RSVP: Use the Good Stuff

I announced a reboot of my podcast RSVP Stationery Podcast awhile ago. The first of the new season’s episodes is out, and I have to say it’s a banger.

The idea behind the reboot is that I take a topic, in this case, Using the Good Stuff and I interview and discuss the topic with 4 to 8 (maybe more) people. I use a framework of the same questions, but in true RSVP fashion we go on tangents.

I’m pretty excited by how this first season of RSVP went. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have in conducting the interviews. 

State of the Art: Notifications

I’ve turned almost all of the notifications on my phone off, and I never agree to them on my laptop. Why? The little dots fill me with anxiety, dread, and a constant urge to tap them open to deal with them.

I’ve been a proponent of “Inbox Zero” for years. I used to go into work, grab my cup of coffee and breakfast and immediately tackle the inbox- all the email that could be deleted was deleted, any email that could be given an answer in 5 minutes or less was answered during my coffee time, anything that required an action or a longer more thought out reply was scheduled to be completed as soon as possible. If I couldn’t answer an email because I was waiting on someone else, I sent a reply with that information and added a “nag/follow up” time to my day. This took maybe 15 to 30 minutes of my time and it made my day much better. I would also check my email at lunch and then after lunch. Email was never checked in the last hour of the shift.

Then came the creation of notifications.

This meant that when an email arrived a notification dinged on my devices and my work computer.

Then I got my self and iPod Touch. I snagged it for listening to music. But it also came with those damn red circles filled with numbers. The sight of them on my screen triggered my need to process the notifications to get rid of the red dots. In the early days of twitter and facebook this was nigh impossible. I’d deal with the notification only to get a friend in a different time zone going through and commenting on everything in my feed. My zero would climb rapidly to 20 and 30.

I found myself powerless to ignore the red circles.

So I turned them off.

For everything.

At first it was more anxiety inducing, what were my friends going to do if I wasn’t IMMEDIATELY available to them? Would I lose out on some of the custom book binding business? Would I lose followers on the socials?

I quickly learned that the answer to all of those questions was that it would all be fine. The pressure to immediately respond was in my head, and most of my friends were okay to wait until lunch or after my shift. Twitter waited. Facebook waited.

Waiting wasn’t going to cause the end of the world, or my business. It did slow things down. I think things would have been different for me if I hadn’t had to have the 40+ hour a week job, but such is life. We make choices based off our lives in the moment, and I learned a great deal of valuable information working in the various jobs I’ve had over the years.

Why do I bring this up now?

Well, damn the news is all sorts of messed up. We’ve got Florida attempting to control the language and speaking of it’s people. We’ve got Texas denying medical care to transgender folx. And we’ve got Russia starting a war. Not to mention social media controlling narratives and getting a Cheeto elected. It’s a lot to take in and it can be overwhelming.

When it comes to the news and notifications I treat it similarly to Inbox Zero. I sit down with my morning cup of coffee and breakfast and I read the news. For me news includes my Feed Readers (I use Feedly and the Old Reader, this way I can follow several hundred blogs and not go over the reader limits), Twitter and several Morning Brew newsletters. If I don’t have enough time to review or read them all, I don’t.

My goal is to stay informed about a variety of things going on in the world, without them overwhelming me. Though I have to say that the three things I mentioned above all feel very personal to me. This isn’t the place to detail my existential dread, but I’m feeling a lot of it. But I’m also not allowing myself to dive into and endless doom scroll of reading ALL THE NEWS. When I get overwhelmed with the news I tend to shut down. My brain goes blank and I find it impossible to get anything done, let alone my creative work. These are the times when I turn to things like rolling out gesso on canvas or coloring pages of my journal with watercolor.

Will turning off notifications work for you? I don’t know, all I know is that it helps me.

Currently I have notifications on for: text messages and weather alerts. That’s it on my phone. The only alerts on my laptop are for when it needs to be reset or has some sort of maintenance needed. Same for my Kindle.

Continue reading

State of the Art: Getting to It

After all my posts about material snobbery, I had myself a little pep talk about just getting to it. When it comes to visual art I’m pretty easily able to just get to it, but when it comes to writing, well, not so much.

I cleaned out my reading nook, an area in the house, not an electronic device. The reading nook functions as a space where I drink tea, read, and write. IN the nook I have a couple of book shelves. The shelves are filled with my professional books about art therapy, when I had a traditional office those lived there. Now they are at home. I also have all my art books.

