Sunday, July 29, 2012

Finding a Unique Artistic Style

One of the things I struggle with as an artist is finding a unique artistic style. It's essential to being known and recognized by the art community. Without a recognizable style, an artist simply fades into the background with the tens of thousands of other artists trying to make it. So I've known for several years now that I need to choose and develop a style, but I can't even choose a medium.

I've always loved painting. Paint is unpredictable, fluid (literally and figuratively), and the outcome is a direct result of my imagination and the way my hand manipulates the brush.

But I also love photography. I love the cripsness, the color, the people I photograph. I love the element of theater and whimsy. I love that I can make something completely ridiculous look so real. And I love that people can relate to it because it resembles some form of real life.

So how do I choose a medium? And once I choose a medium, how do I develop a style? The only thing I do know is that my subject matter will always be the human form. There is nothing I enjoy creating more than representations of people and their bodies.

Maybe I could find some way to combine photography and painting.

Also...I'm working on a new website. I'm pleased with it so far except for the whole not having a style thing. It's kind of all over the place.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Learning to be Me: Day 5

I thought deactivating my Facebook would be much harder than it has been. I thought I'd miss the social interaction a bit more. Instead, I've noticed some very interesting and serious issues that Facebook created and  have generally enjoyed the freedom my profile deactivation has provided.

The biggest adjustment has been not updating my status. I've been keeping my thoughts largely to myself or sharing them only with people whom I happen to actually be speaking with. I realized that for  however long now, my thoughts have actually morphed into Facebook status-like blurbs. It seems the majority of my thoughts are perfectly tailored, often witty or pseudo-deep, one-sentence blips of information that I have deemed important enough to share with 600-something people all at once. I came to this realization two days ago while driving home from work. It startled me when I noticed it. When did my own thoughts conform to a style of communication popularized by an online social network? When did I stop thinking meaningfully and thoroughly and start thinking in a way that was easy to consume and easy to pass by? I don't want to cut my thoughts up into easy-to-digest morsels and hand-feed them to people who aren't interested in any more than that. I used to write long, thoughtful blog entries all the time (back in the Live Journal days). Somehow, Facebook has influenced me to put quantity over quality. That isn't how I want to think. I want to write things that inspire dialogue or real thought processes. I don't want my thoughts to require only a quick response or a meaningless gesture ("liking") by those who come across them. It means nothing.

So, Facebook, as of Day5, I'm happier without you. It is a bit strange, feeling like I can't keep up with peoples' lives. Then I realize I will keep up with those who matter. The rest will at least surprise me when I do get news of their lives, however long down the road.

I've also decided to start the self-discovery process. I thought I should start back at the beginning: adolescence. Before everything became internet show-and-tell or a rat-race for the most friends and approval, what did I like to do?

When I was much younger, I liked to draw. Correction: I loved to draw. I drew all the time. I drew everything. I made up cartoon characters, I drew flowers, I drew people around me. In middle school, I loved to draw. In high school, I loved to draw. It wasn't until my third year of college that I started hating it. I think I know why I began to hate it, but that post is for another time. For now...I'm going to try to get back to drawing. A very large chunk of me still hates it and wants very much to not draw, but I feel it's something I should at least try. I'm not quite ready to give up such a huge part of myself. I'm obviously in a major funk, and I'll just keep trying to get out until I'm successful.

So draw it is! I might share some of the new drawings I do with you in my next post, but maybe not. I do want to avoid the needing compliments issue.

Also, I've been emailing an old friend since my last post and have found it very thought-provoking, comforting, engaging, and all-around wonderful. I've missed this friend very much, but never truly realized the extent since we were Facebook friends. I forgot what real conversation feels like. I forgot what connecting was really like.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Why I'm Leaving Facebook

(I have color coded this post because it's obnoxiously long, and I feel you should know what you're getting yourself into before you start reading randomly. If you only want to read the bits about Facebook, you can find them easily. Paragraphs in blue specifically relate to Facebook (there are two separate blocks of blue). Paragraphs in green relate to experiences in my life that have caused me to arrive here. Paragraphs in dark pink are important to the dialogue. Paragraphs in purple are general "I feel..." or "I behave like..." paragraphs. The rest is introduction or non-essential thoughts.)

