Have you ever told a squirrel goodbye?
It was hard.
He is small. but brave.
I told him to try new things.
I very seriously do get attached to these creatures I make. You would too at 3 am.
It reminds me how you do what you have to do - no matter how hard it will be to function the next day.
I just never know what will come of an opportunity. Sometimes small steps turn into big adventures.
and I told the little squirrel that if he wins us this competition, I will be very proud of him. And, if he doesn't, I wont be mad that I lost so much sleep sewing his little body over the weekend.
I would be mad if I never tried.
Because this is what I do.
I try new things.
And I was reminded this weekend how enchanting and ridiculous my life is when a friend of mine did a live reading of a piece she wrote in graduate school.
Her piece is inspired by my artistic pursuit.
It is beautifully written. And, it means a lot to me.
Here is the newest version of what my friend read. She is talented. I love having talented friends. I would not say such things if I did not really think she were sharp. and witty. and a grand writer.
May 7, 2010
Try ThingsIf you make puppets in New York City, you have nowhere to store them, nowhere to make them, and no means to transport them, unless you’re Tim Burton and you’re the boss. If you live close to the theaters, good luck having enough room for your materials AND your bed. Unless you have a day job as like, a banker, you’re storing puppets on your sofa, over the bookcase, and in your bathtub. You trade places with them. Hey Velveteen Lola, mind if I use the shower? You remind your roommate never to pre-heat the oven without checking to see if anyone’s in there. You hate everyone who ever uttered “At my studio…” Because YOU deserve a studio, because your art takes up SPACE.
If you carry your puppet to rehearsal, you risk the throb of sidewalk traffic rubbing plush Henry the wrong way. If you wheel your puppet in a Radio Flyer, someone might steal it. If you push your puppet in a stroller, disguised as a baby so people will smile and move over, GOOD LUCK when some over-excited mom pulls the blanket down from your puppet’s face. THE TERROR! You make puppets that look like old men. People can’t take them, being strolled around like that.
If you think you’re something, and you think you’re going to drive somewhere, and you seat-belt that puppet of yours into the passenger seat, the looksyou get from the toll people. Like you’re some kind of freak. Well, you’re an artist, and this is New York.
And if you have five small puppet people for some play, and you put one in a big backpack, and two strapped on with bungy cords, and if you carry the other two, well you’re something like a flesh-colored octopus walking down the street, or some kind of sicko displaying victims. You’ll say Oh, I’m sorry—did my playwright brother’s social constructions manifested as puppets frighten you?
You are willing to work as an office temp by day while you wait to be heralded. The office job pays for rent, food and supplies. Your brother the playwright is getting your name out there. You are putting together a gallery show. You have enough part-time gigs to keep you busy. You have a website. A blog. You are sending out your portfolio—people who do parades, people who work for Sesame Street, Jim Henson, Disney, writers, producers, people who know people.
People who don’t know people will ask, “Why do you make puppets?” And you will fantasize many possible responses.
Because I’m really good with a needle and thread, and my quilts told me they wanted to walk.
Because I just went through a terrible breakup, and this gives me something to do in the evenings.
Because we need to expand the canon! Kermit hasn’t said all there is to say.
Because I like the elementary associations with puppetry. When you tell people you make puppets, they take your art seriously.
Because—well, why not? Why does anyone do anything?
You will actually respond—without pretension because you’re NOT that kind of artist, I play with form—I make it smile, I make it frown, I make it fall in love. I try things. A puppet is a possibility. Yeah, I try things.
This week, your friend Ai-shi tells you she wants a Cheshire-cat-faced dragon for this spring Dragon Boat Festival. All you’re thinking is hmmm…logistics. You wonder Will Ai-shi and her gang of paddlers help me carry Puff Daddy into town? And you realize Ai-shi’s anacondan vision of Puffy will take up every ounce of your tiny apartment. You will be sleeping with his snaky tail coiled around you. Therefore, you will make him out of fabric that feels like a warm, strong man.
Ai-shi will be so impressed with her wild-eyed red snake man she will ask you for another puppet. My niece Ling always wanted a brother.
“That’s creepy,” you’ll say.
Ai-shi reminds you her name means “fond of poetry,” and she loves what you do with negative space and juxtapositions of intertextuality. Ai-shi says these kinds of things when she wants puppets from you. You make Ling a little brother anyways, five years old, and when that toll booth lady looks at you like you’re deranged, you roll down the window, hand her the money, and shout I AM AN ARTIST AND THIS IS JING-SHENG!
and she got lots of laughs at her reading. I was almost teary absorbing it all. When people were laughing about 'the girl that makes puppets and fits them into her life. carries them to NY or around town. and exhausts herself.' I was was soaking it in.
Because, I love what I do. But it can be lonely. And, at the reading, it was the opposite of lonely.
People celebrated the ridiculous trip I am on without knowing I was there. For a minute I had a lot of people on this horse with me. ( the one I am riding bareback... beside the train. see blog title if still unaware at where I'm going with this.)
And my friend captured the spirit of creating art - and the mad pursuit for a direction that is hard to define. Wait. Where am I going?
I am inspired. I am compelled to make things. I am driven to design. I am also very aware and entertained by the process.
And I am so very sleepy.
But Walt Disney lived every day at his highest energy level. That's what his friend told me on the biography I just rented.
And, that is certainly something I want to do.
Note: I am very thankful for friends who know me well enough to alert me of "handmade squirrel competitions"
Naturally, I dropped everything and watched 434242 episodes of Roseanne on late late late night television this weekend to fuel the endeavor. Sometimes the muted colors and minimal set of that TV show are like a giant helping of comfort food.
and when you watch Roseanne, it is rarely by choice. It is usually because you are too tired to change the channel and too caught up in the familiarity of the show to do anything about it.
Note: My right forearm is extremely sore today from forcing a needle through infinite layers of a canvas squirrel. I mean.. crippling sore.
Also wonderful- My trek to the store today to mail this little creation.
Best part was the girl helping me who said very quietly and very sincerely, "this is cool."
She cracked up when she had to type "squirrel delivery" in the address box. and softly uttered, "this just made my day. I'm serious."
Yep. This is my life. and it rules.
When I left the little guy and knew he was on his way, I sighed. When I walked outside into the sun, people were grocery shopping, running errands etc. I had just mailed a little squirrel to Brooklyn, NY.
I clapped my hands together and thought, Rock on.
I re-covered a copy of Little Women for my mom on Mothers Day.
She is Marmee. She is a progressive woman who created a warm and encouraging environment for her family to grow up in. She is sweet but tough.
So, this is what she got this year.
Feeding a book through a sewing machine is tricky.