Artist Bio

Who’s In Your Way? /Or/ I Guess I’ve Grown Up Now.

I came across a post from an old friend on facebook a couple weeks ago that read “The phrase I hear most from weak people is ‘You’re holding me back’.” It’s one of those things you read that stops you in your tracks mentally for a moment. Being me, my first thought was “Ouch! That’s kind of mean … and can’t that be true sometimes?”

I’ve been through this scenario in a workplace situation. Far back yonder, I put someone in charge of a project they wanted to lead, and spent copious amounts of my time and energy making sure they had what they needed to be supported and thrive. I was alongside the whole way, being sure to ask probing questions to get them thinking and planning while still empowering them to take the lead. I made myself available for any and all help needed, even for troubleshooting and brainstorming outside of work that I would not be compensated for. Long story short, even with all this they continued to sit on their hands until after much pleading and prompting, I was forced to take over because others were depending on the end result of this undertaking by a certain due date. The other helped about 20%, and a lot of what they did I had to improve upon or fix because full effort wasn’t put in. Afterwards, both our names ended up on the project and they were PISSED. The attitude was that they had done most of the work, and I was just in the way but everyone always wants to give me all the credit and attention because of favoritism. Not to get into my life and/or work history, but the idea of me ever getting superfluous credit or “favoritism” is laughable. Oftentimes it’s honestly been almost the polar opposite. I never had asked for my name to be on the project or even told anyone I’d done most of the work because I hadn’t wanted to make the other look bad, and I had actually been planning to let them take the credit which was why their reaction especially upset me. Yes, that’s dumb and unhealthy but as I said this was years and years ago. The truth has a way of being noticed regardless, and so someone had deemed fit to add my name in the final credits. At the end of their rant was when I was treated to the above statement, when I was told all I do is stand in the way of their success, and I was rendered quite speechless. They are lucky I was speechless, because I had entered full volcano mode at this point.

I’ve also run into this accusation in my social life outside of work, usually when I won’t drop everything to completely manage the events of someone else’s life.

However, I certainly can’t sit here and point the finger as if I’ve never had a similar attitude during some struggle points in my own existence. I remember countless frustrated, tearful conversations with family as a teen and young adult asserting that I would never find my success because of where I lived, and it was their fault I’d never find a job in my field because they didn’t pay for me to go to college out of state, and wouldn’t drive me across the country and get me an apartment in California, and how I would never have any real friends because they chose to start a family in such a boring place where no one likes me … Yikes, I’m super embarrassed now at how rotten that sounds but it’s the truth.

I have struggled to find my place in this world, and at times still do. Only now, I’m not convinced location has a ton to do with it. Maybe a small percentage, but I also think I may just always be that way and that’s ok, we all have things.

Not quite what she had in mind…

It’s always easier to point at someone else as the reason you’re floundering. It takes strength to look at yourself and say hey, I’ve got to step it up and make some changes. The moment I stopped being so narrowly focused and started being open to doing things with my art career outside of a very specific, internally special to me, niche subject I started reaching people, which in turn drew them into all that special interest stuff too. In the past, I never would have created a mixed media landscape because, “Allise only does a, b, and c” (Freshman year of college, a friend asked me to paint a girl holding a cat for her dorm bedroom and I did but put dragon wings on the cat because I was on a dragon kick! – This reminds me now of something some of my Artshop students would do. Ok, maybe I have found one place I feel at home most of the time 😉 ). I expanded my scope to add a broad letter d, I also do art that may not be my special subject of interest but helps improve others’ lives and makes people happy, especially those groups that may not have access to fine art on a daily basis.

Sorry for the language, but it’s funny. Oscar Wilde once said, “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh. Otherwise they’ll kill you”.

The moment I stopped thinking I deserved more than where I was and cut the entitlement, I saw doors where before I’d thought there was only a brick wall. Am I rich and famous now – hell no. But am I pretty happy most of the time, and do I generally like my life? I’d say, sure, I think so.

No one can stop you unless you let them, and no one is obligated to prop you up. Show gratitude to those who do anyway, and do your own work.

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Artist Bio

5 Things I’ve Learned As A Working Artist

These last two years have been tough for a lot of people, but especially tough for creators. As we are just now shifting towards some degree of normalcy, I wanted to share 5 things I’ve learned as a creative over this strange journey.

Your reason for creating and metric for success needs to be something you can control.