I announced on my Facebook that I would be deactivating it by the end of today, and also said I would provide an explanation here. This is a difficult topic for me, and one that I usually don’t discuss for a whole host of reasons that will also be addressed here. I also suspect many, many other people have the same issues and are also too afraid to talk about them, and I hope this might pull back the curtain, so to speak, for a lot of people who just need to “get it all out.”

First, the very quick reasons that will be explained more in-depth here:

1. Every time I go on it, I’m reminded that I’m inferior, that I’m generally not liked, and that I’ll never measure up. 
2. I’m deactivating it because I need to learn to like myself.

When I say “I” in this post (and I will do so a lot), I fully understand that I am not alone, and that this is not just an issue pertaining to me. I do not say “I” in a conceited way, and I don’t think it’s “all about me” in life, however, I’m at the point now where I need to talk about this issue. I need to talk about how it’s affected me, and how much it continues to affect me even though it shouldn’t. I need to talk about it because the fact that virtually no one knows what I feel (even though I suspect many people feel it themselves) and the feelings themselves, seem to physically hurt at times.

I also know that there are people who say that because everyone, or most people, feel this way, those who talk about it just want attention or are being overly dramatic. To some degree, it’s probably true. However, I feel that a lot of people are suffering in silence and letting insecurities build inside of them as a result. I’ve been holding my problems in for so long that lately I’ve literally felt like bursting. I’m stressed, often filled with anxiety. It seems that I spend about 40%-60% of my day with that rock-like anxious feeling in my gut. It makes me sick to my stomach. I’ve been chronically avoiding going out for over a year now. As a result, I’ve been incredibly grouchy with my poor husband, who puts up with my insecurities like a champ.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m talking about low self-esteem. I’m talking about the type of low self-esteem that constantly influences the decisions I make, the people I talk to, the thoughts in my head, the love for myself and others, how I handle criticism, and the endeavors I choose to (or not to) take up.

It’s easy to say, “Everybody feels that way,” and brush it off. It’s really, really hard to talk about it. I’ve been taking the easy road, and listened to a couple people very close to me feed me that line, and it’s never, ever helped. Never. So this time, I’m going to try the harder approach, and I’m going to talk about it. I can’t afford a therapist, so blogosphere…you’re my new therapist. Congratulations! At this point, since I’ve already typed up a whole page in Microsoft Word, I know the only people who are going to continue reading (Hey-O if you’re still with me!) are those who are close to me and genuinely care, the curious types who enjoy reading tedious monologues, and those who have the same self-esteem issues and feel this might help them. For that reason, I don’t feel guilty or like I’m being “overly dramatic” by posting this.

My entire life has been dictated by what others think of me, and it started with the first people I ever met. I always felt the most valued and loved when I got As on my report card or made Honor Roll in elementary school. I remember crying when I got Bs because I thought my parents would be disappointed in me. To me, others’ love for me was always conditional. Disappointment in me meant less love for me. Of course, I know now that my parent’s love for me is of the unconditional variety, but it’s still difficult to believe I’m that valuable to anyone. It’s even more difficult to change my habits; I still try to impress them way too much. I love my parents, and want them to be proud of me, but as my husband lovingly pointed out, I shouldn’t base my major life decisions off of “Well Dad said….” Don’t get me wrong: I believe that consulting my parents is a responsible and intelligent thing to do…there’s a lot of wisdom and experience there. But when I become incapable of doing what I want to do for fear of disappointing them, there’s something wrong.

I also want to stress that I had wonderful parents who always expressed their love for me…this has always been my problem and not theirs.

I’ve never been in the “in” crowd, and I don’t have a problem with that. However, until high school I was never in any “crowd” at all. I distinctly remember being told in elementary school (I think it was the third grade) that I wasn’t invited to M’s birthday party because there wasn’t room for me. I was the only girl not invited. In the fourth grade, I wasn’t allowed to join the Spice Girls fan club. I was constantly excluded from every group of kids. I called those girls in my class my “friends,” but if I didn’t, I would have nobody. So I settled for friends that were nice one minute, and then teased me and excluded me the next.

