I’ve been feeling overwhelmed. The feeling of being overwhelmed is no stranger to me, but this has hit new levels, much of which has been triggered by, most likely, perimenopausal hormonal changes. That thing that we don’t talk about. Bouts of physical anxiety like I have never experienced. “Try deep breathing, and meditation,” says my doctor, a woman at least 15 years younger than me. No. I mean, yes, but this goes WAY beyond that. Of course, I’m glad to have a doctor who would even suggest such a thing, but this lack of understanding as to what is going on with me is frustrating. I’ve been practicing yoga and meditation regularly for the past 20 years. It does nothing to touch this, when it comes. And “this” is debilitating. It is physical. And then, like everything, it passes.
But this is not what I really want to talk about, though it is a tiny piece of it. And any other women going through this, I see you. I know this has been a challenging year for most of us, each in different ways. Solitude is not something that I’m uncomfortable with. That was not the challenge for me. But the lack of consistent interaction with others led me to a place where I felt exhausted when trying to communicate. Even online. Follow-through felt difficult because my focus was constantly pulled in different directions, especially when everything was done staring at this glowing rectangle that is a portal into an infinite dimension. “Why did I open Google?” “Where did I see that message from so-and-so?” Text messages, FB and IG messages, emails…and constant reminders that if I don’t keep up with the latest technology, I’ll be left behind. TikTok, Reels, algorithms…but what is the endgame? Followers? How many times have I “liked” a post on IG while scrolling, but done nothing more to interact with the person posting? Does collecting “likes” matter? Where is the real substance to connection and communication? And how do we do that with art in this day and age?
Bear with my non-linear train of thought. Thoughts. It’s been difficult for me to have a thought without others jumping in and clamoring for attention. One leads to another. Which is why DOING things has been challenging. When I’m doing something, I’m NOT doing the other things. This has been a lifelong issue, being both a visual artist and musician/writer who feels equally passionate about each. But things are coming to a boiling point. I’m outgrowing my art studio, and trying to decide whether to build on this property or build or buy elsewhere is on my mind every day. Meanwhile, boxes of great assemblage material of every kind sit on my studio floor, growing and expanding weekly, thanks to generous gifts from friends (some of whom I have never met – one of the positives of this sometimes daunting online world we live in) and regular visits to local thrift stores as well as rusty metal pieces and natural materials found on my walks in the desert, and random bits of household waste that I just KNOW can become something cool. Trying to work in there has felt ridiculous – maneuvering around these haphazard piles of glorious things while my actual workspace has grown smaller and smaller. It sometimes feels laughable. The bathtub (yes, I have a bathtub in my studio, where I fantasized about taking luxurious baths late at night after working for hours in my studio, but that has never, in the 4 1/2 years I’ve been here, happened) has now become the designated spot for frames that won’t fit anywhere else, including the one I grabbed from the dump last week that barely fit in my car.
Meanwhile, mundane tasks have taken on a life of their own, becoming monsters. Unpacking the waves and layers of grief that hit here and there from the recent passing of my father has been interesting. Not necessarily a bad thing (things are really not good or bad, they just ARE, right?) and sometimes comforting, though I’m surprised by how many things I feel as a result of this. Decisions to be made, without having my dad to talk to about them, even though he often drove me nuts when I did, feel unsettling. Filling out each piece of paperwork feels monumental. Taxes. Oil changes. Figuring out a new phone (which took me years to finally get). Getting my printer to work. Unloading my car from the last show I curated at La Matadora, that I took down in April, before I have to install the next one in June. Rodent-proofing the shed. Painting the door. Listing more from my pile of vintage clothing in my Etsy shop. Oh yeah, did you know I also sell vintage clothing on Etsy at Glimmerhawk Vintage?
And then there’s the real stuff. I just did an exercise in the “Non-Reading” course I have been doing with Camelia Elias for the past couple years, called “Urgent and Significant.” Oftentimes, what is urgent, such as answering that email or paying that bill, is not significant. That’s what this reminds me of. The stuff above needs to be done, but is not significant. Of course, losing my dad is. Then there is the daily wound care for my partner. I’m surprised to find that my close friends are not aware I still do that daily. They assumed, since he’s been out of the hospital for two years, that he was healed. Nope. Pressure wounds are motherfuckers. This is something that affects the quality of life for both of us, and has for the past few years. We always must take that into consideration when going anywhere, for any extended period of time. He’s not advised to sit in his wheelchair for more than two hours at a time, but obviously he would have no quality of life if that advice was strictly adhered to. We must find a balance. And we do. This is significant.
