Back into the fray (of writing) maybe?

It’s been a long time since I have written. At different times in my life I would call this a failure. I haven’t written a post since February and didn’t publish that until April. I was busy, though. I made a lot of books – journals and junk journals, tiny books. I even made myself an altered book portfolio for a planner, journal, and junk journal. During this I had in the back of my mind “I should write about this. I should take pictures. I should post.”

It may seem on the outside that I’m not interested in writing. And I think that is true to some degree. I experienced an inner joy in making these items like I haven’t since…

Since I was last swept up in a writing project. I would get a rush when I came back to the writing. I would think about the story while I did other tasks and everyday experiences would inspire me to add to the project.

Making art, or “crafting*” has been a similar set of sensations, so I go back to it. But it is also very different. I had not expressed myself visually until the past two years. I felt unskilled or untalented in artistic media (ie drawing, painting, photography are all areas I feel sorely missing in both skill and talent). To physically work through a project, fail at some area, problem-solve how to cover or fix it, to envision the overall look and feel of a book have relatives in the writing craft (ah, “craft!” there’s that word again) but require a different set of skills for execution, or at least using tools differently.

My “small edition” of 2
Another view of my book

As I was working on a small edition of an art book for my book arts class, I began to think of the project as a theatre production in miniature. I was in charge of all aspects of this “production.” I decided the colors, materials, and content of the books. I decided what type of binding to use, how I would create and reproduce the images, and how I would incorporate text. It completely took over my brain for the last couple of weeks before it was due. The last few days, I was up late at night cutting, sewing, fixing, gluing, re-doing, and finally went to my last class to have it critiqued and graded.

My projects since haven’t been that complex, but they are similar in process. And I watch videos or see things in my everyday life that I think, “I should put that into a book,” or “I want to learn how to do that.”

I want to share this experience with people but that takes writing, recording, posting, editing, and other non-craft-related tasks to accomplish. How do I make time for all of that?

I will try. I will try making a video, I will try to remember to document the steps I take with projects, the mistakes and fixes, and I will try to write more about my thoughts. And I will aim toward writing creatively as part of my regular practice.

Oh. I was in my first Art Crawl as an artist in April (a Saint Paul event that happens twice a year).                

Art Crawl (West Side) Spring 2019

Maybe I should write about that sometime.

*I’m still going back and forth between what to call my practice.  Sometimes crafting is better, more comfortable for me. But sometimes I want to call it art. But crafting seems more like me. Art can be pretentious – and calling it art can cause people to judge the piece, and me.. But people judge “crafts.” But I have seen people doing great activist things with craft. I guess people do with art took, right?  I think I’m a crafter. Or an artist. Crafter artist?

Why can’t I just be a writer?

“Why Can’t I Just…” Christine Shyne 2019 limited edition

Or, if a writer writes a book in the woods and no one reads it, is she still a writer?

I have had the desire to be a writer since I was in 7th grade, maybe earlier. Back then I wrote stories about run-aways who would get “saved” by older brother type characters. It was so much fun. But I never finished the stories and no one ever read them, even me, after they were written. That was okay at the time but it became less okay as I got older. Now I just want people to hear my voice. More than writing, though, I have practiced criticizing myself, procrastinating, searching for the right tool, class, book, or trick that would propel me into the realm of “writer.”

I know the hard answer to this question. A writer writes. Right?

And there are so many stories about writers.

Most of them are not failing-to-launch kinds of writers. Sometimes they are struggling after an incident – like they were successful and then something happened and now they have writer’s block – until they fall in love! This is usually the ending. Sometimes it will end with some poignant realization that opens them up to inspiration. But usually it is the writer falling in love. Do writers always have trouble with relationships?

And,

What about a 40-something woman who has always wanted to write – has fallen in love, is married with two children who are almost out of the house – but she has never finished a novel – any novel – not just that one novel that launches or relaunches her career. Just any book.

I would like to write and publish a book called, “Is this the book that will make me a published writer? And other stories of late-in-the-game success – or “How to fail and Fail and Fail and Then Finally Have Some Marginal Success.” Or “Trying self-publishing. ” I don’t know – even the title is a work in progress. I just thought of it right now.

I am not even sure what I would write about in this book except a memoir or essays or something. It could be a novel I guess but it would be more than a little autobiographical.