Middle school was no better. Amidst all of the ruthless bullying, in the 8th grade, my entire group of friends (a couple from the same elementary school class) decided one day to stop being my friends and start making fun of me instead. I still don’t know what triggered that event. I believe it was the most influential girl in the group who began it. After all, she loved Michael Jackson, and I let it slip one day that I thought he was crazy (this is partially funny, so if you laughed, it’s ok).

High school was different. I went to a performing arts high school and was accepted into their art program. Very few people from my middle and elementary schools went to my high school, and I had the opportunity to be different. Instead of being the dorky kid I’d always been, I decided to change myself. I didn’t change my beliefs or my religion, but I changed my demeanor. I began to act more extroverted. I laughed loudly, joined conversations, made friends, and was interested in all the same things my friends were interested in. Except, really, I wasn’t. I went through a whole anime phase because my friends liked it. I went to conventions, dressed up, watched hours and hours of it…all the while thinking, “I don’t really like any of this.” I did it because my friends did it. With some kids, it’s drugs or violence…for me…anime (again, you can laugh here).

College continued much the same. I went to on-campus Christian organizations, played sports, went out to eat, and spent hours and hours in my friend’s dorm room hanging out with the same group of friends for three years. The whole time, I didn’t really feel like I belonged. I felt like I wasn’t really wanted. By the end of the third year, things started to change. A particular incident solidified the idea that I wasn’t wanted, and it has never been fully resolved, though I’ve attempted to address the issue.

I feel like throughout my life, so many people have made the conscious decision to stop being my friends. I’m not talking about the slow drifting that people do as they go separate ways. I’m talking about being suddenly and painfully cut from someone’s life. Some of them gave no explanation…some wouldn’t even talk to me unless it was to make fun of me. Some of them did explain, though actually being told you’re no longer liked isn’t a very helpful explanation. Some friendships ended because of arguments, though I’ve never understood why an argument has to end a friendship. In my head, I’m just not important enough to those people to move on and forgive and forget (which really boggles my mind when all parties are equally guilty, but I digress). Then there are the ex-boyfriends who could provide no explanation for breaking up with me other than they just didn’t like me anymore. There is no worse feeling in the world, in my opinion, than to feel like at some point every person in your life will stop loving you. That is how I feel most of the time.

When I sign onto Facebook and see some of these old friends that have cut me out…well, you can imagine how it feels, and I don’t really know how to describe it. I'm sure many, if not all, of you have felt it. I could block them so they don’t appear on friends’ pages or, in some cases, in my own newsfeed, but I’ll always remember they’re there. 

More recently, there are the other friends a specific person and I shared a group with that I still consider friends. I’ll always think they know so-and-so isn’t my friend anymore, and they don’t really want to be either. It would explain the more-or-less sudden distance that always seems to be hovering between me and the rest of the group, like when the group gets back together for a night without alerting me (I’m obviously talking about a specific situation right there, and I’m trying not to…but it’s important). I feel like if I was important enough to them, they’d still want to spend time with me. I feel like if I address my insecurities about our friendship with them, they’ll think I’m crazy and definitely won’t want to talk to me.

And this brings me to Facebook (whew, finally)! Facebook is a breeding ground for insecurity. When I make a post, I compose and edit content based on what people will think about it. When I post a picture, it has to present a “me” that I’m not ashamed of. When I post a comment, I have to sound intelligent and put-together. Everything I post on Facebook is for everyone else. Conversely, when I look at other peoples’ posts, I often feel inferior, ugly, unintelligent, and like my life is in shambles.

Everyone has at least one Facebook friend that always posts perfectly edited photos (Instagram, anyone?) of their pretty china, or their place settings, or status updates about them and their perfect spouse because their marriage is so perfect, and so-on-so-forth. Nothing that person posts is ever about a struggle (unless it’s something that doesn’t reflect upon them in any way) or anything less than perfect. Everything in their lives always looks neatly manicured. And most people seem to eat it all up. The antiqued photo of their steeping tea next to their copy of Wuthering Heights has 127 “likes” and 47 comments spewing adoration. When I look at those photos, all I feel is depressed…depressed that my life will never be as meaningful as theirs…that I will never be as intelligent…that I will never accomplish as much as them…and that I will never have my life together enough to sit down with a cup of tea and read Wuthering Heights. I don’t even like tea…and cool kids like tea, so minus 10 points for the loser over here.

