The Life-Affirming Cringey-ness of Past Failures

rainbow clay
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

I got it in my head several years ago that I fancied myself a sculptor of sorts, or at the very least, a kitschy clay artist.  I spent some money, bought some Sculpey (a weird, Costco-esque bulk block of white clay), and spent a lot of time crafting some charms.  Charms that I sculpted, baked, painted, and deigned good enough to photograph and put up on StoreEnvy for sale.

Before the store ever went live, though, things in my life got hectic and complicated, I got pregnant, and most of my creative hobbies got shoved to the back-burner until fairly recently.  It’s only in the last few months – probably around five years later, at this point – that I began to become interested in clay work again.  I asked for and was gifted new Sculpey tools and glaze for Christmas, and started work on several projects just after the new year.

Now, in the intervening years, despite not working with Sculpey, I’ve watched videos of other artists creating art using clay, I’ve scoured Pinterest boards and read how-to articles, and recently have even found some books on the subject.  When I finally sat down after a week of preliminary sketches and brainstorming, the end result of my first attempt was a reflection of several years of absorbing and processing that information and those techniques, and it showed.

I was so dang happy with how my project turned out, I got online and logged into my old StoreEnvy account, and hey, what do you know, there were all my old projects, photos and listings just waiting to go live.

Oh… my God.  How did I ever think those thing looked good enough to sell??

Now, let’s backpedal a bit.  The things weren’t atrocious.  They were recognizable for what the were supposed to be (cupcakes, in this case).  And in most cases, the ideas – and even the designs themselves – were solid.  Like, yes, these were good concepts.  Even my overly critical, knowing-what-I-know-now self could recognize that.

But the execution was very, very emblematic of what I was talking about in a previous post – the mad rush to produce, at the cost of the quality of the product.

I admit, I had a moment of embarrassed realization – oh God, I plastered pics of these things all over Facebook.  I showed them to people, proudly.  I gave a few as gifts.  Oh, man.  Don’t even look at me.

It took me a few days to really process it, but eventually I realized a few things.

  1.  I am my absolute worst critic.  I nitpick and analyze and overthink everything.  I am/was likely the only person to notice all but the most egregious flaws.
  2. Part of the reason I am judging myself so harshly in hindsight is because I am looking at my creations through the eyes of someone who knows so much more.  I know more about using tools, about texturing techniques, about tinting and shading.  I am judging work done by someone who wasn’t privvy to any of that knowledge, and who was doing they best they could with what they knew at the time.
  3. That I can look at my past work and be able to ennumerate the aspects in which I could improve, and explicate in specific detail how and why I would make those changes is a very real testament to the fact that I have grown as an artist.
  4. The very fact that I can look at my work – despite my own hypercritical tendencies – and see value in the concept proves that my ideas, even in the nascent stages, have value.
  5. However embarrassing I find the photo evidence of my past failures, I now have a blueprint to create new and improved versions, should I chose to do so;and if not, I have the skills to move on and develop new, fresh ideas.

I’ve always been told, usually with reference to writing, never to actually get rid of your work, as you never know when you’ll use it.  What usually isn’t said (maybe it’s meant to be understood?) is that the further along you get in your creative journey, the less likely you are to use any of your previous creations in their original form – you will outgrow them, you will move beyond them, and they will seem embarrassing and inelegant to you.

But they will remind you that, once upon a time, you had this thought, and maybe it was a good thought, and maybe it’s time to revisit it with all the things you’ve learned in the interim.  Maybe this time you can get it to work.

And if nothing else, at least it reminds you of how far you’ve come.

On Niche Blogging and Authenticity

Oh, please, please don’t call me a “mommy blogger.”

No offense to mommy bloggers – I follow a lot of them.  I read them.  I enjoy them.

I just don’t feel like one of them.  Not really; not deep down.

I’ve never been good at keeping a niche blog.  There are a lot of people who do it and do it well, but to me it’s always felt like, in order to be “successful” as a niche blogger, I need to turn off (or at least tamp down) certain parts of my personality.  People who were following me for a particular brand of content wouldn’t, I figured, be interested in anything I posted that deviated from that “brand.”

When I was a creative writing blog, I attracted a lot of followers who were also creative writers.  And that was great; lots of them as interesting insight into the writing market, or wrote beautiful poetry, or intriguing short stories.

But all they wrote about – overall, for the most part – was writing.  And I felt like I, then, should only write about writing.

But I also wanted to write about cooking.  And art.  And parenting, and work, and family, and gender, and anxiety, and crafts, and fandom, and being a geek.  And I felt like I couldn’t, because no one was following me for that.  That’s not what my followers wanted.

Eventually, it became the question of, do I write about what I think my followers want, or about what I want?

Niche blogging is great.  I love being able to find blogs that go in depth about a topic I’m interested in, and reading and absorbing, and learning more about a particular thing.  But I’m not good at compartmentalizing my life – I love so many things.  I love children’s books, and cooking, and crafting, and organizing, and parenting.  I love writing, and fandom, and conventions, and my job.  I love bargain hunting, and thrift shopping, and home decor.  And yes, I love parenting.

