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.

Two year old Mia in green dress lying on floor

What are you thinking about?

I had a million blog ideas filtering through my mind last week… many of which were incomprehensible, induced by Tuesday’s feverish brush with influenza.

Tribute to the Demon Barber

I fell madly in love with the morbid humor of “Sweeney Todd” after seeing the stage musical in 1994, and thought it would make a perfect tribute to Halloween.
For many years, I was disappointed over the lack of attention Sweeney received, and hoped that someone would decide to adapt it for film.
That is, until Tim Burton and Johnny Depp got their grubby paws on it… and now I almost wish they’d left it alone, because the purist in me screamed over every altered syllable and omission. Okay, I suppose the movie was fair enough, in spite of the glaringly absent lyrics to the main theme. 😛

Little boy wearing pink fairy wings

Fairy Jake sporting his manly pink wings

My TinkerBeau

Another Halloween story I almost told involved Jacob’s decision to wear the pink fairy wings that I originally purchased for his sister’s ballerina costume.
He insisted on wearing them all day, even while playing outside, as if the neighbors needed any further excuse to gossip about the crazy cat family.

His fascination with them didn’t surprise us, since he does occasionally like to cross-dress in Mia’s clothing. I humored him, once, by allowing him to wear the red dress he begged for, after seeing it hanging in her dresser. I assume his mimicry is a method of emulating her, as the two of them share a strong emotional bond. A mere 16 months apart, they look almost like twins, and Jake worships the ground Mia walks on.

Little boy wearing a floral shirt

Jake dressed himself today, in Mia's shirt.

When a Facebook friend posted a link to this blog post, which recounts a five-year-old boy’s desire to dress like Daphne from Scooby-Doo… well, I just had to read about his mother’s frustrations and leave a sympathetic comment.
Apparently, a few hundred other people decided to do the same…
I had forgotten to un-check the box marked “Subscribe to Replies”, and within 10 minutes after posting, my inbox was flooded with comments from other readers.
193 to be exact.
They were still pouring in as I hit the Unsubscribe link in my e-mail.

50,000 Twitter Followers

Which leads me down the treacherous path to a rant about blog marketing.
This is the time of year when businesses great and small are encouraged to connect with their potential customers by writing helpful, engaging articles such as “10 Ways to Improve Your Chances of Getting a Raise”
and “Tips for Cooking the Best Turkey Your Family Ever Tasted”.

Everyone knows that spamming with sales advertisements is O-U-T, so let’s cram relevant keywords into each attention-grabbing post and self-proclaim ourselves experts in the field of ___-Blah!

Admittedly, I subscribe to a few of these myself… but one such piece of sage wisdom, written by a business consultant, told a fictitious shop owner selling knitting supplies that she should only write about knitting, post some tutorials and tips, and god-forbid do NOT veer off into discussing how Tim Burton movies leave her unimpressed… unless she can relate it back to knitting somehow.
And how would you do that, exactly?

How do you form real relationships with people, and get to know the person behind the needles? Sure, thousands of people might follow her knitting tips… but would any of them think about her outside the knitting sphere?
When a wise-crack commercial comes on, or when their mother-in-law drops in for an unexpected visit, when they discover the best recipe for blueberry cheesecake…. will they excitedly rush to their computers to e-mail the Knitting Tips business owner? Doubt it.

I don’t care how many e-books she sells. I’m not interested in gaining 50,000 Twitter followers who are looking for advice.
If I want to sell you something, I’ll just say …click here and buy my art… otherwise, I’m just sitting here talking to myself. Or typing to myself rather.

For the record, I’m no expert… unless you want to read “10 Ways To Convince the Neighbors You’re Nuts”. (#4. Dress the entire family in pink fairy wings)

I’m the anti-marketing sort… not because I believe in the unsung success of “not marketing”, but simply due to the fact that most marketers come across as superficial, kiss-butt-to-get-a-sale zombies. Especially the sales reps I’ve met through working retail. Sparkling vampires, with the exception of one.

Tired little fairy boy in Mommy's arms

Tired from flying, he lands in Mommy's arms

Do Fairies Fall Down?

Ironically, yesterday I wanted to blog about vampires… although not the sparkly kind, of which I know blessedly nothing.
Rather, I was thinking about emotional vampires, and draining relationships in general. Those people who delight in tearing us down and making us feel worthless, and the people who place us on impossibly high pedestals and worship our golden images.

These are two sides of the same void – using us to bolster their own lack of self-esteem – and it’s best to avoid them both.

Obviously we wouldn’t want to surround ourselves with people who disrespect us, or cause us to continuously doubt ourselves, however we need to be
equally cautious around folks who refuse to recognize our genuine flaws and stubbornly cling to the belief that we represent perfection.
Unfortunately, as an imperfect human being, you are fated to disappoint them eventually, and your failure will devastate them. The tower will crumble, and you’ll find yourself bitterly rejected and abused, worse than if they’d held no faith in you whatsoever. It’s a long fall from Heaven.

We mustn’t ever lose sight of who we are, in the face of intimidation, seduction, or influence… a reoccurring theme on my mind this week.