I have the time. I even have the resources to do some amount of training or classes. Maybe not a lot of travel to be inspired – but if I got my act together, I will be traveling with family later in the year and I could use those opportunities to write. Like all those movies about writers who sit in coffee shops, or the hotel room, or whatever, typing into a computer, writing in a notebook (which is getting harder and harder for me all the time). Their problems often seem one-pronged rather than many pronged which I think is what my problem is. I don’t have experience plotting a full story, fleshing out full characters or even finishing a first shitty draft. So where do I (re) start?

I keep telling myself I will get/grab a book/take a class/order an online course and follow it all the way through, do each of the exercises in earnest. If it’s a college class I will finish it, and I usually will do the assignments if there are any stakes (pass/fail, a grade, a person on the other end). But I don’t feel I ever really pay attention to the assignments because I spend so much time AVOIDING THE WRITING.

So….. do I really want to write? Or do I just want to have written? Or just call myself a writer? I could do that without all this pain and procrastination and self-criticism. Self-hatred, actually. I beat myself up for this quite a bit – it’s one of my favorite beefs with myself; my inability to commit and complete a significant piece of writing.

How do I stop this cycle? Or at least move the cycle the smallest bit forward? I do find comfort in the fact that many writers go through this painful sequence, even successful writers. I find a loophole with which to beat myself up further in that whoever is telling me about this writer, or the writer who is talked about, has written and published the thing I am reading – and I have not!

Is there hope for a 40-something writer to get her first publication credit?

Deep down I know the answer. It is, of course, yes. I’m just not confident that that 40-something woman writer is me.  I am not looking for comfort, or encouragement. I just want to eventually get to the writing.

from “Why Can’t I just…” Christine Shyne, 2019

Now….. for an idea…..

Massive Cross stitch project

I have been working on a very large cross stitch project that I actually started 20 years ago. I cam back to it and decided to undo and begin again. I thought it might help me get through the rough spots (when I just want to be done!) if I posted my progress periodically.

Here is the first progress photo.

As of January 28, 2019
(diameter = approx. 12″)

This was just before the terrible polar vortex we had in the midwest, so I should have posted one from directly AFTER that stretch, where I did nothing much more than stay under the blankets in front of a space heater and stitched. My brain was too frozen so I forgot. But I will post a more recent photo to see the progress. Can you guess what it is? It will be fun to see how far I have to go before it’s clear what it is.

Book Arts Class

Signatures, in progress

I recently started a books arts class at my local university. I have always loved books, paper, and everything related to both. My new foray into art has been focused on learning how to sew signatures, bind books, alter them, and make art out of them. I have been uncertain how to proceed, however, as I do not have a background in studio arts. This class will help address this, I hope.

The first week we learned three types of instant books. These are great if you want to quickly publish something, or if you don’t have a collection of fancy bookbinding tools

I do, however, recommend the following things for these (and most other) projects I’m working on.

  • Bone folder
  • Self-healing cutting mat
  • Metal ruler
  • Awl
  • Pen knife
  • Pencil
  • Hole punch (around 6 to 6.5mm Is the standard size, but whatever you can get your hands on)
  • Paper – card stock, copy paper, fancy paper whatever you want to play with.

First book – the instant book

Front of an Instant book I made at the coffee shop

This is just a matter of folding, arranging whatever images you want in the correct way, and making a small cut. It almost seems like magic (to those of us inclined to believe in magic!) when it comes out looking like a book.

Instant book unfolded-see cut in the middle

The next book was a screw-post book.

This we used a couple pieces of 4×6” cardstock and simple copy paper for the pages.

I am playing with other materials for another one of these. I was interested in looking at things we throw out – or recycle- without much thought. I have here some shipping envelopes, a cover of a plastic fruit container, junk mail, and part of a cover of The New Yorker (to look well-read!)

It’s not done yet, I want to gather a few more materials – and see if I can make it pretty…?

The third one we learned was the rubber bound book. I can’t find a description of this online yet, so I will add a photo of the one I made as soon as I can.

This is also great if you only have a few materials. And it’s a use for those golf pencils you may have accidentally stole from the mini-golf course!

I will post pictures of my first attempts at these books soon, as well as some new ones we are making!

A planner of one’s own

I am working on developing a new planner for myself. I know it’s late to be starting this, but I am making books anyway. I have often found planners not quite what I need for my own uses. I also am trying to keep up the habit of “morning pages” (as described in ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron ) – three pages every day of stream of consciousness writing. I have a hard time calling them morning pages as lately they rarely are done in the morning.