So if you have to label me, “lifestyle blog” might be a little closer to the truth, since I write primarily about my life, and the things near and dear to me.  And honestly, while I welcome (and in fact, invite) others to follow me, I write for myself first and foremost.  I write to document my thoughts and catalog my ideas.  I write to keep track of my progress and remind myself of things that are good in my life.

But I think, even more accurately, would be “personal blog.”  Like, a truly personal blog.  Or at least, that’s what I’d like to be.  It’s what I’d like to return to.

Anyone else grow up on LiveJournal? Or Xanga, or Diaryland?  Do you remember, on the best day, how wonderful it felt, to meet and connect with people on a personal level?  How many bands, and books, and shows, and hobbies and interests did you wind up falling into because someone on your Friend’s List blogged about it incessantly?  Personal blogging – on LiveJournal for me, specifically – got me into Supernatural and Doctor Who; it got me attending conventions and helped me find awesome roomies for them; introduced me to Ludo, and The Decemberists, and Muse.  I got to read about people’s lives, live vicariously through the cool things they did while they were on summer break, or laugh conspiratorially over the stupid, mundane crap that took up their Friday nights.

So, ok, back in the heyday of LiveJournal and Xanga and all the rest, most of my generation were angsty teenagers sans a filter, and maybe I don’t want to return to that.  You can never truly, fully go home again, right?  I’m past that, past meandering “what I did today” daily posts, past passively-aggressively posting song lyrics and ending the post with “you know who you are,” past posting five or six random, non-sequitur one-liners in the middle of the night.

But I still want the freedom to talk about – thoughtfully, and probably with fewer XD emoticons – whatever the hell pops into my head.

Work.  Marriage.  Parenting.  Fandom.  Food.  Weight and body issues.  What I’m learning.  Goals.  Music.  My writing.  Craft ideas.  Gushing over books, or movies, or TV.  Gender.  Mental health.  Just… life, you know?

And I want to be concerned with readability – is this well-written and coherent? – but not marketability.  I don’t want to be a product.  I want to be a person, and I want to meet other people.

I’m here, everyone.  Let’s connect.

First the Forest, Now the Trees (an Update)

organizing my lifeI have trouble compartmentalizing my life.  I guess it makes some sense; in some ways, the different threads of my life weave together in a really obvious, organic way.  The state of my home, for instance, affects how stressed I feel, which affects my sleep, which affects my work performance, which affects my feelings of self-worth, etc. etc., but by the same token, struggling slightly or hitting a stumbling block in one area shouldn’t completely waylay my progress in any given other.

But it often does.  This is a continuing issue I need to work on – dusting myself off after a set back, moving forward, and forgiving myself for stumbling.  But it’s also very much an internal struggle that is not the focus of this entry, though I do imagine I will write about it, eventually and possibly extensively.

But right now, I’m still in the early stages of macro-organization: just establishing a routine for the most mundane, bare-bones, most-people-don’t-think-twice-about-these-things aspects of my life.  Checklists to make sure I take a shower, pick out my clothes, brush my teeth, get a good meal in, do my chores, and have a chance to have some creative/restorative time to myself.  As I’ve said before, having to lay out many of those things probably seems ridiculous to some people, but for me, I need to see it written down in black and white and be able to check it off to ensure it gets done.

I used my checklists for the first time today – specifically, my Morning Routine checklist and my Before You Go checklist.  It was not a perfect first outing; my “wake up at 5:30” didn’t get checked off (I woke up at 6:05), but hey – I did morning pages.  Nothing, sadly, got checked off under Get Moving, but I glanced at the list – pinned to the fridge – as I prepped breakfast, and I downed a big glass of water to start the day.  And, I remembered everything I needed to bring to work, including earbuds and a book (which I always forget) that made the two hour-plus-long waits that bookend my work shift infinitely more enjoyable.

So, not perfect.  But without those lists?  So much worse.  I’d have been plagued with morning breath, dehydrated, stressed out, and bored, all before one pm.  I’d say Day One was a success, in that, the system works.  The system made my day objectively better.

And maybe it’s time to move on to more focused aspects of my life – specifically, my relationship with food and exercise.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a whole extensive history there – which, again, I will share eventually – that is not going to be suddenly resolved with schedules and checklists; internal struggles and issues that will take time and support to overcome.

But my usual pitfalls – not being able to “find time” to exercise, not having a plan for any given meal, not having healthy snacks on hand (whether I’m home or out and about), not looking at restaurant menus ahead of time to be informed of options – these are all things that can be, at the very least, helped with some thoughtful planning to create useful resources.

My first steps – I’m back at the gym, and I’m making a pick-and-pair chart for lunch and breakfast foods designed to maximize satiety and mindfulness, and minimize impulse binges on crappy foods.

Wish me luck.  I’ve now got an indication that this system is effective, so I’m hopeful.