On a single small shelf are my writing books. There are only a handful but they live closest to the chair, where I can grab them and muse on their pages. Also on these small shelves live my composition notebooks. Not the empties, but those I’ve filled with my writing. I had to stop myself from writing BAD there. The writing isn’t bad, it mostly just a series of shitty first drafts. The other half of the comp books are filled with what I call my story bibles- character snippets and outlines. I write about the settings and people in the books, name ideas and the such. IF I made post it notes or index cards, I stick these into the story bible.

Anyway, after cleaning out my nook, I sat with my story bibles and novels that I wrote over the pandemic.

Surprisingly they aren’t half bad. Honestly, I’m not sure why I was so hard on myself. I mean, the pandemic, work stress, and all that contributes but these stories are at least half as good as some of the stuff I’ve read recently.

Maybe because things are going well- work is good, my family is good, and I’m not feeling the pressure of the world, I’m feeling better about my life and thus better about  my work.

I took my long weekend to take a story that has been stuck in my head on and off since I started a rough outline and character sketch and I reworked the sketches so they fit my ideas now, and then I hacked out a rough outline. After that I started to write.

All this makes me wonder about what it takes to do our creative work and how it changes as we age. When I was in my early 20s, I made art all the time. I produced zines. Because I was in my early 20s my life was a mess, but it never stopped me from creating. I used anything I got my hands on to make art. I stole photocopies at work and made my own screens for screen-printing. I experimented. I moved around.

Art was a constant. Writing was relegated to blogging.

And that worked for me for a long time. I hadn’t had an urge to write fiction in forever. I made time for the things I had urges for- art and blogging.

I’m not sure my point, but a good question is what art do you have urges to create? Make time for them, allow yourself to create and make.

I’ve always held the belief that for those of us with creative urges, it’s imperative to our mental health that we follow them in some manner. Ignoring the creative urge will only leave us bitter and unhappy.

Remember creativity in one area will feed creativity in another. Continue reading

State of the Art: Material Snobbery is Perfectionism

I’ve been having a series of great conversations about using the good stuff as I reboot RSVP as a solo project. I’ve been able to have in depth conversations with people I wouldn’t have these conversations with otherwise. It’s pretty special to me.

As I have these conversations ideas and thoughts come up. I try to make brief notes about them as we chat. These little ideas sometimes blossom into ideas for the blog(s) here or on Ko-Fi.

Using the good stuff is important to me on a number of levels, and the stories I’ve shared with my friends as part of RSVP are all part of it.

One story that I shared in the early stages of the conversations was about a friend who scoffed at my fountain pen. I was very excited about it and was talking to her about how smooth it was on  the paper I was using. She had the blank look of a person who didn’t quite get it. At the end of my pretty excited ramble she help up a Bic Stik, the worst of all the Bics (hell, get a Crystal for crying out loud) and said something along the lines of “This works just fine.” With a snide tone.

She was right, a Bic Stik will work just fine. It won’t be enjoyable but it’ll get words on a page.

It’ll do.

This is in part where material snobbery gets in the way of creation. Will I use a Bic Stik? Sure. Will it kill my wrist? Yes, it will.

When my quad core fancy laptop sang the blue screen of death song, I was sad and immediately wanted to replace it with another fancy high end PC. But I also realized, I don’t need that kind of power for the work I do on my laptop. I write words, barely edit pictures, barely edit audio (RSVP records pretty cleanly IMO), and layout my zine in Publisher. I don’t edit video anymore, so I really don’t need 8 gigs of RAM and a terabyte of storage. Instead I got a laptop that was cheap and handles what I do now- all of what I listed above. It bothered me for a hot minute, then I got over it, and just did what I had been doing- writing.

Here’s the thing, if you really want to create you will. You’ll find a way, if it’s with a fancy fountain pen, a cheap composition notebook, a chrome book, or a Bic Stik you stole from your DayJob.

I think that sometimes we spend a lot of time exploring new materials, new tools as a form of creative block. Maybe just maybe we’re looking for a magic bullet of creativity in a new fountain pen, new ink, new notebook, new pencil, new whatever. Maybe we’re also looking for a thing to blame if the creative juices never flow- I couldn’t create because this THING won’t work right!!!

Maybe those of us who collect supplies need to sit down with one supply and get to know it, and get to creating.

How many of us who want to write look for the perfect distraction free tool to type on? Or the pen with the right flow? The pencil with the right smoothness? The notebook that functions properly with whatever we throw at it?

What if the right thing is to just get to it? Stop with the excuses.

