Create-A-Day: Christmas

December 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

Every year I make Christmas presents by hand. I do it because I think presents are more special when they’re handmade than bought out of a catalog, but I am also quite cheap sometimes. I don’t mean to be, but after my flight home is booked and my petsitter is paid, there just isn’t a lot of extra cash floating around in my life. Making presents is just better all around for everyone, although I have to admit it’s more stressful than just buying something. Making gifts is so personal; I’m always worried that they’re not going to know what to do with what I made them. Like they’ll look at it and go “Thanks…. what does it mean?” I worry about it especially when I paint portraits, because I’m afraid they’ll look at it and go “Who’s that?” I always underestimate how long it takes to make things too, so I’m always stressing out down to the last second because I’m painting into the night trying to get everything done, and then I worry until Christmas morning about whether the paint dried all the way before I wrapped it. Or similar thoughts like that.

Here’s what I made my parents this year.

I’m worried mom won’t understand it, that she won’t recognize the old pink sweater she used to wear. It’s really big and soft, but unexpectedly heavy. She tried to throw it out years ago, but I swiped it. I don’t wear it, but I like having it. Sometimes when I make personal paintings, even as gifts, they’re hard for me to give up. Oh, and don’t be fooled by the wood background. It’s real wood, I didn’t paint it. All I did was stain it and paint on shadows so it would look like boards instead of just a plank. Anyway, it’s a tromploi painting. I’ve always loved them, especially in Dutch art of the seventeenth century. Mine isn’t as good as theirs were, of course, but I did my best and I did paint it in like a day. I don’t know how to paint texture though. You’d think I would have learned that in art school! It was really frustrating trying to remember how to paint, too, since I haven’t done it in *so* long. And I haven’t finished a painting in years. I just hope they find some meaning in this painting, even if it’s not the same meaning I find.

The other painting, a portrait, is still in the works. I still have to make at least two more presents between now and when I leave Thursday morning, so that’s a problem. I’ll have to work smaller, I guess. Or work on the plane? I don’t know. I’ll just try and get done what I can.

(sorry for the terrible quality. I’ll take a better picture when it’s done!) My art teachers would yell at me for working in sections like this instead of working the whole surface, but whatever. Michelangelo worked in sections, so there! I don’t have a very good grasp on fleshtones and shadows either, which is problematic. During a figure painting summer course, one of my teachers told me to “stop painting dead people” and he took away my blue paints, because I used too many cool tones in my figures. I tried using mostly pink, white, and a little teeny bit of blue and brown in this one, but I’m not sure how successful it is. The hand really bothers me because it looks like she’s flicking off the viewer. sigh. I’ll try and paint in an extra finger tonight, even though the photo I’m working from looks like that. Oh, just so you know what this is — it’s a portrait of my aunt’s mother. I drew my aunt’s name for secret santa. I think I got her last year too, haha, but I like that. She’s one of my favorite relatives! And she doesn’t have kids, so she likes to treat me like the daughter she never had. Lots of makeup and jewelry! She calls me the princess and I call her the diva. This portrait, naturally, will be titled “Queen of the Diva”. I’ll write it on the bottom. Just in case Lisa doesn’t recognize her mother in this painting…

I bought varnish to varnish this painting and the one for my parents, but it’s a week-long process, mainly to make sure everything is absolutely dry. These works need the extra protection, though, because my aunt and uncle and my parents live in houses that are heated by woodstoves. So that means smoke, and they need to be protected from that. I might just give my dad some varnish and ask him to do it after I’m sure they’re all dry. I don’t think he’d mind and I certainly trust him to do it. Not that I’ve ever been particularly concerned about the longevity of my works…

Ah, so much to do before we leave, so little time. Isn’t that just the story of my life?

Take It All

December 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

Didn’t I give it all?
Tried my best,
Gave you everything I had,
Everything and no less,
Didn’t I do it right?
Did I let you down?

Maybe you got too use to
Having me around,
Still, how can you walk away,
From all my tears?
It’s gonna be an empty road,
Without me right here,

But go on and take it,
Take it all with you,
Don’t look back,
At this crumbling fool,
Just take it all,
With my love,
Take it all,
With my love,

So is it over?
Is this really it?
You’re giving up so easily,
I thought you loved me more than this,

Don’t look back,
At this crumbling fool,
Just take it all,
With my love,
Take it all,
With my love,
Take it all,
With my love.