Whether I blog about the faithfulness of movie adaptations, the self-confidence of a 2-year-old boy wearing pink fairy wings, or the pressure to be “relevant” and SEO savvy… it all boils down to “keeping it real”, remembering our strengths and weaknesses, and not compromising what makes each one of us unique.

Even if it means combining four separate topics into one post… although I’ll suggest that you read this accompanied by a 103 degree fever, wherein these ramblings will make perfect sense. 😉

4-year-old visiting the zoo tropical rainforest

Lydia exploring the tropical rainforest habitat - The National Zoo, Wash. D.C.

You’ll often hear me complaining about not having “enough time”… how the household chores and caring for the little beasties manage to both distract and drain me creatively.
The advice I hear most: “Cherish these days with your children. They grow up so fast.” …usually from empty-nesters who are looking back at their own missed opportunities.

And I want them to know that, deep down, I do cherish these days.

I made a conscious decision to put my family first when I left my full-time job.
I didn’t quit to embark on the USS Entrepreneur-Ship, and become a self-employed artist, as exotic as that sounds. I accepted the role of stay-at-home Mom because I was tired of letting other people raise and mother my children, and being held at their mercy.
When your child is sick (and that darn daycare center that you pay for dearly each week won’t accept kids with fevers)… and you’re scrambling to find an emergency sitter at the last minute, otherwise you’ll be forced to miss work – leaving your boss angry and your paperwork piling up…. the decision to stay home permanently seems reasonable. Even feasible.

Well, there were many other factors leading to the decision to remain at home… it was seriously a tough call to make, because I was a total workaholic until 2 years ago. Putting in extra hours on the job, and working every holiday, was par for the course as a retail manager. I completely defined my sense of self by a title and a paycheck.
But I haven’t regretted one single day, and you want to know why?

Are you sure? Cause I’m about to confess something truly horrible about myself…

There was a time when I was utterly shallow, and completely focused on myself at the expense of others.

My oldest daughter and my first husband were victims of my immaturity and selfishness. Unlike my second divorce, which is one of the few holidays I actually celebrate, there was nothing fundamentally wrong with Lydia’s father. He is a great guy, honestly.
It was my fault that I couldn’t remain content as a working mom living an ordinary life. I wanted excitement and freedom, with nobody to hold me accountable, and no one to tie me down.
Immediately after leaving him, I booked a flight to London. Yes, England.
I went all by myself, just because I felt like it.
I also switched jobs, for a change of scene, and I returned to the stage…

TaraFly performing on stage

Simple Joys of Maidenhood

See, as a teenager, I wasn’t serious about becoming a fine artist, although I took a few elective art classes and participated in student shows.
Acting was my real passion. I lived and breathed the theatre atmosphere, and throughout high school I focused on making acting my future career.

TaraFly as Elaine Harper in Arsenic and Old Lace

I have portrayed Elaine Harper in two Arsenic and Old Lace productions.

Performing arts colleges were the only schools I applied for, and turned down a possible full scholarship offered by the University of Dallas because it stipulated that I major in Latin. (My Latin teacher apparently recommended me to her contacts there – sending along my grades and exam scores)

Singing Christmas carols in "Wonderful Life"

It's A Wonderful Life finale... I've portrayed Violet and Mary in separate shows.

Although it was my intention to get a BFA, and I was actually accepted to the first school of my choice, passing the auditions and all… life had other plans for me.
Actually, that’s a whole blog unto itself, and it speaks volumes about my fiercely independent nature.

Eight years after graduation, I had a house, a job, and a 4-year-old daughter. The desire to reclaim my life took hold… I joined the theatre community again,
to express myself creatively and delve back into the artistic social scene. Unfortunately, I neglected my family and spent all this newfound “free time”
pursuing my hobbies.

Sunset sky view of mountain hillside and country field

The Hills of Rural Pennsylvania

My soon-to-be-2nd-ex and I had purchased land in the mountains, which meant a two-hour round-trip daily work commute. My chosen theatre was 1.5 hours in the opposite direction.
So, my typical day went something like this:

  1. Awake at 3:30AM… (shower, dress, eat)
  2. Leave house at 3:45-4:00AM
  3. Arrive at work: 5:00AM*
  4. Work ends: 2:00PM
  5. Arrive Home: 3:00PM…. (eat early dinner, change clothes, “family time”)
  6. Leave for Theatre: 4:30PM
  7. Rehearsal Begins: 6:00PM
  8. Rehearsal Ends: 10:00-11:00PM
  9. Arrive Home: 11:30PM-12:30AM

(hopefully fall asleep quickly because alarm goes off at 3:30AM, rinse and repeat…)
*I was a bakery manager then, where early shifts are the norm – the whole fresh doughnut, muffin, breakfast bagel crowd.

Now, it’s obvious that my commute carved a considerable chunk out of my day… and I often spent my lunch hour napping in my car.
But even after I left my second husband and moved closer (to the theatre, lol), spending night after night away from home begins to take its toll on more than
just a car’s engine.