I’m completely aware that most of the people spewing comments of adoration are also insecure and feel similar things, but where I go overboard is trying to imitate the same posts that I hate so much. I made pretty things for the sole purpose of taking nice pictures and putting them on Facebook. After all, if people don’t see that I can make nice things, what’s the point of making them? People won’t care about me if I can’t make Martha Stewart-like cup coasters out of vintage doilies and miniature photo frames (hey, that’s kind of a good idea…). I equate compliments with a willingness to interact with me. No compliments = no one likes me. Then it gets a bit more ridiculous because I can’t take a compliment. When someone pays me a compliment, I say, “No, no…” and think “They’re just being nice because they feel bad.”

So that equation looks like this: (Being nice, but not interested in knowing me + receiving compliments) (no one likes me + no compliments) = no one really likes me…even the ones that pretend to. Now…I’m not very good at math, but I really gave that one a try. Essentially, the thought running through my mind practically every day of my life is that no matter what I do, I will never be good/cool/interesting/funny/pretty enough to have friends.

My initial response to that thought is, “Who cares if they like you?” It’s a valid thought…why should I care? Why let other people dictate how I feel about myself?

I just do. I don’t know why. I don’t know how to stop. I don’t know how to put my foot down and say, “Sara Ann, stop giving a crap what other people think of you and just be happy being yourself.” I say it, and then I feel like going into a corner and whimpering…because honestly, I don’t even like myself. And if I don’t like myself, how can I be happy being myself?

Until a week ago, I stopped going to church because I always felt like I wasn’t wanted. People my age in church are so darned cool with the v-neck tees and handmade bags from Africa and the Toms shoes. People very rarely came over to say hello…and when they did, I was so scared of them that the conversation dropped off awkwardly and they’d move on to someone who seemed infinitely cooler and prettier than me. I know that’s not what church is about, but to someone with social anxiety problems, it’s enough to scare them off. It makes sense when you look at the people in church and see that most of them are outgoing and beautiful…the shy and awkward people came a couple of times and then stopped. I don’t mean to be offensive to anyone…but it’s what I’ve observed, and simply my humble opinion.

And holy moly, the tears. When I’m criticized by my boss, parents, or friends…it’s Niagara Falls here because I just can’t seem to handle anyone being disappointed in me. For ANYTHING. The most embarrassing thing I’ve ever endured in my professional life was literally sobbing at work because my boss at the bank was unhappy with a mistake I made. It wasn’t even a big deal, but I really take those things to heart. I’m a perfectionist. I’m not a perfectionist because I want to never make mistakes, but because I don’t want other people to see me make mistakes.

I've strayed…back to Facebook. I’m deactivating it because every time I go on it, I’m reminded that I’m inferior, that I’m generally not liked, and that I’ll never measure up. I’m deactivating it because I need to learn to like myself. In order to learn to like myself, I have to stop comparing myself to others. Since Facebook seems to be a giant forum for screaming, “Look what I can do!” it’s probably a bad place for me to be while learning to have confidence. I’m also deleting it because it makes it WAY too easy to hide from real, live human beings. Without Facebook, I’ll be forced to spend actual time with people I love or want to get to know.

My biggest ambition for Facebook-freedom, though, is to spend time with myself. Since I’ve spent the last ten years basing my interests off of the people around me, I sort of don’t really know who I am anymore. I know I have this ability to make stuff…that’s cool…but I haven’t used it to express myself on my own terms in quite some time. I wouldn’t even know what to express anymore. I’ll probably also invest some more time writing long monologues similar to this one on my blog, here, but I’ll really have to examine my reasons for doing so.

I have been writing for way too long. If any of you actually read through this whole thing, I’m amazed, and I thank you. And I will try not to worry about how bored you were or how stupid I must sound, thought I’m already thinking it and I haven’t even hit “Publish” yet.