Thanks to Pexels for the image!

I want something that can keep these pages, provide some space to play around with art journaling, and keep track of the things I’m supposed to do day to day. My Google calendar works great for appointments – they give me reminders and I can seem them in multiple places. But the other kinds of electronic planner items have never worked well for me.

Another thing I have been doing is rewarding myself for doing certain things as a self-care practice. Stickers.

I’m a nerd. When I was in seventh grade my best friend and I were into crafts. And stickers. So I get a sticker for doing daily pages, exercising, or writing beyond my pages. The last one gets a high value sticker. I bought myself a pack of Lisa Frank stickers. As a middle-aged adult I recognize that these stickers and the art on them is over the top and garish. But they were high value in seventh grade, so they are high value now because they remind me of being that kid. It makes me smile.

So, I need the following things:

  • Space for To-dos a way to cross or check them off
  • Something for tracking the dates (Calender)
  • space for the stickers
  • space for art journaling (should be mostly blank)
  • space for daily pages (prefer lines)

What I am thinking about now is to make a book cover that I can add or subtract sections. Then within the cover will be planner pages in one section, art journaling in another, and finally daily pages in a third section. These will be bound with the perfect binding technique (if this is the term) – with glue on the spine of the text block, although it would be nice to have them stitched. I haven’t decided this yet.

I still have a lot to learn. But it’s fun to think about these things.

Have you seen good examples of people who have successfully created their own planners? What sources do you find for planning and keeping track of projects and appointments? Have you found places to get flexible planner components? Share them in the comments section.

Art, hobby, and the crafting industry

This may feel a bit like I’m going on a rant. I am a bit, I guess. Hang in there with me, if you will.

I went in my studio last week for the first time in a while.

Calling this my “first shitty draft” of a book. And part of the table in my studio.

Just to clarify: My “studio” is a space I organized on the third floor of our house. It has acted as a miscellaneous storage for the past 10 years and although I have gotten rid of a LOT of stuff, it still is essentially a storage space – just with a couple of tables cleared off and the craft/ art tools I am using the most currently semi-organized nearby.

I also hesitate on the word studio because it makes it seem like I am an actual artist. I am such a beginner in visual arts (is there a word for “pre-beginner?”) I don’t feel comfortable in that title.

I was at my table trying out some things, including a new die cut set that I had purchased.  I had received a pretty large gift card a while back and treated myself to some crafting tools I thought too expensive most of the time. A die cut machine was one of those. I was disappointed in it and was almost immediately remorseful.

One of the biggest problems I have with it is that the manual die cut machine I purchased did not come with a single die. When I went to find some in the store, they were few and expensive. I bought one small set to try out, at least learn how to use it. The instructions are minimal so I assumed it would be easy enough to figure out. To some degree it was – but with my first die-cut butterfly I noticed it had etched the image into the acrylic cutting board. Was that supposed to happen? Did I just ruin my new toy?

I tried it again. Again it etched an image in to the clear acrylic. I have a problem with this. How can that be what is expected? To me, it’s either that I am not doing it right, or they are so focused on making money with the equipment, they designed machine that would immediately begin destroying an important part of the machine so you have to replace it. It’s also esthetically distressing to me. Maybe this comes from me being a writer and a bit obsessive about things, and not be formally trained as a visual artists – but wouldn’t trained artists be disturbed by the marring of this clear acrylic?

This led me to another discussion in my head as I tried these new die cuts. The difference between what is a hobby and what is an art practice? One difference, I decided, was in how someone interacts with their tools. In looking into paper crafts and arts, I saw hundreds of different items you could buy – in many different styles,

It seemed to me the craft and fabric stores cashed in on a new fad in crafting. It felt as though the whole hobby could be just buying item after item. In trying out new art techniques, I also decided that some of the items were too “done” for me. The fake ephemera? (in a book by Gwen Diehn she called these, “pseudo-ephemera) I kind of have a problem with this. I know that old paper stuff is probably getting more and more hard to find, but it seems weird to me that we buy old timey tickets and ledgers that are printed on white card stock. I liked the look of it though. And it is sometimes cheaper and easier to buy these – and more flexible.

This new die cut makes a library pocket. I loved this idea, as some of the old books I have found were library books back in the day when you would check them out with a card that lived in an envelope on the inside front cover. I cut this out of some scrapbook paper and it left an impression on my acrylic cut sheets!!!)  I could cut out my own envelopes from paper -without the die cut machine.