4-year-old daughter asleep in her carseat

Lydia taking her daily nap... buckled into her carseat

I will never forgive myself for treating my daughter like a handbag… if I couldn’t find a sitter, I would drag her along to the theatre, roping my poor co-stars into watching her while I practiced. She would either hang out in the Green Room or sit in the audience, quietly coloring or chatting with strangers.
It wasn’t unusual to find her asleep, curled up in a fetal position in a hard metal chair, at the end of the night. With a jacket draped over her like a blanket.

If there wasn’t time for a home cooked meal, or I didn’t feel like cooking (more than likely)… I would throw some snacks and peanut butter sandwiches in her bag. Or I’d treat her to a fast-food junk meal from Burger King, since we passed it on route.

Of course, if you ask Lydia, she’ll look back with fond memories… the whole experience was like a circus parade for her, full of colorful characters, sparkly costumes, bright lights, cheering crowds, bouquets of flowers… she just ate it up.

She began to talk about wanting to perform in shows herself, and I was so proud to see her following my footsteps, because she had natural ability.
She actually did audition with me once, and was thisclose to getting cast…
The director loved her talent, but decided on a “young” girl with more stage
experience. And I witnessed my daughter’s first rejection as bitterly as if it were my own (although I got a leading role).
The other child turned out to be quite a brat, and the director later confided that overlooking my daughter was a decision he regretted.

TaraFly dressed as nun praying in graveyard

Goofing off during October's Sound of Music rehearsals...

However, it was to be my final show (at least for this chapter of my life)…

Shortly thereafter I met Joe, and finally had a chance to relax and breathe. I had found the man of my dreams, and I began realizing how it felt to “come home” and enjoy simple domestic things.

We didn’t “go out on the town”, instead favoring quiet dinners at home. When Mia was born, those maternal instincts that were late to develop finally emerged… for the first time ever, I didn’t want to return to work after my maternity leave. In fact, I agonized over leaving my baby with strangers.

These were brand new feelings to me then… and very familiar feelings to me now. Something changed in my heart. Or perhaps I just grew up.

There isn’t a day that goes by, when I’m not reminded of all the missed opportunities – those trips to the park and zoo, when my ear was glued to that damned cellphone, the family movies we never watched, the night-time rituals that never developed. Unless you count passing out in the dressing room as a ritual.

Three children walking to the park play ground

They'll never walk alone.

I’m trying my best to make amends now, and I cherish the innocence of my younger children who have never been reprimanded for talking to their mother in the middle of a scene, who have never stepped back stage, or watched strangers getting (un)dressed, or spent a night away from home.

Seeing them cuddled together on the couch each evening, watching a Disney movie and messily eating their dessert, is a picture I wouldn’t trade for any amount of money or fame.

Or time.

TaraFly's art Mr. Bennet Cat from Pride and Prejudice

My current work in progress, a digital portrait of Mr. Bennet

Chemistry was my worst subject in high school. I squeaked by with a B+… only because my lab partner was a whiz and did the majority of my work. (Thanks, Patrick!) But that grade ruined the straight A average I had been holding… not that I was in competition with anyone in particular. I wasn’t sweating every decimal point, trying to beat out the other nine people ahead of me to become the valedictorian.
I honestly didn’t care what my ranking was. Well, I did care a little teensy bit. 😉

But I hated chemistry, because I couldn’t wrap my head around it. All the other subjects came naturally to me, with very little studying required. Usually I could open a textbook, read the chapter, and everything made perfect sense. Even Latin was easier to learn than those freaking chemical equations and that damned periodic table.
Who needs to know how many electrons and neutrons an atom of iron contains?
It didn’t help that I had a teacher who (I swear on Willow’s grave) could’ve been the Siamese twin of the economics teacher from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
That my Chem class was scheduled directly after lunch didn’t help my focus either.

Subconsciously, however, I think I loathed that class because of what it represented to me: a science driven by studying the chemicals that maintain the operations of life on this planet. We all know that our brains function by electrical impulses and chemical reactions. Every chemical we put into our bodies interacts with already present chemicals, and causes psychological and/or physical changes within us.
Scientists are brave enough to assert that our basic emotions – love, fear, and loathing – are all chemically based. Some are experimenting with artificial potions to re-create abstract things like attraction.
If taken seriously, what does that say about people? That our thoughts and feelings aren’t stemming from a spiritual core, but from a cauldron of brew that can be altered by any added ingredient?

I love cats. Looooove cats. It is who I am. But is there a chemical that could reverse that attraction, and cause me to dislike cats?
Could someone technically slip me a drugged latte that would completely alter my entire personality?
Then who would I be?

That is why I hate chemistry, and doctors who push drugs on their patients after diagnosing them with multiple disorders. So many of my character traits that I assume are simply part of me, like my flakiness or tendency to daydream, can be considered “symptoms”…
In the past, I’ve had doctors tell me that I’m depressed or suffering from anxiety. They offered drugs to alleviate my stress and mood, but I refused to accept them. I felt I could manage my own feelings if I simply changed my way of thinking. It requires a lot of effort, though, and doesn’t always work.