 

My mom recently told me she feels like I’ve shut down, that I don’t talk to her like I used to. At the time I thought I was just trying to be mature, and I do think that’s still part of it. Internalizing things, maintaining some kind of private life instead of publicizing my every thought and ache. I think it’s a good thing, overall, to keep some things to yourself, things that are too hard to explain to someone on the outside or things that you can’t even understand yourself. Keep it quiet, keep it internalized, figure it out yourself.

I’ve realized that that’s not all of it. I think I’ve shut down because I have to, to hold myself together. If you open up about one thing, a crack forms in your shell, and it’s just a matter of time before the whole thing shatters and your heart spills out on the floor. I don’t have time for that. I don’t have patience for that. I don’t want to be that. So my shell is staying up, staying solid. What churns beneath my surface is my problem to fix, my mess to sort out. I’ll keep it together. I have to keep it together.

Ah, Adulthood

December 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

Well, I’ve made a decision. I can’t ask my parents for money. Or at least, I shouldn’t and therefore won’t. I’m an adult, dammit! I’m on my own and I should take care of myself, make my own decisions and deal with their consequences. I haven’t yet decided between the other two options, either going back to full-time at work or taking out extra loans. Knowing me though, I’ve got a plan!

1. wait to see what my grades are this semester.

2. talk to my new advisor to see if I’m being considered for the same fellowship again (the one I have now, I mean). If I’m not, I’ll see what my other options are and I’ll ask about deadlines for changing full-time/part-time status.

3. if I am going down to part-time, I’ll need to register for summer courses, I expect, which will ensure that I graduate on time with my class. (while there are few Art History summer courses, if any, there are a few Museum Studies courses I could take. We are allowed to take two courses outside of the department, so I could always do those during the summer since AH isn’t offered. There are even online courses for Museum Studies, haha. SWISH. if they’d let me take one of those….)

4. if I’m not going down to part-time at school, then I’ll need to evaluate how much of a loan I’ll need for next year. I hope I’ll hear the fellowship/scholarship decisions in early May (is that reasonable?) so if I get a fellowship or a scholarship, then maybe it would be okay if I take out a larger loan for living expenses since my tuition loan amount will be lower.

I can say that if I’m not awarded any funding then I’m probably going to go back to full-time at work. It’ll be nice to be able to afford to eat again. Anyway, I can’t decide any of this now, so I’m going into a waiting period for a little while. Like I have time to deal with this as it is — three seminar papers due this week and not a one written! I bit the bullet and asked off work tomorrow and Tuesday, so that should definitely help some. I’m getting pretty fried after working all weekend on one paper, and it’s really frustrating that I still only have 5 full pages written. The other two should be easier, but I still need to do some research for my last paper. Sigh. I’m as irresponsible as ever. I haven’t changed at all when it comes to school work.

I think I have changed in other ways, though. In some ways I’ve really matured. I just wish that came out more often, or that people valued it over my occasional immaturity or brashness. Sometimes I just don’t know what people make of me. And most days, to be honest, I just don’t care. Too tired and pre-occupied to care, I would suspect, but not caring nonetheless.

Progressing Towards a Plan

December 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

December has been pretty stressful for me. Things kind of hit all of once, and I’ve been sifting through the rubble ever since. Physically, my symptoms have dramatized. I have a persistent headache, starting from the minute I wake up and lasting until late afternoon or evening. It is worst in the mornings, but thanks to over-the-counter drugs and a lot of caffeine, it usually breaks later in the day. The left side of my jaw also hurts the most in the morning, I assume because I clinch it all night as my dreams lead me on wild goose chases. The pain in my jaw may be one cause of the headaches and is certainly the cause of my persistent neck ache, which starts at the left side of the joint that connects my skull to my spine and spreads out from there. I’ve also been having stomach problems, although thankfully they’re not a daily occurrence.

There were about two to three days where I literally couldn’t do anything productive during my free time because I was so stressed. I was so stressed out I couldn’t even begin to think of where to start to try and unpack everything that was upsetting me. This is extremely rare for me, I would like to point out. Stress isn’t, but being immobilized by stress is quite rare.

