Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Eve, with Cognac

Winding down after peeling spuds and cubing bread in anticipation of tomorrow's feast. These are tense days on the job, scrambling to finish the last of the gallery orders as we prep for the home holiday sale, and then it's on to prepping an entire product line for the big annual wholesale show on the East Coast. An employee gave notice last week, and M. and I interviewed six prospective studio assistants yesterday and today. It's never dull.

Of the six interviewees, five are new to the area, a couple as new as two weeks. Seattle: land of milk and honey, apparently. And while a resumé provides a curriculum vitae, nothing quite matches sitting down face to face with a new person....

The woman with high heels, jeans and salon-nails was a definite "no". The jumpy young man who was eager to please and laughed nervously (a lot) throughout the interview and looked as if he'd easily take out a tableful of glass with a single nervous swipe of an arm was a "no". The adjunct- college-professor/painter with a three page resumé (which included an impressive and lengthy list of solo shows) was a "no" because, honestly, how long would someone with her CV last as the go-fer and bottom-of-the-totem-pole glass slinger?

We did, however, narrow the list to two (the quiet and placid 31-year-old graphic-designer/painter with a wife and a nine-year-old daughter, and the even younger effusively cheerful man who knows how to sandblast) and M. will contact them this weekend to set up start times. And then it's training time, long and arduous. NOT looking forward to that. Sigh.

What I am looking forward to, though, is the new life that will come into the studio, new life with all its attendant tales and dramas, all its earnestness and frustrations. Again, it's never dull.

Okay, well, that's a lie. It actually does get dull after hours of painting the same size pieces, and the color palette seems to shrink. A favorite complaint: "I'm all out of colors. I need new colors. Someone, please, invent new colors." Recently there have been requests for lots of blue tones — a curious thing, that. Blues and purples. Must be the colors of the hour.

Mostly, though, I'm looking forward to tomorrow — to Thanksgiving, my favorite day of the year.  We will be an atypical small crowd of six, which suits me just fine. My son is making a purple sweet potato pie, in his quest to break from tradition. I, on the other hand, am sticking to My Favorite Menu of the Year, as starch-laden as that may be. (Or so I've been told.)

So bring it on, baby, I say.
Bring it on, because I'm hungry.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Small Business Hysteria.

I mean: hysteria.

I announced today that since I couldn't do anything about the looming backlog of orders on account of being down one employee for the past week that I was going to turn off the simmering panic that always heats up when, no matter what I do, I can't do more. There's absolutely zero wiggle room on this tightly-run ship, and when we begin to list to one side, the drowning waves swell mightily with their threat to capsize us.

Yesterday's meteorological event lingered at the edges, like the bits of blue paint that never seem to wash completely from the palettes, a perpetual residue. I could've sworn a Payne's Grey cloud floated  just below the ceiling for the better part of the day.

I wasn't feeling the least bit my usual jolly self. Head down, I juggled (so to speak) the several hundred pieces of glass in the current order rotation, continually moving things from one phase of completion to the next. Storage shed, back-room staging, main work table, sandblaster, studio, sink, grinder, The Hot Shelf, back to the work table, kitchen kiln aka the oven, back to the work table again, back to The Hot Shelf, signing shelf, shipping staging, and finally, finally, back down to the studio to be boxed up for UPS pickup.

The home holiday sale approaches, but wasn't it just summer?

The question, Is this my life? swept over me, a softer wave now, no longer worried about water in the lungs since I crossed out hysteria.

Yes, I silently answered, it is.

And then it was 4:11pm, and sunlight broke through the cloudcover just at the horizon, and a Payne's- Grey/brown-pink light illuminated everything.

Nice that they're color-coding the sunset to match our painting, I said.

Mmmm. Murmers.

On the windowsill, freshly oil-painted glass lit up with the sudden light, as did the tiny vases of assorted foliage, now dried, that have been accumulating since summer: hydrangea, rose hips, dogwood seedpods, a red twig.

Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata — which sounds like audio velvet — was playing on the iPod. It was a moment to get lost in, the briefest interval of time into which to slip, to forget the daily irritations, the trials. The three of us approached a moment of perfect harmony. A major chord/accord. Everything was flowing smoothly, or smoothly enough.