This morning, I logged into Facebook and was greeted with a new post by Jessica Doyle. She hadn’t written anything lately, because she’s been busy working on her new top-secret e-commerce site… which I’m anxious to see.
She always strikes me as a person who has everything together. She seems organized and focused, a total workaholic. I’ve been admiring her dedication and work ethic for a while now, but after reading today’s blog, I admire her 10x more. Why? Because she has ADHD and there is an internal battle going on to stay ahead of her game, that many of us who casually correspond with her never really see. She hides it well.

She was mentioning some of her “symptoms” and how drugs aren’t readily available to people in her area (unless you have lots of money… which self-employed artists rarely have). Some of the things she mentioned triggered little alarms in my fuzzy head… and I looked up a website for adult ADHD to learn more.

Hmmmm. Uh-huh.

If you were to ask my former co-workers, bosses, teachers, and ex-lovers to compile a list of my character traits and flaws, here are some of the things guaranteed to be mentioned:

  • she’s easily distracted
  • she ignores me when I’m talking to her
  • she can work on a project for hours and be completely oblivious to everything else
  • she couldn’t arrive on time to save her life
  • she forgot her doctor’s appointment, even after they called to remind her
  • her car is always a mess inside
  • a million projects get started and are left unfinished
  • the electric bills keep disappearing
  • she acts on impulse without thinking
  • she speaks first, and inserts feet later
  • she’s very defensive towards criticism
  • she’s insensitive towards me
  • she snaps at people when she’s irritated
  • she undervalues herself
  • she lets “the little things” upset her

This list could grow quite long, depending on the source, and many of these points were actually communicated to me (in the form of job evaluations and break-up arguments).
Scrolling down the page, the portrait of myself – as seen through the eyes of everyone around me – became shockingly clear.

I could be over-reacting, of course. I could very well just be a stressed out, absent-minded flake who is trying to juggle too many balls… marriage, parenting, web-coding, e-commerce, blogging, painting and creating stuff…
As a child and teenager, I didn’t fit the stereotype of a trouble-making delinquent. In fact, I never EVER got into trouble at school… the teachers loved me… and as previously mentioned, I carried straight A’s (except for Chemistry) and loved to study and learn new things. Occasionally, my wise-cracking curiosity would cause me to question their theories – out loud – and we would start debating in class. But many teachers enjoy a good debate, especially if they are experts in their field; they enjoy seeing the students exercising their minds and reaching a better understanding of the subject.

I would happily settle for NOT having any disorders of any kind, because I was raised to accept personal responsibility for my actions, and it seems like crying “The devil made me do it.” to pin all my faults on a chemical imbalance.
The one and only reason why I never experimented with drugs and alcohol as a teen: I didn’t want something controlling me. Everything action taken was in full-knowledge and awareness. I never needed the excuse: It wasn’t really me; it was the drugs.

I’ve seen how chemicals can alter a person. My former father-n-law went to Vietnam, and came back with Schizophrenia. Apparently, living with him was a real trip, as he was constantly hallucinating… hearing gunfire and explosions, seeing apparitions. He lost his driver’s license after an accident, where he swerved the car to avoid a group of Vietnamese villagers who were crossing the road in front of him. They didn’t actually exist.
After being placed on some kind of medication that suppressed that area of his brain, the hallucinations stopped, but he became a walking, talking vegetable with very little personality. The entire creative side of him was gone.

That is why I avoid doctors and drugs. I’m afraid to have something controlling my brain, switching things “on” and “off”, and playing with my personality. My mind may be a cesspool of boiling chemical chaos inside… but it’s my personal chaos and I’m used to it. I don’t want to trade it for an unknown pattern of behaviour.

Chemicals can make us feel happy, relaxed, and focused… they can also make us irritable, fatigued, and depressed.
My favorite example of irony in advertising are those commercials for anti-depressants, in which the side effects include suicidal thoughts. Um… happy people don’t jump off bridges, do they?

Chemicals alter how we think, feel, and respond to our environment. Everything we eat and drink, the air we breath, even the detergents we use to clean our homes and clothes, can all have an effect on our brains.
Scary stuff, huh?!

Joe thinks I’m crazy. Not because I might be anxious, depressed, hyperactive, or schizophrenic. But because I’m obsessing over the possibility. He accepts me as I am… even when I misplace our mail and arrive late to my appointments, prompting one doctor to “fire” me from his patient roster.

Being crazy isn’t a disorder, it’s being human. We can’t fix ourselves, so we must learn to manage our weaknesses and utilize our strengths. How do we do that effectively? I have no freaking idea… that’s what life is all about. Figuring this stuff out.

Wanna be my lab partner?

I’ll bet many of you subscribe to design blogs (DesignSponge or DesignTherapy), or like me, you still receive copies of Traditional Home and Country Living in the mail each month. Perhaps you are glued to HGTV in the evenings, watching the transformations of home staging and how far you can streeeetch a $60,000 budget for a kitchen make-over. 😛

I personally enjoy reading blog articles about the life and work balance of artsy folk… how a home-based business occupies the same space as their home-schooled children’s classroom and the functioning living area for an entire family. What I’m not surprised to find is a virtual tour of their homes, immaculate with clean lines, vintage furniture, and quirky OOAK accessories.

