Friday, April 30, 2004

Getting Over It

Getting Over It

Erin is very proud of herself for not having resorted to any lists lately. Since I normally do long narratives, I don't feel guilty about resorting to a bulleted list right now. I'm sick, folks, I got the upper respiratory infection of the overworked. I like to call it the Christi Underdown Overcommitted Crud. Not to worry; I have sulfa drugs I got from a doctor's appointment today. Thank goodness I scheduled that Doc appointment two months ago, otherwise I couldn't have found the time to attend to myself.

Why? I'm having too much fun again. Consider:

1) I got sick three weeks ago.

2) But then I had to eat shrimp and hang with many peeps that I love.

3) Then I had a nearly three day road trip with the supervisor, working.

4) Then Ford was here to visit, whom I love.

5) We saw 2 museums and 3 restaurants while she was here. Our goal was 3 museums and 5 restaurants. But then we were relaxing, you know?

6) We also walked through a bit of the Inman Park Festival.

7) Suddenly Sunday morning, when we were only into hour 2 of brunch (merely halfway, amateur eaters!) The Republican, Tony, and a friend of their knocked on the door.

8) So of course then we had a little party.

9) We discussed how dairy makes snot a lot, right after we consumed good amount of Italian food.

10) Then it was time for me to work like a madwoman again. I flew to KY.

11) Where I held and purused a direct facsimile of the Book of Kells.

12) Where I also saw an albino squirrel

13) And taught a class, even though I was quite ill.

14) Then, after paying $25 to hop a direct flight that would get me home earlier, I found myself locked out of my house

15) For an hour and a half. Luckily the neighbors let me in to pee.

16) Had to be up early the next morning for an important meeting

17) Which was canceled.

18) Ran around like half dead chicken putting out fires, realizing a huge project is due Tuesday.

19) Haven't had time to work on this project in weeks.

20) Went home around 1 and slept, and slept and slept

21) Up this morning, went to Doctor

22) Going camping despite illness. When I say "camping", what I mean is : spending weekend in tent reading comics curled next to The Republican. May possibly contain some nudity in sunlight.

23) My neighborhood smells like clover flowers. I have a good life.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Shrimp are Still Beautiful

My Grandfather and his girlfriend, Alberta, rolled into town in their giant camper last weekend. I was ready for some family time and rented a car to go and meet them, taking time to visit with cousins first and staying with my aunt and uncle in their open, comfortable house.

Work has been so exhausting lately on every level. There's so much to do, so many different type-A personalities to think about, so much to learn every day. My one year evaluation is coming up. My landlord has decided to change the rental agreement. I've started having anxiety dreams again, and I'm considering going on medication for my worry level, because even a year into my new career path I worry about being unemployed again.

I was ready to be hugged. I was ready for the long table filled with family and huge steaming bowls of shrimp boiled with onions and Grandpa goodness. I was ready to see my cousins. They're all so awesome, from Audrey and Jamie, who are my age, down to Ellie who is now three. Ellie's current favorite word is vagina, proving to me what I have always suspected since I first met the kid - we're on the same wavelength. Ruel is into biting people, and Colin proudly peed in the sandbox. And I laughed my ass off at all these things. My cousin Connie just returned from a teaching internship in South Africa, where she saw and tasted things I probably never will. She's ready to start grad school, and I remember how much I loved grad school. How could that have been over two years ago now? My aunt and uncle both took time to tell me how happy they were to have me spend the night at their house. I felt very loved.

On a whim I drove up to Nashville after that huge shrimp dinner, crashed Kati's welcome home party, hugged her and kissed Underdown and slept next to The Republican. The next morning I took my youngest sister out for some individual attention. We bought shirts at Bongo Java, and talked about the social politics of twelve year old girls, which are vicious. I hugged her and told her that she was one of the neatest people I've ever known, and always has been from the minute she was born and I held her after mom and dad did. It's hard for me to watch Abby, who has always been self-confident and original, who fought for her right to wear wigs to second grade, become unsteady and unsure of herself because of peer disapproval. I'm watching one of my favorite people approach the politics of Junior High with impending dread. I think she'll make it through OK. I'm going to reassure her a lot. But Jesus Christ, Sixth Grade...

I remember once Aral and I had a discussion about leg shaving. And basically I realized I shave my legs because I'm afraid the girls I knew in Junior High will come back and make fun of me if I don't. Thank goodness I grew up, that I now have unlearned all the lessons Junior High tried to teach me.

