As I think about this past strange year (wondering if all years seem strange as you leave them and shoot out the other side), I realize that I have done something really unusual: I’ve actually checked off a giant number of things I Have Always Wanted to Do. The last time I did this was just before Gin got married, the year before the nest, which was already shredding a bit, really started coming apart in chunks. Those were big dreams I checked off: taking the family to Paris and to Disney World among them. Last chance on those things, miraculously grabbed before they passed me forever.
This is unusual because I hardly ever actually get around to doing anything. Ever. No, that’s inaccurate. What I do is, I get an idea, buy all the raw materials (enough to do dozens), then never do anything with any of it. Good in theory: when the urge hits, you’re prepared; you ready to act. Unless something else – anything else – gets in the way.
List of things: 1) Just go ahead and publish all my own books. Couldn’t be harder or more heart breaking than submitting them to publishers – or now, agents – a soul-sucking hobby if ever there was one. 2) Drafting a pattern for stuffed horses. 3) Designing burned and painted pieces of furniture. 4) Working with gourds – burning and painting. 5) Just madly stitching up crazy dresses for Andy. 5) Putting my Parents’ and Sibs’ life history into a hardbound book. 6) Doing the hardbound book of my mother’s life and ancestors. 6) Making silky little stuffed bird ornaments. 7) Going to Zuni. 8) Reproduce Ginger’s sparkly star. 9) Paint the bathroom wall a joyful green. 10) Make Raven’s Haven’s crazy black Halloween cat. 11) Organize the whole house, going through every drawer and closet and cupboard and dealing with the things I always leave in place because a) I don’t know what to do with them b) they’ve become dear simply because they’ve always been there c) I can’t make up my mind to throw them away. 12) Make the gourd bells. 13)Take a real Parelli course with the horses.
I don’t know what it is that pushes a person over the edge of meaning-to-do-something into doing it. How many things do you have on your list? Why aren’t you doing them? Tell me, and maybe I’ll figure out why I haven’t. And in the process, figure out why, suddenly and relentlessly, I suddenly did do them. Some of them. When you see a gorgeous sunset, when it stops you in your tracks to stare and wonder – what mechanism is it that says, “You’ve seen enough. You can go now -”? What makes us suddenly have had enough of something? Or decide to pursue something? It’s a puzzle to me.
So this is what I ended up doing – and I say this helplessly, not with any pride or sense of accomplishment, really – and maybe I’m writing this so I’ll finally understand that I am NOT as useless as I believe myself to be:
1) I scanned the remaining 1500 pages of family photo albums—preserving maybe the last fifteen years of our history with the kids. It took six weeks to do all that. Then I set up two of the hardback books that will contain some of those pages – the yearly Christmas gift everyone pretends not to expect. Then I color corrected the photographs. Let’s see – how many of those? Average of four point something pictures per page? Over 6000 pictures. And I loved doing it. LOVE messing with Photoshop. But as I did these, I couldn’t help but think how much better I am at it now than I was three years ago when I started – and how I should go back and fix those first coupla books I’d already given the kids. Anyway, that took through August.
2)Almost at the same time, I had to figure out inDesign again – and boy, had I forgotten everything about using it. In fact, for the first half hour, I sat in front of the computer screen, trying to figure out how to start a new document, weeping in frustration. I finally figured out the basics. And then I bought a membership in Lynda.com to learn the tricks to using that program, and then the Photoshop tricks, stuff you don’t learn by stumbling on it. And started watching Lynda every time I sat down to eat
3) But before that, I had to read every one of my manuscripts and out-of-print books, edit them myself, find patient friends who are smarter than I am to copy edit (you will be blessed in my heart forever, you darling, long-suffering, precious ones). Then take the stuff out of the word processor (and some of the older manuscripts I literally dug out of the computer memory with a spoon) so I could into them into InDesign. Then reformat every one of them – and there were - how many – four? Set up styles for paragraphs and characters and chapters. Then learn how the inDesign file had to be configured for publishing in three different ebook file formats – then for the paperback publisher and the hardback publisher. And get the Library of Congress numbers and the copyrights and ISBNs and the rest of it.