The appropriate staging has taken place – a brewed cup of coffee sits on the crumb-free counter, the dog poses restfully on the swept hardwood floor (squint hard, but I dare you to find a stray dog hair!), and you won’t find a basket of laundry or an overflowing trashcan in ANY shot. Not even in the fringes… I checked the shadows and blurred backgrounds, too.

Now, granted, if a crew of photographers were coming to my house to shoot an interview, I’d probably toss everything objectionable into the nearest closet, and bring
all my quirky, OOAK accessories out of storage to proudly display on tables and countertops. You know, the typical danger zones where nothing survives 10 minutes in the presence of cats and kids.

I know, I know, that people do not honestly live this way… in these pristine, clutter-free homes… with mom working diligently on her ceramic teapots, dad …doing… something equally productive, and the kids quietly entertained by the stack of art publications on the coffee table. I know that 5 minutes after the camera crew leaves, chaos ensues. The cat knocks over the ceramic masterpiece, the mother starts yelling at her children to stop tearing out pages from the hardcover copy of “French Country Hideaways”, the dog is chewing the vintage braided rug, and dad walks in – oblivious to it all – and demands to know where the remote control to their upstairs TV is.

What I would like to see on a design blog? A home that looks well-worn and lived in. How about an interview with a designer or artist who fights to maintain balance, and whose home is a reflection of that internal struggle… because I can’t be the only person on this planet who feels overwhelmed trying to keep up with Ms. Craftypuss and Mr. Artsypants, or am I??

the kids' messy play corner of our living room.

The kids' play corner of the livingroom... is hiding a carpet AND a bookcase, somewhere.

My typical day begins around 7:00AM, perhaps sooner, when the kids wake me up …and then go prancing downstairs to destroy the livingroom, while I dress and brush my teeth.

kitchen sink full of dishes

Breakfast dishes in the sink...

Then I cook their breakfast, and finish washing any pots or trays from yesterday’s dinner that were left overnight to soak. I serve their meal, watch as they toss bits on the floor and grind it into the table, while checking my e-mails … reading the meticulous design articles… and plotting a course for the day.

toaster pastry crumbs on the TV stand

Their after-breakfast snack... Crumb-Tarts.

When I jump into a project, they demand to play outside. We play in the backyard for an hour or two while the temperature is still cool. They finally get crabby, and want a popsicle, so we come in for lunch and air-conditioning.

a vacuum cleaner unplugged in the dining room

My vacuum cleaner never gets put away... it's always on guard.

I fix lunch, and they destroy what’s left of my house while I’m occupied in the kitchen. Then I come out and start tidying the room, throw a load of laundry in the machine, run the vacuum… they have finished mangling their lunches by this time, and decide to raid the kitchen for sweets since Mommy is busy elsewhere.

an empty laundry basket

My daily goal is to keep the basket empty... Hooray!

I usually find them covered in a sticky, gooey substance which can only be remedied by a bath… which was exactly their plan.

cat litter boxes on the back porch

The cats contribute to the state of confusion too!

After bathtime is over, there is generally more playing, havoc-wreaking, tidying up, laundry to fold, trash to dispose of, and litter boxes to clean… and yeah, whatever art project I started this morning.

the children's bedroom

There are monsters living in the toy box.. they bite the hand that cleans.

Once in a while, I’ll get lucky – and they’ll grow sleepy in unison, and I can carry them upstairs to their beds with minimal fuss. That gives me a couple blessed hours to do something… but what?

TaraFly's son, Jacob, sleeping on a pile of clean laundry

Piles of clean laundry are waiting to be put away...

There is always another load of laundry, a few stray dishes to clean, more crumbs to vacuum… I could take a shower, shave my legs, or weed the garden.

coleus growing among the weeds

My bulbs are beginning to grow among the weeds.

Or I could retreat to my studio and work on a painting, a digital portrait, adding more listings to my website or Etsy shop, or write a blog (which is what I’m doing now – because I was late getting it published this week).

Various art projects unfinished on the drafting table

Projects in progress in my studio, including Joe's belated Father's Day gift.

Sometime in the middle of a task, the dreaded noises grow louder upstairs and alert me to the fact that my beasts are awake, with their batteries recharged for more destruction.
And then Joe walks in the door, home from work… looking worn-out and hungry.

I’ll cook dinner while crossing my fingers that he entertains the kids long enough to keep them from invading my space. Something simple like opening an oven door to check the temperature of chicken breasts, is make more difficult when little hands are grabbing at you. Or how about when my hands are covered with dough paste, and they decide to go fishing inside the trashcan?
Their squealing, giggling, and chatter is enough to send Joe upstairs for “peace and quiet” until dinner is ready, and then … more dishes, more tidying up, and on and on it goes….

TaraFly's regency cat digital painting in progress

Digital painting of Jane Austen cat characters, I've been messing with for weeks.