My life really is wonderful , you know? I live in the part of town I love best, and I'm considering getting an apartment on my own. I'm making money and although the job is stressful, it stretches my mental muscles constantly, challenging me and forcing me to learn again and again. I have a boyfriend who sent me a dozen red roses Tuesday for no reason other than that he was thinking of me. I am loved, I can buy whatever I need from the grocery store, I can drink coffee and read comics on a Friday night with impunity.

Of course, I worry too much that I'll lose all this somehow.

This week I worked so hard and so much, spending two nights away from home with my immediate supervisor. The next two weeks will be no better, and I'm thankful that I had the foresight to schedule some vacation time, next Friday and Monday. I'll go camping over May Day weekend with The Republican. I can think of nothing better than stretching on the warm green grass next to him, under the sun, eating strawberries and laughing about any goddamn thing.

All of that fun? It's made possible by my incredibly stressful job. I have to learn to celebrate that hard work, because as much as it wears me out psychologically, I'm definitely enjoying the benefits I get just by keeping on with it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Too much of a good thing

Last Saturday I attended a very large, very wild sort of festival. Among the attractions was a make-up artist who used an airbrush machine to body paint people. His work was amazing, and The Republican couldn’t resist the temptation to get covered in a way that would let him walk around with less clothes on. I watched with frank admiration as the airbrush artist covered him with green and brown vines that wound around his torso and back, climbing up to the sides of his face and highlighting his eyes. After the vines were sprayed on, leaves were painted and outlined, making my boyfriend a living celebration of spring. There was one last go-over with the airbrush equipment then, adding highlights and sheen to the leaves. To cap off the whole thing, The Republican was then showered with copper-gold glitter.

I know this all sounds terribly feminine, but the artwork didn’t present itself that way at all. In the end he was just…well, I guess manly is a weird word to use when talking about a make-up treatment, but the vines and leaves had a way of making him look stronger. The artist knew his work, and without seeming too the lines of greenery highlighted the lean muscle and sinew beneath The Republican’s skin. Only pictures would do the art, and the man, justice. As we walked around for the rest of the day, people took his picture. The airbrush artist did a lot of good work that day; the festival was full of girls in different colored flames, complicated Celtic designs, waves of color and patterns that didn’t rub off as easily as you’d expect. Soap got rid of everything fairly quickly though.

Of course, I sneezed glitter for the next three days. Good God, that stuff is pernicious. Still, I wouldn’t have traded seeing him look like that under the warm April sun for anything in the world.

I had a few people over to my house for breakfast the next day. We had all stayed up too late and partied too hard the day before. I had the unfortunate experience of sleeping on what had to be the hardest floor in the world after deciding not to go home the previous evening. Sunday was spent sore and sleeping, Monday much the same way only with the dull horror of a stressful workday mixed in. I’m not 19 anymore. I still love the big parties, the loud crowd, and it’s hard for me to leave when I know I ought too. But I’ve got to quit that kind of thing. It’s taking me longer and longer to recover, physically, from too much fun.

It’s not that I was drinking or smoking last weekend. In fact, I made myself the designated driver this time around. It’s just that I get tired more easily, and my body is less forgiving when I eat crap all day and sleep under a blanket on some random floor. These things used not to bother me, but here it’s Wednesday, I think *maybe* by tomorrow I might feel right again. And good god, my room at home is a mess because I didn’t have time this weekend to clean. I’m getting old, I’m getting boring, and I know it. Half the joy of seeing The Republican in glitter was having him on my arm, and knowing that at nearly 30 he could still draw looks of envy from other people in the crowd.

So this weekend I’ll be with family, and next weekend Ford will visit, and both of these weekends will be full of a quieter kind of joy. After that I’m going to another big festival/party, camping on May Day weekend. And I will take better care of myself next time. Although it’s hard not to get caught up in the moment when there’s glitter, and music, and the world is so full of the wonderful press of life and living.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Artists and the price of things

Following the burst of creative energy I had last week, I decided that making hemp necklaces again would be fun and entertaining. I missed my old living room set-up in Murfreesboro, where I had two big drawers full of arts and crafts next to the TV to busy myself with when I was indoors. I wanted that again; drawers full of odd things to create little gifts for my friends with. I got a ball of hemp twine from the grocer’s, but was at a loss to find beads. Surely, I thought, in my neighborhood full of head shops and alternative establishments, I could find craft supplies.