Reasons that depend on the public’s reaction and choices that are completely out of our control, such as money and popularity, will ultimately lead to a whole lot of frustration and angst. Making money off of what you do is valid and necessary, we all have bills. However, it is nearly impossible to be happy if this is the core reason you are creating. Many people create for self expression or therapy. Not everyone creates for themselves, and that’s ok too. For some, just the act of creating itself doesn’t do it; their work is meant to be shared, seen, and heard in order for the process to be complete. Reasons for creating along this vein can be to inspire others to look at the world in a new way, to make other think about x, to connect with and speak to x group of people, to spread joy, to educate. Everyone’s reason is going to be different. My reason is a combination of public and private, which makes sense for me as a hybrid INTROextrovert. I create for self expression and as a form of communication, but also to share the joy of art with others. When I teach, I especially like reaching those who have previously felt limited. I love releasing untapped potential and work a lot with adults with disabilities and older adults beginning artistic journeys late in life. You can control outreach and expression by actively seeking opportunities. You can’t always control fame and fortune.

Don’t include others by limiting yourself.

In other words, don’t do less to make others comfortable – take them alongside you. Creating is so personal, it can be devastating when your work is getting overlooked. Creative fields are also so niche and not as prevalent as other pursuits, so that creators often feel like they are in constant competition with over creatives. It can get weird when a fellow artist starts having a ton of success and you feel like you’ve been working just as hard. I’ve been in both places. I’ve felt like a fool for devoting my life to the hard work I am doing to see things keep falling into place for everyone else. I’ve also recently been in the place where certain things finally began to come together, and I’ve felt some pushback. At times I’ve questioned whether I should move out of the way for other emerging creators. Especially if creating is life-giving for you, do not do less because someone else is asking why not me? Take them along for the ride, collaborate, invite them to share a space with you at shows or festivals. They may end up saying nah, and that’s ok, but don’t crush your own momentum that you’ve worked so hard for. Everything is an eb and flow, up and down like much of life. If you sense a jealous vibe, reach out as a mentor because you know how it is – you’ve been there. Don’t be inclusive by holding yourself back.

There’s nothing wrong with grabbing onto trends that are fun, but follow trends because you want to not because you think it will make your art better. It won’t.

The thing with trends is, the market ends up becoming oversaturated with copies. There is no guarantee your watercolor paintings of Pokémon will take off more than the other 5000 artist on Instagram doing the same thing. (As you can see, I tend to not be so great at following trends. I’m pretty sure Pokémon is over, but I just started playing Pokémon Go last year. Late to the party as always!) If it’s fun and makes you happy, then that’s reason enough to go for it. But, don’t struggle through trying to force your work into a shape it doesn’t fit just to be trend aligned.

Doing art you aren’t good at isn’t a waste of time.

As working creatives, it’s important to set aside time for art to be play as well as work. I recently took a clay hand building class after putting it off for the longest time because my head kept telling me, “In school clay was the only time you ever got Bs in art class, it’s not like you’re ever going to go buy a kiln and start doing this professionally so what’s the point”. The point is to play. For me, it is the same thing with piano. As I plunk along on my little keyboard learning the same song I started trying to play a year ago, do I ever think I’m going to play for a crowd or write my own music? Absolutely not. But in that moment, am I feeling relaxation, joy, and a sense of growth? Certainly.

Going digital isn’t all bad.

Social media and now especially Covid has changed how artists are expected to interact with the public. It can get tedious to constantly curate online media and feel like it is taking away from important time that could be spent creating. Virtual classes can feel impersonal and lacking an important social and experiential element. Virtual exhibits can flatten work and we all know viewing a tiny jpeg on a phone screen can’t compare with standing in front of a largescale work immersed in it. Neither is the experience being at a venue hearing live music the same as watching a livestream. Valid points, but all artists should be excited about the increased accessibility technology provides. I saw an artist I love post a discussion about how harmful it is to consider digital art to be just as valid as traditional art, because an important element of emotional connection with art is the artist physically touching the materials, moving their hands to create. As an advocate for creators with disabilities, the first thought that popped into my head is, what if an artist can’t move their hands the same way as everyone else? Why is art invalid because it uses a different process? What if a person doesn’t have access to transportation but would like to take an art class? What if a person gets anxiety in crowds but wants to experience a live concert or theatrical performance? What if a person can’t afford to travel to a big name art museum but wants to become inspired by some of the world’s most famous masterworks? I get it, change is hard for me too and I truly don’t enjoy creating digitally as much as I do traditionally. Creating video content doesn’t come naturally to me, and it’s not perfect. Inspiring others to create who live on the opposite side of the country and will never attend one of my in-person art classes? That’s amazing regardless.

Other creatives – what is something you’ve learned recently?