In the late evenings, once I’ve tossed the kids into their rooms for the night, I can finally sit down and do something… but there are so many things to finish, and so many more things in the planning stages that might never see the light of day… when every hour is a juggling act, my work gets pushed farther and farther behind, and deadlines that once seemed very lenient are now looming just around the corner.

I didn’t mean to turn this virtual tour into another session to rant and complain. Because, in all honesty, I do love my family… and the career sacrifices that I make are justified by the time I spend engaging their little minds… okay, warping their minds, I’ll admit.

I could hire a nanny and lock myself away in the studio for 14 hours every day, and eventually make tons of money, but where would I be without a family that needed me? And who would I be, if I always put myself first? My life would be a decorative wrapper, but empty inside.

No matter how many pieces I sell, or how popular I become, the greatest thrill in my day is getting a big, cheesy smile from my son, and hearing my daughters laugh when I make silly voices for storybook characters.
Then Mia takes the book from me, sits on the couch, and reads it to herself… while trying to imitate me. She recites each sentence with my inflection and emphasis.

Tara Fly's two-year-old daughter reading a book

Mia is reading "The 3 Little Pigs" in her best Mommy impression. 🙂

This is the story I’d like to see in print somewhere: A family bonding together, a zen garden in the midst of a disorderly mess.

Just in case the reporters come calling, though, I might use the spilled maple syrup to super-glue some pottery to my bookshelves. I’ll throw a knitted afghan over that stain, and cover these cracks in the coffee table with a stack of National Geographic magazines.

Okay. Home staging is all done! I’m ready for my close up. 😉

woman standing on wooden bridge over water

Like A Bridge Over Troubled Waters...

I had many ideas stewing for a new blog post, and perhaps my deadline tardiness is due in part to indecision… however one reoccurring theme in my married life rose to the surface, and I figured it would be appropriate for Father’s Day, although it pertains to “days” spent with men in general.

I’ve spent a good chunk of time in recent months re-evaluating how I view my partnership and my role as a wife, and I’ve made a profound personal breakthrough.

I wouldn’t normally blog about a personal matter like this, but because my last personal blog about domestic violence was helpful to other women, I felt these ruminations needed to be shared as well.
Because many, many couples are suffering from the same issues – I hear the complaints all the time – but the answers are seldom clear.

I titled this, “Things I Wish We’d Learned in Marriage Class”, although Joe and I never attended one. My first ex-husband and I did, as a pre-requisite for having the ceremony performed by my family’s Methodist pastor.
The only lesson I recall was the importance of being in agreement on key issues, like disciplining children and saving money. However, it’s relatively simple to discuss your position on things, and even to agree with each other on paper… but putting words into practice is another story altogether. And what happens when your responsibilities shift unexpectedly?

Joe and I were great friends who also shared a mutual attraction for each other… the fact that our relationship and our marriage has lasted longer than any previous relationship of mine speaks volumes about our “agreeableness”, as I’ve been told countless times that I’m a “difficult” person to live with. heh.

I know that I’m moody, sarcastic, and apparently selfish; I recognize these failings in myself. I can also be extremely loving and lavish attention on others, which only makes the extreme reverse – my cold shoulder days – even more difficult for people to bear.
But Joe is like a cactus, able to soak up the attention when he receives it and go for weeks without complaint when I take his presence for granted…. to the point where he gives me a puzzled look,
“You take me for granted? I haven’t noticed.” when I attempt to apologize.
Like the cactus viewing the watering can… “Is it that time again?”

We never fight, rarely disagree, and I feel confident that he’d do anything I asked… however, for the past few months, I’ve been the one feeling neglected and under-appreciated – due to the fact that he rarely helps out around the house unless I request specific help.
Which I hate to do, as it feels like nagging, even when I’m being patient.

Without going into any boring details, rest assured he wasn’t always the type who spent 14 hours of each workday sleeping and vegetating in front of the TV.
When we both worked full-time outside the house, he would clean, do laundry, and cook like a champ, and I always encouraged him with compliments (because he cleaned very thoroughly, like those commercials where the room “sparkles” with special-effects lighting). Hmmmm, perhaps it was special-effects lighting that he installed into our former apartment… 😉

When I was pregnant and suffering from all-day sickness, he even took over my share of chores and kept a careful record of the foods and smells that disagreed with me. Knowing I craved pumpkin pie, he learned to bake it and stocked the cupboards with pie mix, as well as pumpkin bread and pumpkin flavored ice-cream. Fortunately, Mia was born during the pumpkin season, so Joe really “hooked me up”. 🙂

Things took a dramatic turn when I made the decision to stay home and care for our family. Suddenly “the house” was my territory and he left it completely in my capable hands.
I had been hoping to moonlight as an artist, but that dream became a literal reality as the kids grew older (and their napping schedules shifted)… I was forced to work on my projects “after hours” and would drag myself to bed at 2:00-3:00AM, only to be roused again at 6:30-7:00AM to start the day again. As Joe blissfully snored in bed, until the clock told him that any further procrastination would make him late for work.