Luckily, I’m still me. I power through my annoying physical symptoms and refuse to slow down. Like a fever, my stress immobility broke and I am now in the healing process. The major cause of my stress is money (or lack thereof!). What I have realized is that I will be unable to afford to live alone next year if I keep my current financial state. Currently I work part-time and am making about half my salary. I have a partial fellowship which I am under the impression from my ever-helpful advisor (please note sarcasm) will not be available to me next year. The fellowship I was waitlisted for this year will also be unavailable (unlike this year, where it was available to a first year student and a second year student, next year it will only be available to a first year student). I missed a number of fellowship deadlines again, because they were back in September (who the hell is thinking about fellowships for the following year when they’re just starting the school year!), and the fellowship I really wanted to go for, I can’t, because I can’t get the recommendations (I drew multiple short straws this semester as far as professors go and my advisor won’t write me one because she says she doesn’t know me well enough). I have a couple that I will definitely be applying for, but they’ll just be partial tuition so I’ll still be taking out student loans. Anyway, right now, after I pay rent and bills (which I half with alec), I only have about $400/mo left over. At first glance that sounds like a lot, but when you break it down into groceries, pet supplies, school supplies, and incidentals, it’s gone in a flash. I’m definitely struggling right now to keep above water, so to speak. Now here are the issues:

1. I am happiest when I don’t have roommates, so I would like to live alone. Unfortunately, in DC, rent is already about what I’m paying now for a 1br in a terribly dangerous neighborhood. I’m scared enough not living alone in the neighborhood I’m in now, so living someplace shadier and living alone sounds like a recipe for disaster. To live in an okay neighborhood, I’ll be looking at around $1000-1200 per month for rent. Plus bills (another $200 ish). Clearly the math doesn’t work out.

2. I could get a roommate. But I have pets and lots of furniture and lots of neuroses. Mainly pets. My dog has a habit of forgetting she’s potty trained only when she has someone else’s room to go in. She’s never had an accident in my room, but she loves going potty in my roommates’ rooms. She also likes getting into their trash and eating whatever they leave lying around. Given her old age, that is increasingly dangerous. I just don’t want to have to deal with a roommate, no matter how much cheaper it would be (realistically, it would be the same price I’m paying now). I will consider it as a last resort, but I just don’t want to do it.

So I have resolved myself to these options, which are detailed as follows:

A. Go back to full-time at work (in which case I could easily afford $1100/mo) and go down to part-time at school. This means I would still have to take two classes a semester, so I would spend every free moment studying. Since I’ll have already done a year of full-time courses, I’ll only have to stay in school an extra semester. But I wouldn’t have time for internships or extracurricular activities which would hurt my resume.

B. Take out enough in student loans to make up the difference in what I can afford and what my rent actually will be if I choose to not live in the super-ghetto. Safety is certainly something that needs to be considered for a little white girl soon-to-be living alone in DC. It’s illegal to carry pepper spray here too (don’t tell my Grandmother that!). Basically I would have to take out a few thousand dollars extra for living expenses, which would mean my total loan debt when I graduate will be roughly $50,000. That’s a lot. That really terrifies me.

C. Ask my parents for the money instead of taking it out in loans. I know my parents would be happy to try and help me out (and considering how much they’ve spent on my brother, I think it shouldn’t be too much to ask for a few thousand dollars to save me from living in Anacostia), but it would be a huge hit to my pride and everyone would say I am a hypocrite for asking my parents for money. Of course, the people I criticize for living off their parents are having their parents pay their entire rent costs plus spending money, tuition, and god knows what else while they dick around. I’m not asking for that. And hell, I would offer to pay my parents back if I thought they would let me. So that’s complicated. And I know “hubris” is floating around your head right now, but hey, I’m entitled to my pride and my arrogant ambition. I’m just trying to make sure it won’t be the death of me.

So those are the only reasonable options I’ve come up with. If you think of something else, let me know, but that’s pretty much where I am. None of the options is without negatives and deciding what I will do will take time, or at least a discussion with my parents. They’re very against having debt, so I’m pretty sure they will exnay option B. They’ve been very against me working at all while I was in school, so I’m sure they will be against option A. But I don’t think giving me $500 a month is really in their budget either. All the options suck, but there really isn’t a way around it, because even if I got a fellowship, it would be extremely unlikely for it to come with a living stipend so I would still be in the same place, just with fewer student loans.