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Artist Bio, New Work

Art And Outreach

I know I’ve lapsed lately on my writing … since Mother’s Day actually, and I only realized how long it has been when I was preparing a Father’s Day project post for Sunday ;). I’ve been continuing to spend a lot more time teaching and working on some unique commissions, but I certainly haven’t been sacrificing my own creative spirit for “work” as some might assume. I have enjoyed the shift as a way to recharge and do some new and different things, and stretch my own personal style into new avenues.

The bulk of the first quarter of this year was spent preparing for a Fashion Show with my Express Yourself Artshop Program. The theme was upcycling thrift store clothing, perfect for the big reveal on Earth Day. The majority of my students are adults with disabilities, and I was amazed to see how they took to this project. Some who struggled to create imagery on canvas or paper created breathtaking designs when given a piece of suede to paint on or a pair of jeans. Fashion shows and pageants for people with physical and intellectual disabilities have definitely come into the spotlight more as our society has begun to demand more diversity in the bodies we see in fashion, film, and advertising. What I especially loved about our show is the fact that the focus was on what our students made, not just “looking pretty” (although our students did look fabulous showing off the clothing they created!). It was very ‘come as you are’, models didn’t have to wear makeup or fancy shoes if they didn’t want to, or do their hair a certain way. Everyone was invited to show up as their authentic selves and just have fun. This was a huge leap of confidence for our student ladies that participated along with our staff and some models from the community, and I could not be more proud and impressed.

The second big workplace project that is still in progess was planning a community mural incorporating themes from the students’ artwork. It was difficult for super detail oriented me to put together a design that would be accessible enough for community members of all ages and abilities with little to no art experience to come and paint and not have it look crazy ;). I payed homage to my love of retro illustration to come up with a design that was very simplistic, but still had an artsy vibe.

My life has been filled with color lately as I also progress on a very unique commission, a cosplay sword and shield accented in PINK leather! Just a teaser for now, I will share the finished products soon!

Though art is an intrinsic expression of the artist who creates it, oftentimes it is about so much more than the individual artist. We all have preferences for how and what we prefer to create, but sometimes art is about lifting others up into the spotlight. Sometimes art is about using our skills to help someone else’s talent and creativity grow. Sometimes art is about helping someone else’s vision come true that may be creative, but doesn’t have the tools to make their idea a reality. Sometimes art is about creating in isolation and baring your own unique soul, but sometimes art is also about outreach. As one who has often been the former, I’m enjoying this exciting new chapter.

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Artist Bio

The Gift Of Anxiety

On My Mind

I have struggled with anxiety since I was a kid, and would usually be the first person to scoff if anyone ever called this trait a “gift”. I have begun managing it as an adult through counseling and learning new coping/rerouting skills, some go the medication path, different things work for different people. What I do know, however, is that those of us with anxiety tend to agree that it is not a positive thing. When uncontrolled, it can be exhausting and cause heightened emotional responses and added stress to situations that aren’t at all threatening. It can cause us to consider all the dire “what ifs” but none of the possible happy surprises. It can introduce a lot of doubts in both ourselves and in our relationships with the people around us. Lately though, I’ve been challenging myself to think about the positives of certain attributes within myself that I don’t always like. I’m a big proponent of neurodiversity and try to always see the positive attributes of others’ brains that sometimes work differently, so it would go to follow that I owe myself the same courtesy. Fellow anxiety peeps, though you have probably been told that your affliction is this horrible burden, I’d ask you to come with me and think through the ways your tendency towards anxiety has actually helped you.

I was looking for a notebook with some blank pages left recently so I could jot something down, and started reading an old journal I’d abandoned. In it was a set of columns listing positives and negatives about my life at the time. I noted as a positive that I was in a long term relationship with “no doubts or issues” and had “no bouts of anxiety, panic attacks, or mood regulation issues like I used to get”. Now, while not having panic attacks is all well and good, I am no longer in this relationship and looking back there were plenty of issues, and plenty of reasons I should have been doubting the long term success of our partnership based on some pretty significant differences and toxic behaviors. At the time I was also not getting the support I needed or deserved at work and was quite frankly being taken advantage of, albeit probably not intentionally. I came to the conclusion that when I thought I was “overcoming” or “doing better”, what I really was doing was turning my brain off and giving over control of my life just to feel more “normal”. Maintaining Zen and not letting life rattle you is one thing, but no one needs to smile and talk about how great it feels to have a bird flying overtop shitting on your head all the while not moving from the spot you are rooted in below.