I stepped outside for just a breath of that lit-up air, took it deeply into my lungs before returning to my work.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Clang, Clang, Do It Right

A hundred years ago, or so it seems,  I did piece-work for a local paper-maché artist whose basement studio was filled to the gills with suspended fairies, these:

There were several dozen of us women taking work home, most of us looking for a way to be  with our kids and still bring in some cash. I spent endless hours at my kitchen table, doing various stages of construction of these pieces, while my sons took naps, ate lunch, started school, got on and off buses. (The table a heap of rice paper strips, wheat paste, paper towels, scissored-lengths of aluminum foil and my toirtoiseshell cat named Alice who liked to sleep in a box in the middle of it all.)

It was nit-picky work, with zero margin of error. A piece not up to snuff at the weekly check-in clanged into the garbage can with a dismissive sweep of the hand by the supervisor, and the garbage can did not equal dollars. Standards were standards, and when your paycheck depended on the quality of your work, you did it right. It was often grueling, but it allowed me to be home for my kids. And that was enough.

Some time in the late 1990's, the business owner laid off all her piece-workers after a successful foray into offshoring; production moved to China. The owner and her partner moved to Carmel-by-the-Sea, in California. My piece-work career thudded to a halt. Alas. (No tears shed.)

I was reminded of all this today when dealing with quality-control issues at work. My role tends to lean to the bad-cop side of things, as I'm the person final-checking each piece of glass prior to shipping. Some days roll along smoothly, no bumps, no cracks. Today repeatedly tried my patience, with several hours spent fixing other people's sloppiness. The back door was (repeatedly) left open (it's c-c-c-c-cold outside), and when I forcefully pushed it closed, I inadvertently squeezed the cat's paw, resulting in a a feline shriek of epic volume. I felt as if I'd committed a diabolical and intentional act of violence. The cat skulked off to the farthest corner and disappeared in the back of a closet under bags and boxes. I slunk back to my chair and continued the fixing, repairing, repainting, waiting for the day to end.

Meanwhile there was a small typhoon brewing which resulted in a spectacular display of emotion from Someone Else. The boss and I managed to keep our wits together and modeled a united front, with only one outburst of complete indignation (from me).

I shall not disclose more, except that I was reminded of the many jobs I've had where I was given a task to do, and I had to do it correctly, period. No arguing, no questioning, and, especially, no tears. I couldn't stop thinking of the paper-maché fairies I used to make by the dozen, how the angle of the chin required the precision of the width of a single millimeter.

Mostly, I kept hearing that clang into the garbage can. And before long, that recalled-clang drowned out the sniffling and sighing that was going on beside me.

In a way, I'm thankful for the clang. I resented it fiercely back then, but the point was well-taken, sound effects and all.  And the larger lesson — do it right! — was the take-away from those years hand-sculpting rice-paper figurines, while my sons napped, the cat snored, and (mostly), no one cried.
The work got done, I got paid, everybody was happy.

But there was more to it — there was the necessity of releasing the ego. So easy to consider now, to look at the young and relatively-inexperienced with an air of disdainful impatience. Easier now, after-hours, with the perspective that only time and distance allows.

A part of me wants to suspend one of the imperfect glass vessels high above the garbage can, let it go at the perfect dramatic moment so that it ends its usefulness in a spectacular, gravity-driven crash.

I won't, of course.
But I'll keep this little fantasy tucked away close-by for quick reference.
Listen up:

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Vapor Trails

It was a family function, a wedding shower for my grand-niece, about 25 women packed into an overstuffed-furniture suburban living room, with all the various and complicated how-are-you-related conversations going on, some people that I've known for 40+ years, others more recent, and still others whom I'll probably never know.

One woman, a few years younger than me, the sister-in-law of my brother-in-law (and how that relates to me by definition is anyone's guess), sat on the next sofa over. We've never actually met, but I went to her husband's funeral two years ago, and know so many details of the decades of her late husband's leukemia, the two sons they raised, the struggle. She was engaged in an animated discussion with her sister-in-law, and from the gist of it (and from the size of the diamond on her left hand), it sounded like they were talking about a new husband.

I was only able to glean fragments of their conversation, but it was enough to get a read on the level of hope, of let's-do-life-over-while-there's-still-time gist of it. Boy do I get that — made my own stab at it a few years back. I know the space that opens up, that gapes in front of you, where you know you can take that leap if you dare to. She seemed to sit smack in the middle of it, stacking up various types of mid-life healthy successes.