There’s that thing called arthritis, which I have. “Age-appropriate osteoarthritis,” as my old doctor told me. I played a show with my new-ish Motörhead tribute band, Motördead, last weekend, which was killer. This was the first show I remember ever playing where I felt it necessary to take steps to help ensure that my arthritis didn’t affect my guitar playing too much. No nightshades. Turmeric capsules. Ibuprofen. Gloves. One more “thing” to think about. But damn, playing is so rewarding.
Photo by Paul Koudounaris
So now we finally get to the part that was my intention to write about. Things. After all these other “things” that I needed to unload have been unloaded. Thank you for hearing me out.
Now, if you know me and/or my art, you know that I am not a minimalist. I like things. A lot. And then sometimes I feel bogged down by things. Sometimes I even feel it physically. I wake up in the middle of the night, feeling all these things talking to me. Some self-help gurus will tell you to get rid of things. Lightening the load will help. I’ve done that, and sometimes there is relief when the things that are removed are no longer “sparking joy,” in the words of Marie Kondo. And sometimes there is regret. The reason why I love Marie Kondo is that, contrary to popular belief, she doesn’t push the notion of minimalism. She never tells you how much “stuff” you should have. She only says that you should get rid of it if it doesn’t serve a purpose or spark joy. And sometimes that simply has to do with placement. There are things that I’ve found in my home that no longer serve a purpose there, but when moved to my art studio, suddenly spark joy with the potential they bring to a new assemblage piece. Shifting and movement can create energy.
I had a moment recently where I felt the power of history in objects. It really hit me hard, out of the blue. And I appreciated it. I needed that message. Because I believed it to be true, but belief is really not important. In fact, it’s pretty meaningless. I mean, if this past year of people saying asinine things like, “I don’t believe in COVID” has taught us anything, I think the notion that “belief” holds weight has been shattered. Anyway, I got the message last week that this feeling about objects was true. I felt it in the core of my being. I felt objects vibrate. I heard loud and clear that part of my job as an assemblage artist is to honor that history, and to keep objects that I love, whether they are used in my art or kept in my home. I love my things.
I remember when I was in art school, one of my assignments was to interview a working artist. I chose someone I knew, a sculptor named Neil Berstein. At that time, he was making welded metal sculptures primarily from building wreckages. He told me that he felt that these pieces of metal that he salvaged from buildings already had a certain integrity within them due to the nature of their past. That struck a chord with me and still does.
I recently discovered an artist on IG named Laurie Beth Zuckerman who makes incredible altars. Like, over-the-top altars, all over her home. She makes me look like a minimalist, if that’s possible! Ancestor altars for her late mother and father, altars for orphaned dolls, altars centered around a beautiful antique piesafe (did you know that was a thing?), dripping with beads and crosses and ornate frames. She says that she has begun exhibiting them, as well. Which made me realize, I can do that, too. I’ve been incredibly inspired by her images.
I made an altar in art school, to vanity. It was a cardboard box covered in burgundy velvet, with a large mirror and an array of “tools” laid out, much like the Magician’s table in the tarot. Lipstick with razor blades, lips and fingers cast in silicone, made into wands, and other things that I can’t even remember. I don’t even think I have a picture of it anymore, but I remember loving it. Somewhere along the line, I just figured it was too much trouble to try to navigate a way to make this kind of thing my “art.” I have a large, elaborate altar at home, and my assemblage work usually becomes altar-like in nature, but the idea of doing installations just seemed like something that wasn’t practical.
My home altar with my newly oiled Michael, top left
I’ve been reconsidering this decision that I didn’t even know I made. This decision that I just kind of fell into, by subtle “programming.” Art that can be hung on one nail or screw, put into a reasonable sized box and shipped, was somehow more legitimate. Where did this idea come from?