I definitely deal with a hell of a lot more anxiety today than I did when I wrote that entry, but I also love my life infinitely more. I let situational anxiety take its course, because though my emotional responses may be more amplified than the average person, it acts sort of like the check engine light in a vehicle, letting me know that something isn’t working and I need to evaluate and figure out what needs to change for my mind and body to start running at their best again.

What other positive attributes does my anxiety bring out?

A drive to regularly set personal and professional goals, show up and work hard until they are achieved.

Dependability – I can’t comprehend of making promises not intending to see them through, and if I agree to assist I am going to be on time and prepared.

On that note, I have a planning oriented nature, and don’t leave important matters to the last minute (um, or unimportant ones … 😉 )

I am able to empathize more with others who are struggling emotionally, and I know the experience has made me better at my job leading a program whose participants have various disabilities, mental health issues, and general quirks.

Something I’ve been learning is though we can all grow and change and should be committed to continuous growth every day, certain parts of us aren’t going anywhere. We can deal with these parts of ourselves more beneficially and make them work for us and not against us, but they likely aren’t going completely away. So, rather than engaging in self hate let’s work through the parts that are toxic or causing us unhappiness, but appreciate the parts that help us be better humans … including our anxiety.

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Artist Bio

The Power Of Saying No

each-time-you-set-a-healthy-boundary-you-say-YES-to-more-freedom

I must start off by saying this is not one of those articles that was written because the author is an expert on the subject; I am actually writing because I am very bad at this thing myself.

I have always struggled with saying no both personally and professionally. Yet, at the same time I’ve always been pretty sure of who I am and what I want … talk about some pretty serious dissonance! Let me tell you a bit more about myself… at this point in my life, I eat mainly plant based (aside from the occasional raw fish in sushi maybe twice a month), I seldom drink, I have no interest in smoking or drugs of any type (I don’t even take an Excedrin when I get a migraine!), and though I like being social I am one of those people who needs more quiet time than the average person to recharge so I have to strategically plan the amount of ‘going out’ I want to do each week and who I want to give my time and energy to … Oh, and I also am not interested in birthing children. You see where I’m going with this? Though there are a whole lot more things I say yes to, I find myself constantly apologizing, “Oh, I don’t ___________, I’m so sorry!” as if I should feel guilty for crafting a way of living my life that I’ve found makes me feel the most happy and healthy. I recently started going to counseling again, and I’m discovering that a lot of struggles in my personal life have been caused by my feeling like I always have to be the hero, and tying my performance and how I can please others to my worth and value.

Unfortunately, this is a trap that creatives can fall into professionally as well. Especially when we maybe aren’t the wealthiest, it is easy to feel incredibly guilty for saying no to a project or opportunity no matter how poor a fit it may be. The perception is often that we should be grabbing onto every piece of money or exposure we can get our hands on, and be eternally grateful for every opportunity that comes our way regardless of whether it really makes sense to take it or not. This whole “beggars can’t be choosers” mentality is not the way to build a life worth living, because the power is always in our hands regardless of our current status.

So, here is your daily reminder that you actually are allowed to say no! Trust me, I am reminding myself just as much as I am reminding all of you!