In the last few months, I haven’t been able to find large blocks of time during the day to work on my business… and my 8-year-old makes an ineffective babysitter, although she tries her best. Bless her heart, but I wind up cleaning up Her messes as often as the younger kids’.

So I mentioned my frustrations to him, but in a general way, and his sympathetic response was this:
“They have to understand – [they, meaning, my customers and fans] – that with a family care for, you don’t have as much time on your hands as single people do.”

Um… that totally misses the real point, which is – if I can’t keep this thing afloat, I might as well hand my customers over to the competitors who CAN handle it. What I really wanted was for him to acknowledge that what I do is important, and chipping in with household chores in the evening would allow me to focus on my work.

I began to hold a grudge whenever he escaped to our room in the evenings to watch a Netflix movie (“in peace and quiet”) while I washed the dinner dishes, with kids squealing at my feet….
When he slept in late each morning, even on his days off, while I dragged myself out of bed groggily, because the kids were downstairs wrecking the living room – their batteries fully charged.
I brewed the coffee and told myself, “At least I’ll get a head start on e-mails.” Yeah. I wanted to push him out of bed and hog the pillows for myself.
So, if the kids ran upstairs – screaming and laughing – and pounced upon Daddy’s head, did I stop them?
Did I say, “Let Daddy sleep. He’s tired.” ??
Bwahahaha! Of course not! I relished it when he grumbled and pulled on a shirt.

These little “paybacks” turned into a series of small snowballs, being thrown back and forth, as we tried to sabotage each other’s efforts to escape from the burden.
He would walk away from a pile of dishes in the sink… and I’d leave his clothes damp in the washing machine… and he would leave the gas tank on empty (when I needed the car next)… and I would forget the milk on my grocery trip and make him run out and buy some, and he ignored this … and I refused to do that… and so on and so forth. Waging silent warfare that neither of us would ever admit to participating in. Not consciously.

It’s shallow and cowardly, and worse, the snowball fight escalates until both partners can no longer remember how it started… but both are left feeling neglected and under-appreciated.

Our selfish nature naturally wants to cast blame on the other partner – “They started it!” – We want to be the innocent victims.
You hear it all the time from co-workers and friends, and many divorces have been based upon less:
“My wife doesn’t do anything at all; the house is a wreck, and she’s watching TV.”
“My husband is a complete idiot; if you give him $100 for groceries, he’ll come home with junk food and nothing for dinner.”
“He doesn’t know how to operate a dryer.”
“She can’t cook to save her life… if it can’t be heated for 3 minutes on High.”

The key ingredient behind the majority of marital complaints, however, is self-absorption. John F. Kennedy’s famed speech “Ask not what your country can do for you…” applies equally well in a partnership.
It isn’t about you; it’s about your partner. And yes, I know how much this concept utterly smacks of religious doctrine “Submitting to your husband” and all that jazz… but if both partners are equally commited to putting each other first, just imagine how strong their relationship would grow.

Please don’t ever begin a heart-to-heart talk with, “When you do such-and-such, it really makes me feel unloved…” even if a quack counselor told you to “focus on your feelings”.
This is a typical approach for passive people, but it is accusatory nonetheless. Your partner, backed into an emotional corner, will have no choice but to become defensive and make excuses. Or withdraw.

Instead, simply step into your partner’s shoes first. Feel what they are feeling, and ask yourself, “What do they need, or want, in order to be happy here at home.” It goes much deeper than an afternoon of watching Oprah, although relaxation and quiet time will probably factor high on their list.

We need to discover what our partners really want and need from us.

I read an interesting book a few years ago, called “The Five Love Languages” that discusses how each person views acts of love differently. Our duty is to love our partners the way they want to be loved, which is not necessarily the way we would like to be loved ourselves.
Some people place a higher value on time spent together, some on household chores (making life easier), some are looking for flowery words and compliments, and still others crave tangible gifts. If we aren’t displaying the kind of love that speaks to our partners, all the romantic words and poetic gestures in the world will be lost on them.
Over time these values will also change; when I first read the book, “quality time together” and physical intimacy ranked high for me – that was before Mia and Jake were born, and now I’d much rather have Joe take the kids outside to play for a couple of hours, so I can catch a break from family drama and work on personal projects.

I highly recommend the book, although be forewarned that its author – Gary Chapman – is a pastor, so there are many spiritual references as well. If you assume it won’t be your style, it can’t hurt to give it a try anyway, because the real meat of his book (the way in which we communicate to our spouse) is so enriching…. you can always skim over the preaching passages.

It’s true that marriage is a team, and the attitudes of both partners play an equal role in the success or failure of the relationship, but since you can only improve your own behaviour… become the considerate and attentive person who makes your partner happy. Instead of throwing snowballs, throw hugballs (or “loveballs” if you have a pervy sense of humor) … and you’ll find that a positive attitude is even more infectious than a negative one. When we aren’t fighting for our personal space, we are more willing to give it, and when we’re in a good humor, we are more likely to get involved.

So I’ll let him sleep in, undisturbed… and when the Netflix discs arrive, I’ll pop him some corn, pour him an iced tea, and usher him upstairs for a front row seat.
Fluff the pillows.
Rub his feet.