I write all this because I’ve done all this. And It’s a difficult thing to reflect on. I have had fallow times where I don’t create because I’m not in a mental space to do so, and rather than admit that, I buy pens, ink, pencils, and notebooks to fill the void.

The real question is, do any of you see this in yourself? It’s a thing to journal about for sure.

State of the Art: Battling Material Snobbery

Now that material snobbery has taken hold of my brain I battle it in the best way I know how- by focusing on the art.

Last week I had a moment where my entrenched material snobbery hit me head ON. I was taking part in an art prompt with my coworkers when I realized that the paints we’d been provided with were…. not my usual brand. Further we were given only the primary colors plus white and black.  I was having trouble mixing the colors I wanted and was getting frustrated.

I wanted to run to my studio and grab a package of acrylics I ordered for a group and use all the colors I couldn’t mix.

After a bit of frustration I focused on what I COULD do with what I had on hand. The image ended up working pretty well. I used cups to press circles of paint onto my canvas and little creamer cups to press perfect dabs of color all over.

In the end I had fun.

No matter what tools I have on hand I can always find a way to make them work in some way. It might be different than my initial plan, but it’ll work. This is what happens when you let yourself be flexible, and look at the possibilities instead of the limitations of the material at hand.

I try to remember that limitations are possibilities.

 

State of the Art: Material Snobbery

Material snobbery is an occasional problem for me. I grew up with access to a lot of materials, but not in quantity. I was occasionally gifted art materials, but in gift set size, which ran out quickly. I remember as a kid running out of one color and asking my Mom if we could get another tube. We couldn’t, for a number of reasons- we lived a hour away from the closest department store (Ames or Zayre’s back then) and a little further from the closest art supply store. The art supply store was very expensive and didn’t carry the kid grade materials I had.

Plus they were expensive.

In high school we had access to more materials, and I did at home too, but still the hour or 2 hour drive to the art and craft stores meant that if I ran out, I had to wait to get a replacement.

In high school I learned the difference between kids supplies and “real” artist grade art supplies. I was told, “Real artists use real art supplies, kid supplies are for kids.” We still had some student grade supplies- mainly colored pencils and paper, but we had professional inks, pens, pencils, and paint. My art teachers weren’t awful about us using other supplies and they even encouraged us to make art outside of school.

In college the professors were… Less forgiving of non-professional supplies. I bought Cotman watercolors for a watercolor class I took. The sneer on the professor’s face when I started to use them was visible, and a little shaming. He had lectured us about buying professional colors for the class, as they’d be easier to use and just look better. I remember shrugging and saying, “Well, this is the only way I could afford to buy all the colors for class.” He frowned and moved on.

He was right, professional watercolors ARE BETTER. They are easier to work with and you use less of the color than you do with student grade colors. But they were (back then) 3 times the price.

He should have suggested that students should get together and buy tubes of paint as a group and buy large palettes to squeeze out the tubes into. (This is what I do with my classes, a small blob of watercolor will last most students several paintings and I can make 10 high quality palettes out of tubed paints, rather than buy 10 cheap palettes of watercolors.) If 4 or 5 of us had banded together we’d have been able to afford the better paints.

Or even better started us off with 3 color palettes to challenge our mixing abilities. Now that I’m an adult and I’ve had the ability to buy an embarrassing number of tubed professional watercolors, I often stick to a 3 color palette. Three of even five color palettes are fantastic. They limit choices and speed the transfer of paint to paper. They are also much less expensive and allow even a beginner to afford professional colors.

We had many lectures about using archival materials, “Don’t use Sharpies.” “Don’t use Bic pens.” “Don’t use (fill in the blank).”

This led to a real sense of material snobbery. I’d gone from drawing with anything I could get my hands on, to worrying about the longevity of what I was putting into my sketchbooks. Which is not at all helpful when I’m trying to noodle out an idea. I really don’t want hang ups when I’m working on an idea.

A year after I graduated I was able to have Richard Lee come to my classroom for 2 days. He led a papermaking workshop on day 1 and a bookbinding workshop on day 2. With him, he brought an amazing journal- the cover was made of cast paper pulp in a face shape create from a mold pulled directly from ruins in Mexico. The journal was thick- 2 or 3 inches and roughly 8 inches square. On it’s own it was a work of art. In it he scribbled notes with an Ultra Extra Fine Sharpie and added dollops of Cotman watercolors from a little plastic palette.

I watched him as he sullied this priceless sketchbook with Sharpie. I asked him, “You’re using a Sharpie? They aren’t archival.”