I stopped first at 42 degrees, an art glass shop near the grocer’s. The front of this store is full of vases and ornaments and sculptures of hand-blown glass, beautiful things to see. The middle of the store contains supplies for glass artisans. The back of the store, in front of which a sign prohibiting anyone under 18, is full of head gear. The shop owner was happy I came in looking for beads, and showed me around the jewelry counter in the middle of the store. There in cases were hand-made bracelets, earrings, and pendants, many by local artists. On one end of the counter was a rack much like an abacus full of glass beads. The rods of each rack came off and I was shown the most beautiful beads on a piece of black velvet. Each one had its own pattern, and the smallest were about half an inch in diameter. The rods on the abacus set-up were numbered, and they belonged to local artists. The least expensive beads were $6.50, $12 a pair. I felt compelled to support this type of artwork and despite knowing better bought a few, which were each wrapped and put in a small box. But I couldn’t make whole necklaces out of these without going bankrupt, so I still needed beads.

Another store that I thought would sell beads didn’t but sent me on to a storefront down Euclid I’d never been into before. I thought the place next to where I go for used paperbacks was another head shop (my neighborhood now has 4 in 2 blocks), but instead the grimy storefront turned out to be full of cheap imported accessories, including one wall of nothing but beads for craft work. The store owner there told me she went to Indonesia herself to buy the beads, and would be returning there for more supplies soon. Strung on cords of grass or string about half a meter long and looped like necklaces were rough beads of glass, wood, bone, all different shades and colors. The ropes of beads were priced as a whole, but if you don’t want the whole rope the store owner would half it for you. The cheapest strands were around $6, the most expensive $32. Because I wanted variety, I got three half-strands of very plain glass beads and one half-strand of glass beads that had stripes in them. Patterns cost more than plain, and a lot of the pricing seemed rather arbitrary to me, probably based on popularity of pattern rather than quality of work.

While I was checking out, some copper bracelets and necklaces by the register caught my eye. I recognized the bracelets because I’d seen them being made just a few weekends before. A homeless man with a pair of pliers and a pile of copper wiring he’d ripped out of some old house had sat on the corner outside of Little 5 and had made the jewelry out of nothing, it seemed. Watching the homeless man with the thick copper wire had been a crowd of 20-somethings like me, transfixed. It was like watching someone make balloon animals. None of us knew copper wiring could do the things that man did with it, and so quickly! Someone had actually said “He should do parties!”

Some of these pieces were far more elaborate than the ones he made that night, but his work was unmistakable. I had to ask the shop owner. “Did you buy these from that homeless guy in the park?”

“Who, Copper John?”

“I don’t know his name. I saw him making bracelets a few weekends ago..”

“Yeah, that’s him. He’s in jail again right now. He’s a thief, watch out.”

“Is he just a crack addict, or what?”


“Well, that’s too bad.”

“He doesn’t think so. I buy whatever he makes but doesn’t sell in a night, and he gets his mail here.”

I took a close look at Copper John’s work, displayed on black velvet jewelry cushions in this grubby import shop. Loops and swirls and other things tightly bound together to form patterns any designer would envy – Copper John had made pieces that, if I hadn’t known they were the work of a crack addict on a street corner out of stolen wiring – might have commanded high prices in a store like 42 degrees. Copper John’s pieces ran from $12 to $24 retail. I think on the street corner he was asking 10 to 20. I suspect the shop owner pays much less, but then she probably buys many pieces at a time, besides keeping Copper John’s mail for him.

Despite the fact that I admire his work, I passed on the copper pieces. I thought about it though, as I walked home with a bag full of beads that had cost me just as much as the smaller box I’d gotten at the start of the day. As I put all the beads on the coffee table that afternoon to take a look before planning my craft work, I had to take a minute to think about their production. The beads from Indonesia were rough glass. As I pulled them off their stands, some were fused together and some had rough edges. Although color from batch to batch was uniform, the beads were cut at all different sizes, and to my dismay one lot had an inner diameter that varied widely. By contrast the beads from local artists sat smooth, beautiful, little works of art polished and sickenly expensive compared to their imported counterparts. I imagined my imported beads being made on some foreign beach as quickly as possible by women and children who had lots of burns from the process. I thought about my American beads being individually fussed over by some guy in a house near mine. I thought about Copper John on the street corner, and someone in an old rental unit wondering why their air conditioning didn’t work after a long winter, only to discover the wiring had been removed.

What is the fair price for handcrafts? These are shiny things that catch our eyes, but serve very little purpose. I never sell mine, but give them away. How is it so much less expensive for one store owner to fly halfway around the world for beads, and accessories when such a superior product is made locally? Sometimes I think that the more I know about art, the less I understand.