If any of you have had similar issues or thoughts, feel free to leave a comment. I think everyone who feels that way should have a safe place to let all their emotions run wild. By all means…go crazy if you want to. We’re all human, after all.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Next Projects

Hi again! I said in my last post that I'd share my new treasures with you, so here you go!

On Friday, after work, I went to a thrift store in Clearwater. They had tons of furniture to look through! It was a bit overwhelming...I really only got a good scan of everything. In the mess, I found two antique sewing machine tables with sewing machines still inside and an old record player cabinet.

This is the record player cabinet. I'm guessing it's from the late 70s or early 80s, but since I'm new at this, I'm not really sure. The sides are particle board and pretty water damaged. I may just rip them off and replace them with real wood. Those speaker covers are hideous, and will definitely be replaced. The whole thing is going to get a nice painting!

There's the record player! The man in the thrift store said it worked when he got it, but wasn't sure if it does anymore since it's been sitting outside. Once I figure out a safe way to test it, I'll see.

This is the older of the two sewing machine desks. It's in rough shape, but there's no major structural damage. I'll be removing the wood veneer, possibly removing those horrible handles (if they aren't stuck on too tight), sanding, painting, and installing a hidden storage container in the hole where the sewing machine once was. I'm also considering putting the hinges to the left top piece on the back, instead, and mounting a mirror on the inside of it. That way, when you open it, it becomes a vanity!

This is when the sewing machine was still inside. I have since removed it and plan on selling it. It's a 1938 Kenmore! It's so cool...I've considered keeping it, but my husband would kill me.

A closer look!

This is the second desk. I think it will make a great little storage side table or entryway table. A great way to hide keys, phones, wallets, and other door-side gadgets, yes?

Again, before I took the machine out. This is a White, I'm guessing from the 1960s. I couldn't find a list of models or production years for White brand sewing machines. The internet has a few for sale, a bunch of instruction manuals...but no years of manufacture. It's very frustrating! If anyone knows how to figure it out, the model number is down below....

Hopefully I can find a good home for this one, too. It needs some TLC that I'm not qualified to give!

The Kenmore's model number.

The White's model number.

I've already started cleaning them. Wednesday will be sanding day, and this weekend should see some priming done! I'm not exactly sure what to do with the record player cabinet yet. If the record player still works, I don't think I could gut it...I'd have to just make it more awesome.

To recap: the first desk will become a vanity, and the second desk will be great little storage side table or entryway table. I can't wait to get working on them again!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Wrapping Up Some Projects

It's been awhile since I updated my little DIY projects, so I figured it was time!

The last DIY post I made, I spray painted some frames to hang some pressed flowers in. Here's a reminder if you forgot:

Well, I finally pressed some flowers and hung them up!

The red frames in the background are also new ($5 each from Ross!). I put two of the old postcards I bought in Paris in them. I think they look very reminiscent of home and family.

The weekend after my last post, we received an old secretary desk from my mother-in-law. She purchased it from someone who was moving. It was in pretty bad shape. The wood was cracking along the sides and it was very dirty. I couldn't resist, though...I'd always wanted to try refinishing old furniture. I took "Before" photos, but they got lost somewhere. He is a photo of a similar desk, in better shape than ours was, but you get the idea:

Just add some cracks on the side and a lighter wood stain!

After a day and a half of toiling (I don't like to take things slowly), I ended up with this!

I put some wood glue in the cracks on the side, but the crack are still very visible. It just adds to the character, right?

I dont have a knob for the top yet. I want to replace all of the hardware, eventually, but it's not in the budget right now.

Not much up top, but there are a few candle-making supplies in there (I make soy candles).

The drawers are perfect for holding candle containers (I love making teacup candles!) and soy wax!

It's not perfect, but I'm quite fond of it. It's great for holding craft supplies in a non-plastic-drawer way. You just get sick of plastic drawers after a while!

I have some new projects now. I found some real treasures at a thrift shop in Clearwater, and I'm really hoping the damage that's been done to them is undo-able. I have a lot of moisture-damaged veneer to remove (I'm not looking forward to that), a lot of sanding to do, and a lot of painting! New post soon with photos of my new projects!