Did I mention that my final seminar papers (which are each worth at least half my grade or more) are due next week? Have I started even one of them? Nope. Sorry, school, but I have a whole life outside of you (dealing with leaving the man that I love, surviving working while being in school, deciding whether I’m smart enough to go for a phd, etc.). Besides, I can’t work unless I’m under pressure. Did I mention I’ve been applying for internships for the spring semester as well? Yeah, it’s been a busy week. I had an interview yesterday for one and I have an interview next week for the internship I *really* want, so add that to my plate why don’t ya. Trying to find a petsitter for when I’m in alabama has been a struggle too considering most petsitters in DC charge upwards of $100/day and more for holidays. Ah, money. Ruining my life. I so miss the old days of full-time and a fat paycheck…

Waiting for Super(wo)man

December 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’ve been thinking a lot about stress lately. It seems like it’s becoming an epidemic within America as people keep striving for the impossible, working themselves to death for a multitude of reasons. But I’m especially worried about women and children. That sounds terribly conservative and traditional, but I don’t mean it in the way you might think. Children and women seem to be striving to do more and more these days. While I’m no expert, the trend in women taking on more roles outside the home really picked up speed in the 70s when going to college became increasingly expected for women. I work with a lot of 60 somethings and most of the women say their biggest regret was not going to or finishing college. They regret getting married so early, having kids so early. Things have changed. Dramatically so. Today more women are going to college than men. More women are going on to higher education than men. Women have suffered less than men during the recession, and employment is almost 50/50 in the USA between men and women. For my generation, this doesn’t sound like anything special. This sounds like what it should be. But if you talk to older generations, say the Baby Boomers, this is HUGE. The past 50 years have seen so much dramatic change in the family dynamic and the position of women in society.

It all sounds good on the surface. But things are never that easy. The desire for traditional family roles persist, leading women to try to “do it all,” to be Superwoman. She wants to go to school, to get a great job, to go on to bigger things. But she wants to be a great mom, to take care of her family without sacrificing or compromising. TV shows address it a lot, showing women turning to prescription drugs to try and maintain the energy level needed to work 40+ hours a week and still have the motivation to come home and take care of a family, keep up a household. Men don’t seem to feel that. They seem to still see their role as go to work, come home, let the wife take care of things. Maybe that’s unfair, but that’s how I see men acting these days. Certainly there’s been some backlash against women, with men feeling threatened by our presence in the workforce and the realm of academia. Men don’t feel that overwhelming pressure to take care of the family, to ensure the house is clean, the laundry folded, the dinner is hot on the table. It’s interesting to watch as gender roles teeter and sway as women continue to push the limits that have been set on us for thousands of years. We’ve made stunning progress in the past 100 years. Mind-blowing progress considering how slowly society seems to change. But we are literally dying from it. The stress of trying to be perfect in all aspects of our lives, all roles we try to fulfill, is killing us.

Children, too, are doing more and more each day. With college as an increasingly standard expectation, competition is fierce and sometimes cut-throat. Students have to balance keeping their grades up with band, sports, extracurriculars. Their resumes are growing longer and their stress levels, too, are skyrocketing. There is so much pressure to do more, do better, be more, be better. Childhood seems to end earlier and earlier these days as kids are forced to plan for their futures the minute they turn 13, if not before.

I am both a student and a working woman, and the pressure I put on myself is as intense as ever. People keep telling me “slow down, why are you doing this to yourself” but how can I not? The world is becoming increasingly competitive and just a season of laxity can set you back years on your resume. Admittedly, not everyone feels the pressures I do. Back home, alec has many friends who are still unemployed, a college degree did little to secure them employment. A degree just isn’t enough anymore. You have to have more. More. More. More. While my friends were lazing about in school, drinking their days away, I was taking extra classes. They spent their summers on beaches in Florida or Spain, while I spent mine doing internships or taking yet another class. When I wasn’t in class, I was working. People tend to roll their eyes at restaurant jobs, choosing instead to just sit at home since they think lower class jobs won’t get them anywhere, but I feel differently. If you are working, you are learning and those skills are always transferrable to another job.

