zazzle shop into my site… when I finally got around to doing it, the CSS stylesheet that ran the store conflicted with my own layout. The whole page looked funky, like this……

Zazzle Store Builder CSS layout over-riding my website CSS

The Zazzle CSS style was over-riding mine

I spent two days trying to resolve the issue. Well, not exactly two whole days… I did cook meals, buy groceries, fold laundry, paint a bit, announce the contest winners of my Pride and Prejudice cat adaptation, begin working on their character sketches, chase kids up and down the stairs, vacuum the house 37 times, and nurse colds with TV and Tylenol (mine and theirs).
But when I did venture online to check e-mails, FB posts, and re-list stuff on Etsy, I also searched for ways to integrate the two CSS styles onto one page. Early on, I came across a forum where two people were discussing the @import command, but from their conversation it didn’t sound right for my needs. So I kept looking. After a few failed attempts, and a night to sleep on it, I returned to the import discussion, and tried typing the code directly into my page’s Content… and hey, it worked!

The command is this:

<!–
@import url(http://www.yoursite.com/css/css-name.css&#041;;
–>
</STYLE>

Check it out here!

The Zazzle Store Builder integrated on my website

My Zazzle Store integrated into my website


So now all my Zazzle merchandise is available for purchase directly from my website… which means, “adding more Zazzle merchandise” is now a higher ranking priority than it was previously.

What is nice about this Zazzle Store Builder feature is that I’ve created html pages for each product category, complete with meta keywords and image caching, which will improve the SEO to my site, rather than promoting my shop directly on Zazzle.com. Now whenever greeting cards are on sale, I can send people to my website to purchase them, although by clicking on the image links, it will take the customer to Zazzle.com for the actual purchase.

Which reminds me, I’ve worked out a simple fix to that problem as well… and by that problem, I mean the outgoing links that potential customers keep clicking to visit my Etsy shop, my Artfire shop, my Zazzle shop, etc. Most of the time, according to Stat-Counter (my favorite web-tracker), these people leave via these site links and never return. Some of them might be joining Etsy right now, in order to make a purchase from me. Someone might’ve liked my Darcy stationary on Zazzle and bought a few sheets. But the bottom line is, they sadly didn’t come back here.
When your browser opens links in the same window, your only options are hitting the Back button or re-typing the URL to return. When you send people to places like Etsy and Zazzle, they can easily get lost browsing the entire site (since these marketplaces very nicely “recommend other sellers” to them). After they’ve clicked a few dozen times, finding their way back to your site is a pain in the arse.

So I finally tweaked my outgoing links to include the target=”_blank” code, which simply opens any new link in a different window. So they can browse to their heart’s content on Etsy, and then close the site’s window when they’re finished. Viola! My website is still there.
Whether this will work to solve the problem of disappearing site visitors, I haven’t any clue… so I will examine my StatCounter to see if the duration and navigational paths of visits improve.

I’m really excited that my website is shaping up into the place I imagined earlier this year, and to think, it only took me 3 months of work!
Well, not exactly, three whole months … I did cook a few meals, buy some groceries, wash and iron laundry, and…. well, you get the idea. 🙂

“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.

Victorian Mother Cat and Kittens

ink drawing of Victorian cat and kittens being colored with acrylics

I’ve been offline quite a bit while we focus on this move – packing, hauling, unpacking, trying to find homes for everything we previously stashed in the basement. I don’t want to toss everything into the closets, or the attic, as a means to an end. Well, scratch that, I am very tempted to do exactly that! But it’s the lazy way to unclutter, because once those items are out of sight, they will never be discarded or brought to light again. 😉

I set up the 3rd bedroom into my work space – half office, half studio – and Joe purchased a real art table for me. Now the dining room table can resume its original function as a depository downstairs. Although my space is now inviting me to spend quality hours painting and creating, I haven’t had much time for myself either. Chasing kids up and down the stairs all day has whittled away my waistline though, and I dug out a pair of jeans from the box invisibly marked “Don’t Throw Away! They’ll fit me Someday…” and lo and behold, they actually did fit. LOL

Now I must hold off on planting bulbs in case we get a sudden frost… from Hell.

I’ve been tempted to get into some time-intensive projects, but everything would need to be placed on hold after my “Pride and Prejudice” contest ends, May 15th, and work on the book illustrations begins in earnest.
But the weather was so nice yesterday, the light was streaming into the studio… and the beasties actually fell asleep in sync (which is becoming a rare occurence). I had hours to devote to creative things – or laundry, or unpacking boxes – but shhhh!

A few days ago, I unpacked some scrapbooking supplies that I purchased a few years ago, when I actually thought that organizing shoeboxes of family photos could be fun… and found a package of pigment ink, archival Zig markers. Hmmmm. Inspired by Jessica Doyle’s watercolor ink drawings, and a family of stray cats living under a parked car behind the neighbor’s house, I drew a mother cat in Victorian costume pushing her litter in a baby carriage. I went online and found a Victorian house turned museum that I used for a background reference.
I scanned my finished drawing into the computer in case I decide to use it again (aka in case I mess it up) … I’m thinking about creating a 4-part series, depicting the seasons, as the kittens mature into adults. Autumn might show them walking home from school, by winter they would be teenagers – courting in the snow, and next spring would bring a wedding and a repeat of the cycle.
Because, you know, kittens grow up faster than even human children! 🙂

So I started coloring the picture yesterday, with watery acrylics (because I don’t own any “real” watercolors right now… just the trays that Lydia has mixed to death), and it did look nice… however, I flaked out and started adding more layers, because something within me just wanted to go darker and thicker. So now it’s turning out to look like every other painting I’ve done.
…Oh, and the ink lines aren’t bleeding… seriously. You’re seeing a wash of Payne’s Grey that I used on the house shutters, roof, and stone grout lines. Then I started painting over it. LOL

It seems no matter which medium I try experimenting with, I wind up returning to acrylics because they are so forgiving.
Artists who use watercolors, colored pencils, and inks are unbelievably talented because you can’t cover up your mistakes. They also need to possess a clear-cut vision of the finished piece, because there is no going back… every color is transparent, every pen stroke is visible. Mistakes, if they happen, just get incorporated into the piece. See that long scarf billowing in the wind – yeah, it was a whisker that grew too long. 😉
I’m always making mistakes, and more often, I change my mind and try something else… you can paint over acrylics a million times, just look for the bumps! hehe

Apparently I’m not ready to break from my comfort zone just yet, and show “my true colors” … i.e. all the flaws and screw-ups. Even though my painting looks pretty rough now, it will pull together in the end. Its inner voice will dictate to me, even if the results weren’t what I originally had in mind.

…This year has been a surprising revelation for me, as some of the pieces I’ve written off as personal failures, have touched a chord with someone and actually sold. 🙂
It’s an old cliché that “there is a buyer for everything”, but it’s an extreme relief to see a piece I’ve struggled over and felt unsure about, finally get some recognition after months of being ignored by virtually everybody. 🙂

So don’t give in to the temptation to toss your “unpopular” works into the closet! Bring them out into the open where people can view and admire them… over and over, until that special piece finds a new home.