4) Then I had to figure out how to let people know the books are there – merchandize or whatever, which I still haven’t figured out, and which I have pretty much given up on. I set up a Facebook author page. Redid my old website, consolidating two of them, actually – redesigning pages and restructuring content. But then, maybe I just did all this because I needed to have the books in my own hands? An awful lot of hours of brain-breaking thinking just for a couple of books to put on the shelf.
5) I stripped and painted the bathroom wall. After all that waiting and meaning to do it, I chose a color and just did it. SO much easier to do it than to see it undone for the last three years and MEAN to do it.
6) After that, or maybe during – no. During. I made the seventeen camels, one at a time every evening through June. Dressed them in October. Didn’t realize till then that I really had needed to make something more like thirty eight of them.
7) Set up and published a small hardback volume of pictures of Mom when she was young for Dad – on mother’s day, I think. I do the family publishing through blurb.com
8) Finally figured out the wood burner I bought two years ago. Cleaned up the poor little unfinished stool that has been kicking around our house since Chaz was tiny, drew on it with a pencil – and then burned in the lines and painted the shapes and varnished the whole thing till you could drive a steamroller over it without scratching it. Later did three more stools for grandchild presents.
9) Did two tiny gourds, burned and painted festively – and turned them into Christmas ornaments.
10) Drew what I fondly thought would be a good pattern for a stuffed horse. Made it in muslin. Drew it again. Made it again. And drew it again and again and again – eight models before I had it. Then I made ponies. WOO-HOO. That only took a couple of weeks, the making of the pattern, I mean. Now I can make ponies whenever I want. Which is good, because I’d gathered enough fabric to last years.
11) Drew a pattern for birds. Made 2 silky birds. YAY!!! Even invented a new tail (new to me).
12) Inspired by Donna, who flew out here to play with Rachel and me and who taught us to make baskets and deer and work with reeds, I decided to make 40 reed deer, a couple a night through the autumn. Didn’t take long to finish that many. Wasn’t hard. I have watched more TV this year than I have in my entire life. And considering how lousy most TV is, it was hard going to dig up enough stuff to last through all the camels and deer and lions and donkeys and foxes I did at night. But I should have made 60 deer.
13) Took the mountain of almost-right glitter, and almost-right yarn and almost-right wooden star blanks and tried to replicate Ginger’s star. Didn’t ever do it, but ended up with about ten almost guys that sparkle pretty well and shed glitter and micro-beads over everything.
14) Made the black cat. It was SO easy. So quick. So fun to make. After sitting there, looking at that pattern on line for years, then finally buying it and having it on the studio table for another year – simple. So I made a few of em. Chaz is so greedy. I can’t show her or Chelsea anything.
15) I also woodburned some wooden easter eggs and a picture frame – those were the first experiments. And I still like them. So they count.
16) Then I made Andy a dress. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. What I wanted to do was a wild, crazy combination of fabrics with a full skirt – just on the fly. But it was a beginning. And I drafted the pattern myself, borrowing from other dresses and pieces of patterns I dug out of the garage loft storage from the old days when I used to make clothes.
17. We went to Zuni on the way home from being with Gin. Went there, met artists, saw the black mountain, slept at the Inn. WE DID IT. And it was wonderful because of Jocelyn and Les.
And I think that’s all. But the thing about all this is: the check marks. Amazing check marks. Box:check. Box:check. Box: check. I went back through this little Steno notebook where I keep lists of ”DO NOT FORGET that you want to/have to/should do this” things. It is the newest in a long line of these notebooks, and yet the first list in it is dated November 2005. And as I went through the lists, I checked of boxes that had been gaping reproachfully for years and years.
So why? Why 2012? Do NOT say, “Oh, my gosh – she’s tying up loose ends. SHE’S GONNA DIE.; somehow, mystically, she knows it.” Because I better not be dying any time soon. I have too many animals to worry over yet, and kids to sew for, and books to write (maybe) and that mountain of raw materials to make up. Still, the fact that I actually DID some of these things astounds and exhausts me.
My hope for this year?
Peace. Peace and love – and just enough doing to be fun.
I’ll put that on the list.
I just wonder. Was last year kind of weird for you?