I keep telling myself things will be better later. When I’m done with school, I’ll be qualified for more jobs because of my Master’s degree and then I can just get a good job and settle down. That’s my goal: just to find a job that I enjoy and that pays me well enough to have the things I want in this world. I don’t want a lot. Healthier, fresher foods. Maybe a bottle of wine here or there. Dog treats for my babe. A home that’s not a basement apartment. I don’t want a lot. But it for damn sure seems like an uphill battle to get anywhere these days, except for back on your parents’ couch. I feel exhausted 90% of the day. Even when I’m sleeping, I feel tired. I spend my nights chasing, hiding, fighting, screaming. Then I wake up just as tired as when I went to bed. I drink cup after cup of coffee hoping that at some point my headache will clear out so I can think. I’m usually so physically tired I have to sit down on the train because my body just doesn’t seem to remember how to hold itself up. Keeping breathing even can be laborious.

I tell myself over and over that other people have it worse. People who can’t catch a break. People with kids (not that my pets aren’t a handful on occasion). People with serious illnesses or disabilities. People have it worse than me, so I better get my shit done and be thankful I have the opportunities I do.

So many people, even my mother, have told me “not everyone is like you, you can’t expect so much from others.” It’s always such an odd thing when I hear it because my brain just thinks “what, WHAT?” over and over. There’s nothing particularly special about me. I’m above average sometimes, but I’m certainly not anything to write home about. I’m not especially smart, I’m certainly not a beauty, I’m not even all that nice most of  the time. I’m not insanely talented, I’m not charismatic. I’m mediocre, pedestrian. I can’t make you laugh, I can’t make you feel at ease, I can’t snap my fingers and have people do my bidding. I’m really not that special. All I do is work. And really, I’m not that hard of a worker. I get things done on time and I tend to take on a whole lot, but in truth I’m lazy. I procrastinate all.the.time. But I get my shit done on time. And even if I’m doing it last minute, somehow that nugget I pull out of my ass looks like gold. Really though, the trick is just to keep pushing yourself and I don’t see why that’s so unusual or so unfair to expect from other people. I’m not anything great and I can do it, so why shouldn’t other people be capable of it? It just doesn’t make sense to me and it really pisses me off when people say it to me. A lot of times I wish I was better. I wish I worked harder, I wish I didn’t waste so much time avoiding things I’ll have to do anyway. I wish I was smarter or more creative, because that would certainly make my life easier. Being prettier or being nicer would go a long way too, I think, but that’s just not who I am. I’m not special, I’m not unique. I’m just really fucking determined. I’ll get what I want even if it kills me. I compromise when I need to, I deal with detours if I’m forced to take them, but I always keep my eyes on the future. I am always thinking about my next steps. And THAT, people, I think I should expect from others. If you don’t do it for yourself, if you don’t make your own dreams happen, no one else is going to do it for you.

My biggest problem, and I think it’s the same problem that many women and children facing such pressure today have, is that I don’t ask for help. Lucky for me, I’m resourceful. I like to do things on my own so I don’t burden other people with my problems, questions, etc. But sometimes I become so absorbed or overwhelmed that I ask for help too late, if I ask for help at all. It should always be okay to ask for help, but I do think you should only ask for help after you’ve tried your damnedest on your own. Some people ask for help right away, and that’s just fucking lazy. Of course, even when I ask for help, I often don’t take what I get. My parents have learned that about me over the years. Now when I ask for help, they just let me talk and then I end up with the resolution on my own, instead of having them tell me what to do and me just doing it. It’s a good way to operate because it makes me think about my options and no one knows me better than me, so I should really be making decisions for myself. I think when I ask for help (almost 99% of the time), I’m really just looking for validation. Or maybe not. Maybe I’m just looking for a reaction. When I told people I was moving to DC after graduation without a job or a place to live, they told me I was crazy. I wasn’t really asking for help then, and I wasn’t that surprised when my decision wasn’t supported (although I was really annoyed). I think I just wanted to see what people thought. Not sure why it matters to me, since I rarely listen to advice or do what people tell me to do. Anyway, my point is that it should be okay to ask for help every now and then. Women shouldn’t have to feel like we have to do everything 100% on our own. Children shouldn’t have to feel like they’re a disappointment to their parents if they ask for help.

The world is changing and we’re all just trying to keep up. I’m just doing my best to get what I want out life. There’s nothing unique about that. I just hope America learns to slow down at some point, before the stress kills us all.

Where Am I?

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