But the long years of protracted grieving hung about her like cigarette smoke; I swore I could smell the slow burn of it, the way it swirled around her with its own gravitational pull, a grey aura that seemed to emanate from her every cell. I was fascinated and also deeply moved by what I witnessed, and I've carried a wisp of her essence with me all through this day.

The best part of the afternoon, though, was that three of my sisters and I sat side-by-side for the duration, nestled in amongst each other, with lots of tête-à-têtes. I kept looking over at them, and found myself repeatedly doing a head count. Missing: Patty and Lorraine. One on the east coast, the other away for the weekend three hours away.

For years, in my hometown, and especially in the Catholic parish where we grew up, we were an entity with a title: The Clear Girls. Often we were recognized by no other name, as if we were an amorphous lump of female flesh (and I suspect my brother to have entertained similar notions). The farther down the line of sisters one was, the smaller the chance that someone would know your name. It was easy to disappear among the folds of made-over Easter coats, among the pleated skirts of an older sister. It's taken me decades to claim my selfhood in this community, and yet still I know I can rely on a certain invisibility if I so choose.

But I'm rambling.

I find that, more and more, I want to be in the presence of all of my sisters, all at once. The years are beginning to stack up, and the once-unthinkable is now clearly baring its teeth in the not-too-distant future: we're not all going to be here forever.

Which of us will be left to drag behind us the vapor trails of lost sisters? (I can't believe I just typed that.) This I do know: whoever it is, it will be as visible and palpable as the one I witnessed yesterday afternoon.  If it's me, I know I'll be able to feel it, like a veil, a netted mist about my face, through which the rest of my life will surely have a decidedly altered focus.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

In Which Leaves Became My Enemy —

— as I went airborne, slipping on a dark and wet heap of them, skidded to a stop with my forehead to the pavement, my glasses skittering away (but thankfully intact). A faceful of mud and some particularly colorful abrasions/bruises/lumps: head, hip, hand.

I recall flipping off the front of my friend's sting-ray bike while riding the dirt paths through the filbert groves in Sommer's field when I was ten, landing nose-down on the hard-packed earth: no blood, nothing broken. Tonight I can feel that impact again, all these years later. My shaky-kneed walk through the woods back to my house, pushing that damn bike all the way. 

What a strange sensation that is — the moment when you realize that you're no longer upright and yet also not yet back on the ground, that brief flight, that joyless soar. And then the brutal truth of impact, and all of this in only two or three seconds where you know it's happening but there's little to be done but try to minimize damages. Amazing, also, that in this oh-so-brief flash of time — which feels like a slow-motion explosion — that you can move your body (somewhat) in order to ease the landing.

Anyway. My love affair with autumn leaves is over.

My son helped me remove the bits of dirt and gravel from my forehead gash — no easy task. What we really needed to do was use a scrub brush, but I just couldn't bring myself to endure that. The stuff was seriously embedded. OUCH.

Turn Over A Leaf

Facebook has been overrun with autumn leaf imagery of late; and while I want to shout "Halt! Cliché!"— I must remind myself that there are no cliché images in nature, and that it's the redundancy of social media posts that wears down my usual sense of awe. Better to get out in it, as I made myself do this morning by walking to work instead of opting for laziness via automobile. And anyway, don't you find the undersides of leaves perhaps even more intriguing just by the nature of their understated nuances? No shouting here —

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Pilfered Apples

Every morning on my way to work, I step into a forbidden yard and gather the day's accumulation of yellow apples, wet on the grass, some worm-pocked, some rose-blushed. It seems no one else but me commits this small theft from the yard where the garage tilts dangerously to the right and the roof on the house is sparsely tar-papered. Once I saw a woman sweeping the front steps, but apart from that, there's little activity.  I fully expect to be shouted-off the property some morning, but until then, and until the season has given the last fruits of its harvest, I intend to fill my canvas bag with enough apples to weigh me down, slow me down not enough to cause alarm, lugging my appled-self the last half-mile to a an honest day's work.

Monday, November 3, 2014

...and just like that, we're swept into the darkness and rains of autumn; it always seems to happen while I wasn't paying attention for, oh, I don't know, a minute or two. Yes, yes, thankful I am for this rain which descends like a magic everywhere-waterfall from the sky, turning the gutters into little rivers that carry away October's red leaves like tiny ships, gone, gone, gone to November. At night the rains pelts the slanted roof just inches above my head, and I go to sleep with the lullaby of it, snugged-in among pillows and quilts, hoping to wake to one of the cats at my feet.