He shrugged, “Well, I can get them anywhere. I was able to get them in Japan, China, and even in Mexico when I was traveling. They just work and I use a lot of them.” he shrugged again, “It’ll give the archivists something to do when I die.”

I’m not sure where I heard the phrase, “Buy the best you can afford, and use the shit out of it.” I like the concept. Buy the materials you like and use them.

Occasionally I find myself feeling bad about some of the materials I like- like cardstock. I really like printing onto thick cardstock. I mentioned that I was “only going to print on this cardstock” to a printmaking friend, and I think my tone of voice told him I was embarrassed by that, he replied, “What’s wrong with cardstock? Cardstock is some of my favorite stuff to print on.” It’s a funny thing when people unintentionally highlight a hidden thought pattern. It knocked me for a loop, and now when I think about stuff, I try to think about the GOOD aspect first, and why I like it. Rather than feel like I have to defend why I like something, I now point out, “I like this thing, it’s nice.” Continue reading

State of the Art: Allowing for Flexibility

I have not always been the most flexible of people, but allowing for flexibility in life helps avoid burn out and anxious thoughts.

I’m a person that thrive and loves routine. I get up in the morning at the same time every weekday and only allow myself to sleep in by about an hour on weekends. Then my days start off with the same routine. I have grumbled and groaned when my routine has been thrown off.

When I changed jobs the first time, it was into a very different position, and then I was able to get my new awesome job. The shifting routines from one job to the next job to the next kinda blew my routines into smithereens. Each job has had its own schedule, vastly different from the others. It had made the transitions difficult, but totally worthwhile.

It takes time to get used to a new schedule, it’s why I don’t change mine all that often.

Last week I went for my booster vaccine. I waited too long to get it and had a stronger reaction than if I’d gotten it earlier, or when I was first eligible. I slept from Thursday evening to Saturday at noon. Then was tired until Monday. The kind of tired where getting things done seems impossible or leads to a nap.

I’m not a napper.

But I had to allow myself to get well. While my brain is beating myself up for “just being tired.”

This kind of thinking isn’t helpful, at all.

I’ve learned that I need to allow myself these quiet times to relax, to try to quiet my mind from beating myself up. I’ll have time later to create what I want to create. If I’m late with art or packages, I email the people who ordered and let them know what is happening.

Another thing I need to remember is that balance is key to everything. Pushing out work when I’m not happy with it or when I’m too tired to think is a disservice to myself and to the art. There are times when being creative means sticking my nose into my sketchbook and doodling and letting my mind relax. Sometimes it also means I need to take a nap or read a book or not make art for a few days. And that’s okay. Sometimes work takes center stage and sometimes my own creative work does. It all evens out and balances in the end.

Taking time for oneself is essential to the creative process.

I need to remind myself of that every now and then.

State of the Art: Talking Myself Out of Things

It’s not often you find me talking myself out of things, but here I am telling you I’ve talked myself out of a free photocopier. If you’re scratching your head right now, let me explain.

I’ve wanted a photocopier for years. They are incredibly useful tools and when I was in college we had to run to the library to photocopy designs to paper for transferring with chemical or to rub the paper off. Copies cost 10 cents.

I made an off handed comment about how we should consider getting a photocopier for the printshop and the professor chuckled and agree but added that they’d have to have a place to lock it up because every print student and everyone who knew about it would use it. And frankly, she wasn’t wrong. I’ve noticed that every place where I’ve worked where a photocopier is left unattended it gets used for other purposes, from zines to personal copies to whatever.

But I’ve also wanted one of my own.

For art making but also zines. Photocopiers are just better for making hundreds of copies at a time. Further they can handle large quantities of cardstock in a way a laser printer can’t.

I find photocopiers for free on craigslist pretty often. I’ve stopped myself from inquiring about them for quite a few reasons- too big, too damaged, too whatever. Before we moved into our house part of that was, “Too big to move.”  And I can’t imagine how some of my landlords* would have responded to finding a 300 pound copier left behind.

A smaller sized machine showed up in the free section, smaller at still close to 300 pounds, with a tag of “needs work.” I asked about what kind of work it would need, if it would power on, if they knew what parts it would need, etc… The current owner was utterly unhelpful. So I asked some more questions, they answered, still not helpfully.

Then I considered, do I want this for work or myself. And how the hell would I get it onto the van and then into MY studio?

The answer, finally cleaning the basement and the help of some bulky friends.

In the end I’ve decided that I won’t get THIS machine but I’m going to keep an eye out for another smaller machine that will fit my needs better. Canon makes a few small sized machines that will handle cardstock and lots of copies pretty well. The toner doesn’t last as long but they are out there.