He’ll return the favor. Someday. 😉

Transfer Darcy Cat onto my navy shirt.

Mr. Darcy on the front; scripted logo on the back...

A few weeks ago, Lily from TwoStrayCats introduced a line of printed pillows that got my mind whirring… I approached her about the possibility of collaborating with me on a series of pillows featuring my artwork, because I’d like to expand myself but can’t sew a lick.
Wait, that didn’t make sense… can anyone sew a lick? If there was a way to sew your tongue to the fabric, I would probably find it. 😛  

Anyway… instead of jumping at the chance to make extra work for herself, she suggested that I use heat transfer paper with my fancy printer to create my own fabric line. It sounded like a wonderful idea… except that I would still need to purchase pillows ready-made for the experiment, and it felt like cheating. Well, to me it does. 
It got me thinking about my old idea to add my artwork to T-shirts, whether to sell or simply to wear around the neighborhood as a form of quiet self-promotion. Lord knows I need some help in that department; I have a tendency to shoot myself in the feet every time the opportunity arises to market myself.  

A couple of weeks ago, I was out in public.. (yes really, I was OUT in public!).. and I had a handmade notebook with me to jot down some notes for my last blog about picture-hoarding. I had designed the notebook cover to display a print of my work, and was feeling pleased with myself for the shameless plug. 

 So an older gentleman approaches me and inquires whether I’m a writer.
Immediately, my mouth opens and I say,
“No, I’m just making a few notes in my journal.”
And he shrugs and walks away. *kick, curse, kick* 

 It would’ve been the perfect opportunity to say,
“Why yes, I do write. I’m currently adapting Jane Austen and I also chronicle the experience of owning my own business and selling my artwork… see this journal cover? That’s an original of mine.”
Why is it that we always think of the appropriate thing to say 15 minutes after the moment passes?  

I got back in the car, and headed for home… driving is an excellent activity for brainstorming, although the state troopers would probably reprimand me for saying that, as it is technically distracted driving, and I’ve missed turns on more than one occasion when my mind was elsewhere engaged. 

 I began mulling over why I tend to unconsciously sabotage my own efforts. And I came to this realization… I must hate myself. No, seriously. I must have some deep self-loathing that seeks to punish itself for an imaginary offense. There is no other way to explain the situations I’ve found myself involved with, the bad relationships, the dead-end jobs, the constant put-downs… I tell myself I can’t sew. Have I ever really tried? Other than to mend a button or ripped sleeve, I haven’t attempted to follow a pattern since grade school, when I created Frankenstein’s nightgown and swore off sewing forever.  

 I should treat myself with respect, look after my best interests, and supportively work with myself as a team … all those management seminars and motivational speeches that retail associates are forced to endure came back to haunt me, and what I saw in the rearview mirror was a terrible employee. In fact, I wanted to fire myself, and hire someone with a Can-Do attitude. 

  I could very easily travel back in time and point the blame at my father, mother, teacher, or religious leader… somewhere along the line, someone probably failed to
respond to my emotional needs, and instilled this self-depreciating behaviour within me. However, “the devil made me do it” has never been in my repertoire, and neither
has “I had a rough childhood” or “everybody picked on me”. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether we’re dealt a crappy hand, we still need to play them to our advantage
and make our lives work for us. I’m not a victim of circumstance; the only person holding me down is myself.  

 I dug into my closet the other day, and realized I didn’t own any plain cotton T-shirts for practicing with heat transfers. Everything was patterned, printed, ruffled,
and textured. So on my next grocery trip, I made a stop at the evil super center’s apparel dept. for some clearance love, and found a few plain tees marked down to $3 a piece… the perfect price for my experiment.
Of course, each time I walk through the automatic doors, I’m bombarded by well-meaning co-workers who inquire after my children’s growth and how I’m acclimating to “being a stay-at-home mom”. I’m sure that I’ve mentioned my art business to a few of them, but everyone seems to have forgotten that I do much more with my newfound “free time” than change diapers and watch cartoons.
The company would have sucked my soul and creative passion if I had continued down their “Pathway To Success”, and by no means did I regret the decision to align my career goals with my personal vision. So why did I keep an armful of old work uniforms hanging in the closet? Is it merely a visual reminder of where I came from, to keep me motivated, or is that self-destructive mentality taunting me… “You’ll need those uniforms eventually, when you FAIL.”
…Those navy blue, cotton T-shirts… hanging like lynched corpses… the wearers of whom have watched their dreams being executed for the sake of a steady-but-barely-scraping paycheck and group health insurance.  

 Plain navy. 

You know, my Darcy Cat would look awesome against a navy background. You take the cards you are dealt and make them work for you… including the remnants of a job that couldn’t confine my individuality. My inner voice was right – I will be wearing those old uniforms again. This time, however, when a shirt defines who I am, it will be a reflection of pride. 

Artist TaraFly wearing her custom Mr Darcy Cat t-shirt

Click to view the work-in-progress pics on Flickr! 🙂

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