I watched videos online to see if I was using it wrong. It was hard to tell but it looked they their machines left impressions on their plates as well. An artist friend of mine said when she borrowed a similar machine from another artist, this happened too. They both said just to keep using it and replace it when it gets too scratched or cracks.

This is not okay with me. I am new to being an artist but I have been crafting throughout my life. Now I have a need to create. In contrast, there has been a desire to keep certain things pristine: my crayons (the sharpener never made them quite sharp enough after they were dulled), my colored pencils (they have to be sharp, people or what’s the point?!) Files don’t have to be in alpha or chronological order but they should be labeled, and if you begin to have sub-categories you should have them together in a hanging file folder, or if electric make a folder within a folder. I like certain things to be neat.

Scratching a critical part of your machinery on the first, and every consecutive time after, does not fit in this desire.  So why would the company design it like this other than to make more money on replacing parts?

This is definitely not a rant about the people who use these tools, or even those who may buy all the tools and parts as their hobby. I went into the stamping craze with enthusiasm. But my cards never looked as good as my visual artist friends, cards, and I felt that there was theory and training and practice that she maybe had over me. An artistic eye that I felt I lacked.  I lost interest in creating cards and scrapbooks, but I was constantly drawn back by some new fancy tool, or stamp, or way of doing things – as though this merchandise could make up for my lack of artistic skill.

I want to make things myself. I just don’t have the skill yet.

I had only a short time in the studio that day so I began to feel a little panicky. There wasn’t much I could accomplish in the time I had. I was all over the place with what I was trying to do. I realized that I need to get back into my studio more often and to allow for more time. And the creating will come eventually.

Okay. Rant over. Next time I will write more about making or writing then complaining about retail items.

Update 1/27/19: I have done some more research on the die cuts making impressions on the cut plates. There are discussions about this being normal, but I also found someone who said they use a silicone rubber sheet, an accessory you can purchase. On one hand, this may solve the problem of marring, but on the other it sort of proves my point about the industry creating ways to get you spend more and more money. They win, in this case. I’m going to buy a pad see if it works. It’s not THAT much….

Fear of Starting

Am I too old to start a blog?

My view from the bluff-St. Paul

In 2016, I was fired from my job. I had worked at this organization for almost three years and had put a lot of myself into it. It was a “big” job: I felt important, I was recognized in my community, and we were doing important things, I thought. I was devastated.

But,

I picked myself up, licked my wounds, and began to look for another “big” job. Maybe this would be the best thing that ever happened to me, right?

Spoiler: It wasn’t.

No one would hire me. I sent dozens of resumes and cover letters and applications in – to vast radio silence.  Eventually, a former colleague of mine posted a part time job for which I got an interview and she hired me. Things were going great for a while.

But in November of 2017, I had a mental health crisis.  My husband, therapist, and I decided I should go to a hospital mental health program. I went back to work in December but I was forced to quit my job in February for health reasons.

In April, I had spine surgery and then six weeks of recovery.

Since then I haven’t looked intensely for a new job, partially because my family’s financial situation improved and partially I wasn’t sure I wanted the same kind of work anymore.

As it turns out, not making money, not doing work, has been challenging for me. I never put much stock in myself as a home-maker – I hate doing household chore, don’t do them well, and don’t keep up with it to boot. I put a lot of my sense of self into working. Aside from maternity leave, there have been very few breaks in my employment history as far back as high school.

Until the year I was fired.

My self-esteem plummeted those two years and I had to search for things to look forward to in order to get to the next day. Sometimes all I could come up with was my morning coffee. In the days leading up to my partial hospitalization, I took up a random craft project I had started several years ago. I needed something right in front of my face to focus on. Small finite tasks I could do and complete and see something build from it. I began to feel better.

After the program I continued. Then I remembered I had been big into crafts in junior high, and as a young adult. I had dabbled in paper making in my twenties and knitted in my thirties. All these things helped me deal with the struggles with self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. I realized I needed to do, to make. So, I began to craft in earnest.

Now I am working with making books, altered book art, cross stitch and embroidery. I also decided to get back to writing. I had long wanted to write but developed a strained relationship with it after college.

So here I am. Crafting, writing, making. I hope that my experiences resonate with you, or give you comfort, or perhaps someone to laugh with or at as you struggle with anxiety, stress, depression, or simple boredom.