Which now leads, of course, to the issue of space. Where will I make these things? Where will I put them? Where will I show them? Why do I keep buying more “things” when I’m already feeling overwhelmed by my things? I realized the other day, that I LOVE scouting for “things.” I spent an afternoon driving across the desert to look at a piece that a woman posted for sale. Turns out, she saved the wrong thing for me, but I took it anyway. It was an old red antique wagon. She felt so bad that I drove all the way out there that she gave me six antique blue glass medicine bottles. I was more than happy with that. Then I stopped at a local thrift/vintage store called Black Luck Vintage, where Rachael, the proprietor, was holding a piece for me that I had been thinking about since I saw it there a month or two earlier. I got a few more things there, and I also got to meet the amazing artist known as Shrine, who is building a whole recycled art compound out here in the desert. He’s the guy who painted the outside of La Luz de Jesus Gallery/Wacko in Los Angeles. I fully enjoyed my day of scavenging, and I made a cool connection that I wouldn’t have made, had I not, for lack of better words, “followed my bliss.” I am allowing myself to do that, and trusting that the path will clear as I walk it. I’m excited about the possibilities that lie ahead for my work, without self-imposed limitations.
And remember that thing that I said about shifting and movement creating energy? About how things can feel stagnant in one place, yet spark joy in another? Between my moments of sometimes debilitating anxiety and then fatigue, which are becoming less extreme, I am doing little bits of all the things that need to be done. I found a tall cabinet with tiny drawers at a thrift store in San Diego, where all my “art supply” jewelry has now been categorized. I did it a little bit at a time. Every time I go into my studio, I do just a little tiny bit of organizing. I’m utilizing all my wall space to help clear some floor space.This serves a dual purpose – I also really enjoy looking at these things on the wall. It inspires me. I finally painted the door to my house and immediately had figurative doors open for me, regarding exhibition opportunities.
My friend Shane Izykowski, who is an amazing painter, has a podcast called Drawing From Experience, where he does weekly artist interviews. He also hosts a Facebook group by the same name, and if you are an artist or creator of any kind, I encourage you to join. Every week he has a thread called “Creative Conquests of the Week,” where we are all asked to share one of our conquests, big or small. I feel like doing that right now, because sometimes it’s easy to be blinded by our obstacles to such a degree that we don’t see our progress. I welcome you to share yours with me, as well, either by commenting on this post, or messaging me, or simply posting your own!
So…in the few months since my last post about loss, in spite of feeling unproductive, I’ve built a large outdoor altar to Saint Francis, created a series of small charcoal/gold leaf drawings that I showed at a gallery in Joshua Tree, put together a new show with six artists that will be opening June 12 at La Matadora Gallery, promoted and played a hugely successful show with my band Motördead, finally (after 4 years of limbo) oiled my Archangel Michael icon, worked on an “art dress” that has been in progress for close to a year, painted my door, submitted work that was accepted into Ghost Gallery’s Art of Tarot V show (now live), begun the process of laying out my book of haiku poems to accompany my Deconstructed Divination oracle deck, got a new phone (those who know me, know I have a block there!), got one of two printers working, created and recorded some music with my partner Tony Buhagiar for our friend Kate McCabe‘s new film, did my taxes, all while doing my best to maintain the mundane stuff that keeps us all going. I encourage you to make a similar list. You may be surprised.
Thank you for reading. Don’t be shy about reaching out.
Hi Wendy, I relate to so much of what you said in this blog, in fact most of it. Especially the anxiety and fatigue from socializing. I’m always trying so hard to be likable I sometimes forget to be real. Depression has plagued me for most of my life. Lately it’s been interfering with my ability to doing things I love, like making art, writing and playing music and singing. I have a studio space with my drums set up which I never touch. It’s become more of a storage space that I avoid, lots of “things” I’ve saved for art projects or for someday! Menopause and physical changes! Ugh! There are many good things I’ve made happen in the last year. Most importantly I’ve been focusing on building friendships and not wasting time trying to date! 😄 It really helps me be much happier and boosts my self-esteem. I really loved singing back up with you guys at the Motordead show! I felt so good! I haven’t sung since 2014. I really needed that push and Beth has been such a great friend to me. thank you for including me! I’ve always wanted to get to know you better. I’ll admit that I’ve been a bit intimidated because I think you’re so cool! I’m so impressed by your art, guitar shredding and how productive you are! Cheers to our brilliant future! — Robin
Thanks for reading and taking the time to respond! And we loved having you on backup vocals at our show! In fact, here it is:
I hear ya. And I think you’re cool, too…so let’s hang out!!