NOTE: After finishing this post, I took to Craigslist and FB Marketplace, and within 10 minutes found a free smaller sized copier for free, and with the sort of repair that I can do with ease. It’s in my shop, even better it didn’t require the help of Burly Friends to move it into the shop, I can carry it myself. Though not easily!

It turns out it didn’t even need a repair, it needed a setting changed and the toner cart needs to be slammed back into place on the regular. I suspect a weak clip somewhere. I’ll find it and fix it.

 

Continue reading

Reflection: Journaling for Clarity

Last year we were entering into our second of a pandemic and my workplace stopped hiring. I’ve worked in enough locations to know that when a company stops actively recruiting a hiring for a location it mean one thing- they are planning to close it. I spent a lot of time journaling for clarity.

Some companies are upfront about this, some, like my old workplace, are not. They gave us lines and glossed over things. IN the end they decided to close the place.

I started to look for another job, outside of the field that I had gone to grad school for, and despite my experience, I got no bites. I applied for 3 months with a few phone interviews. Mostly, my resume left people flat. My experience as a therapist didn’t mean a lot to many companies. Worse yet, my experience in HR, well that made people run away.

Anyway, in the process of bettering my resume I printed out every single journaling prompt about “finding the RIGHT job.” and other that exclaimed to help me “find my purpose.” And still more. 20+ pages of prompts and 8 pages of value words.

I followed every prompt, defined my values, and filled a journal. I used my journal like a tool- a tool that helped me to clarify my intentions and goals for 2020, but also look at where my previous jobs had failed me. I was able to see I took jobs right out of graduate school that didn’t fulfill my purpose, they were easy to accept and comfortable. Or in the case of my last workplace changed in the course of my employment from what I was looking for to something else entirely.

Finally I rewrote my resume, fixed my cover letter.

Serendipitously, at this moment the job opening for my current location opened up. It was a dream location. A job doing exactly what I wanted to do when I signed up for my masters program.

And here I am.

I would not have landed this job, for a great company, if I had not done the journaling.

I feel cheesy saying that journaling changed my life, but it did- in that it gave me the tools I needed to start making changes in my life to change my workplace and change my thinking around work. It also gave me the tools I needed to see where work was failing me as a person. It gave me the confidence to stand up for myself in the final days of my old job, to give an honest exit interview to leadership and to move forward with leaving on a positive note.

I plan on condensing the questions I used as well as the values journaling into an issue of Useful Journaling V2. The info is out there, and some googling and reading will net you some results but I’ll put the UJ and Less spin on it and make a USEFUL version of the tools available sometimes soon.

Journaling about values doesn’t just improve your thinking about work or your job search it can help you clarify a lot of other areas of life- hobbies, thing you want to read about, habits you want to increase or decrease, among many other things.

State of the Art: Working on Useful Journaling V2

Working on a Zine, like Useful Journaling V2 can start in many ways, but for me it starts with my pocket notebook and a pen or pencil. Here I record ideas and thoughts I have about making the zine.

Ideas for content are quickly jotted down and then if deemed useful are expanded upon in a larger notebook, usually an A5 or composition notebook. Whichever I’m using for my current longer notes and ideas. I don’t draft everything in these notebooks, when I do that I feel like I’ve finished my goal and don’t finish. Instead I expand the idea and gather information- research and what not. I write longer ideas out and organize the notes into something that makes more sense.NOte books and pencils laid out for display

After I organize my ideas into something that makes sense for me, I expand upon them in either a google doc or NovelPad. Here it really depends upon the final length of the idea. I use docs for all my blog posts and Ko-Fi posts, while longer things like some zines and fiction work all ends up in NovelPad. Though, that is with a caveat- some zines get typed up in Docs.

While I’m working on a zine idea I like to keep my notebooks with me at all times- I never know when a good idea is going to hit or when I’ll have a few minutes to develop an idea. I go through them at varying rates depending on the project and what I’m working on. A zine seems to move through notebooks slowly, while novels chew up notebooks and spit them out.

Nock CO Fodderstack XL, ready to go

Not for sale

Anyway. I though it interesting that I’m nearly finished wit a pocket notebook and just starting a composition notebook for this zine. I lost my last pocket notebook, and the one before that. Covid and WFH has really done a number on my ability to hang onto a notebook…2 notebooks and a fountain pen laid out for display

Let me be honest here, it’s not COVID it’s the new pants I’ve purchased that have crummy pockets for keeping notebooks in pockets.