Gypsy Belly Dancing Calico Cat Twirling

My Gypsy Dancing Cat was inspired by celebrating freedom and life.

The Snow lies deceptively.
Its reflective purity covering the soil beneath.
But Judicial Sun shines truth upon the fragile web.
Deceit retreats in tears.

– TaraFly, circa 1996

I wrote this little poem in my junior year of high school, for a creative writing assignment. I had completely forgotten these four lines until recently, when I began mulling over the direction I’ve taken in my creative career.

It was originally written about a boy I knew; a cunning liar who fooled everyone with his charms and honest face.

Today, it speaks to me about personal integrity, and the importance of being authentic and true to your vision. Otherwise, the false pretenses will melt away under the intense scrutiny of friends and strangers alike.

When your life is an open Facebook, you cannot sustain a lie very long.

I wanted to blog about “embracing your inner odd-ball” and turning off those pompous voices who demand that you surrender to trends and fads.
I’ve rewritten this post 3 times already, and the first one was pretty humorous, but it took the entire day to write and didn’t quite come together.
I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such trouble putting my thoughts into words – perhaps because it’s a tough subject to tackle with confidence.

I’m still battling these demons who tempt me.. wanting me to imitate the style of my competitors, under-price my efforts in order to “sell more”, and get caught up in the whole marketing game.

I’ve lost sight of what inspired me initially – to share my humorous cat-obsessed view of the world with others who would appreciate it….
I’ve transformed my love of painting into a chore – “I must paint something new this week”
I’ve pushed myself too hard in order to keep up with my peers – many of whom don’t have young children to raise, and their 14-16 hour workdays are providing their only source of household income.

The melancholy I’ve felt these past few weeks is the burden of self-deception… a fragile blanket spread over my life that was suffocating my creative spirit.

I need to be honest with myself, and honest with my friends, fans, and fellow competitors…
I need to remind myself every day, “If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t wear it.”

I will walk barefoot instead, at a slower pace, and I will take the time to be inspired by the world around me, and to appreciate what I’m actually working towards.

Because in the end, the only gift worth giving the world is our true selves – our unique vision. So reach our your hand, and let someone accept it.
Speak from your heart, and someone will listen.

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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. 😛

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. 😛

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. 😛

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.

My original acrylic painting "1950 Housewife Cat"

The Housewife who can "Do It All" unfortunately doesn't exist.

I’m awake at 12:40AM. I’ve been awake for 21 hours now. Jake is still awake as well, and I’m feeding him on my lap as I type one-handed, with two fingers.  The room is dark, and every so often my hand strays off track on the keyboard and my words start to look juhe yhis… so I slowly back-space over them and begin again.

We’ve had a trying day. This blasted blizzard destined to engulf us has caused tension and stress to build in our community – just listen to some of the angry comments made by frazzled customers wanting their milk and eggs (to the frazzled associate who can’t stock the shelves fast enough to meet demand).
It makes me want to call a Time Out on everyone, reminding people to show some respect and understanding for one another.

The commandment to “love thy neighbor as thyself” is especially appropriate for this Valentine Season. I do wish, however, that a synonym of “love” would be “acceptance”… for when we truly love someone, we accept them as they are.
“Appreciation” is listed, though, and that is another excellent mode of feeling that tends to get taken for granted.

This Valentine’s Day, I join the thousands of stay-at-home parents who simply want to be appreciated for our contributions.  Forget the chocolate and flowers.
We may not commute to our jobs every morning, and receive a monetary paycheck to show for our efforts… but we still have a demanding workload which unfortunately doesn’t end at 5:00PM.

I can safely assume that quite a few eyes are rolling.  I once worked a full-time job outside the home, and listened to my co-workers’ tales of stay-at-home spouses who “sat around watching trash TV, eating cereal in their pajamas at 3:00PM” and who apparently never did a lick of housework.  Of course, I believed the stories… and I thought, “Wow, it must be nice to stay home and have all your needs provided for. Relaxing, yet incredibly boring.” 

When we made the decision last spring for me to stay home, I was under the impression my days would be filled with hours of creative freedom while the kids played peacefully or watched cartoons. hehe
I seriously did not understand the responsibilities of stay-at-home parents and how stressful their days actually are.   Once I accepted the position, I became solely in charge of all laundry, dish-washing, child-sitting, litter-box cleaning, vacuuming, mealtimes, you name it.  When the kids are up all night with fevers or bad dreams, I stay up with them… and sure, he would have helped… if he hadn’t slept soundly through their tearful sobs.  
And why should I wake a grouchy ogre, who will only complain about needing “a good night’s sleep” because he “has to work in the morning”?  Apparently we stay-at-home parents should be able to function fully on 2 hours of un-interrupted sleep.  Cause, you know, we don’t work… we sit around watching Spongebob and soaps.

When they destroy their room, I clean it  up… over and over again.  I rebuild the couch each time it’s torn apart to make mountains for climbing.  I put screaming children to sleep at nap-time,
referee their fights, discipline them, and read them stories.
There is bath-time, diaper changes, taking out the garbage, sweeping the floor, making beds, folding clothes, re-folding clothes after the kids dug everything out of their dresser…. the time I get to spend online is due to my being trapped in the living room, unable to walk away until I trust they won’t strangle each other, climb the bookshelves, or throw objects at the flat-screen TV (which I’ve been told to guard with my body, and life, if necessary).

When Dearest walks in the door, and plops on the couch to watch TV and relax… chores are still looming, kids are still hungry, he adds his favorite pants to the growing laundry pile and expects them to be immediately washed.
When do I get to relax?  I don’t… unless I mutiny and refuse to do it anymore.  I tried that once.  I took “a day off work”, and Nobody volunteered to take my place. Imagine that. 😉
  I called in sick, and the laundry sat there. And the dishes piled up… and the kids smeared chocolate ice-cream all over themselves.  When my fever subsided and I ventured out to inspect the situation, it was utter chaos… waiting for me to resume my duties.

I’m not complaining to gain sympathy, and I have no regrets in my decision to become my family’s caretaker.  Without overtime pay, holidays and weekends off, and sick leave.  A little appreciation would be nice, though. And some acceptance… 
    I’m not going to be on top of my game every day, and that’s okay.  We need to practice patience and understanding with everyone around us. 
If your store runs out of bread, thank the associate for their hard work and then grab some flour and yeast to bake your own.  If your favorite pants don’t get washed for a couple days, or God forbid, you don’t have a clean shirt to wear… Take the initiative and throw a load into the washer.
Let’s show some love, and I guarantee that the thanks you receive will be sincere and you will be appreciated in return.