  • You are allowed to say no to projects that don’t align with your mission and values. 
    • Some projects are going to end up selling something you don’t support, whether that’s an idea or mindset or a person or product. You are not being judgmental or impolite by simply saying, “You know, this really just isn’t for me, I’d suggest you find another artist.” I found myself in a situation once where a longtime client asked me to create a small political piece. It wasn’t anything hateful, but it was celebrating a political figure that I really did not agree with. I was so concerned with offending a client that I’d developed a great rapport with that I accepted, even though inside my unease was through the roof. I told myself I do art to make people happy and if this was going to make someone happy, it was ok. Still, the discomfort just kept ramping up every time I sat down to get started. I ended up having to be honest and tell my client that because of my own personal opinions and beliefs I would not feel comfortable taking on this commission. It was a long, awkward conversation and they were a bit offended at first, but at the end of the day any tension blew over and we still were able to maintain a working relationship. Say a client wasn’t willing to work through something like this, do you really want to work with someone who treats you like a machine and is willing to force you to take on work that you don’t feel comfortable with? As a creative, you are your own brand and you do have to think about what your body of work, including commissions, says to the rest of the world.
  • You are allowed to say no if taking on a project would exceed your preferred workload.
    • No one else is allowed to tell you how to structure your life. You know how much you can handle at once in your business. Everyone functions at different capacities, and that’s ok. Just because you have the time, doesn’t mean you have to give it. I have had to reach the point of complete burnout to learn that I need to create margin in my life, which can be hard to do as someone who is partially or fully freelance. When you don’t have a “clock-in/clock-out” sort of job your life can easily become 24/7 work to the expense of your relationships, hobbies, and own mental health. Actively think about how many free hours you want to have each week, and make sure you get them. You are not lazy for wanting time to yourself to relax and enjoy life, and don’t need to play the comparison game. Some people need a bigger margin of downtime than others to function well, and you know your brain better than anyone else.
  • You are allowed to say no to projects that are outside of your preferred skill set or area of interest.
    • A lot of times people assume that when someone is an artist, they can do anything and everything related to art and creativity. While many creatives do dabble in a variety of artistic pursuits, no one is good at everything. It doesn’t do you or your potential client any good for you to force yourself to bumble through a project that is outside your area of interest and/or expertise. Trust me, I’ve tried. If you have a network of other creative friends or acquaintances with different skill sets than you, this is a great opportunity to throw them some work by recommending them to the client as an alternate option. Chances are, they’ll do the same for you in the future!
  • You are allowed to say no to projects or opportunities that put you in an environment you aren’t comfortable with. 
    • Toxic work environments are the worst, and unfortunately they can happen in any field including creative work. There is something to be said for pushing yourself out of your comfort zone every once in awhile, but if the people and environment a current project or opportunity requires you to be around is becoming soul crushing and making you hate doing something you once enjoyed, then it’s time to go. Any job that crushes your passion for your craft is not worth it; know when to say, “Well, I tried it!” and move on.
  • You are allowed to say no to projects that don’t have an equitable payout.
    • Art is very personal to me so I hate talking about money in relation to creating. However, if art is part of how you make a living then you have to view it through the lens of, every other field gets compensated for their time and expertise. Being compensated at all can’t be the only goal though, you also need to be compensated fairly. If you don’t really think about how you price out your work, you could end up working for less than minimum wage. I often will give friends and family a deal, and enjoy donating my time and skills to charitable efforts that enhance my community. However, I have had to sadly turn down potential clients whose amount they were willing to pay would not near cover the cost of my time and materials even with giving them a deal. I want art to be accessible to all, but I also have bills to pay like anyone else. I’ve gotten burned in the past accepting $50 for about 10-12 hours of work, and quite honestly that’s just not ok. Be generous, but also know your worth.

Closing doors can have such negative connotations, but by closing the doors that you weren’t meant to walk through you free up your time for the doors that are going to open up a vibrant new world. None of us can do it all, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Set boundaries, create how you want to create, and love yourself.

 

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Artist Bio

Guess Who’s Finally On YouTube?

Ok, so I must apologize for going MIA for the last couple months. Quarantine had a weird way of giving me more time than ever yet making me simultaneously less motivated and productive than ever as time went on. Also, the weather was beautiful especially in the last part throughout June, and I was spending a lot of time outside either at the beach or playing sports badly.

I did continue to work from home and part of my duties for the arts program I direct was creating virtual lessons. I’d been talking about starting my own YouTube channel for over a year, but was overwhelmed by the process of learning filming and video editing. Choosing to dive into this for work and help my teachers I work with do the same was the push I needed to get going, and once in-person worked resumed there was no reason I shouldn’t just start my own channel. It won’t be perfect off the bat, and I am operating off of a phone for the time being – no camcorder, no microphone, using a free editing app. I definitely plan to upgrade at some point, but I’m starting simple and seeing how things go before I invest in new equipment. This first video is an introduction to myself, my art, and what you can expect to see from my channel. I will also be collaborating with an artist I work with often, Emiliano Vega, for content.

Be sure to subscribe to see more! I have some more demos already filmed and am excited to post throughout the coming weeks. What do you want to see? Let me know! I love suggestions :).

 

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Artist Bio

Throwback Thursday – Art and A Story

Today’s post is going to be a bit different … I’m going to share a story. I used to do a lot of short story or flash fiction writing 8-10 years ago while I was in college, but got out of creative writing in favor of technical as other creative pursuits took over. My first mixed media piece was actually inspired by a story I wrote, and was a bit of a self portrait. I was very committed to and unapologetic about the use of rick-rack. Hard to believe this is where it all started … It’s crazy what 8 more years of practice will do!

Another reason I’m sharing this is because next on my list of new art things to try is to make some sort of illustrated short story or children’s book. The following story is not a children’s book, or a bedtime story. It’s actually rather sad and strange but if you feel like giving it a go, below is the weird little tale about self expression, human connection, grief, dependency, identity, and odd characters that inadvertently got me started in the wonderful world of mixed media art and birthed the piece that was the first inkling of what would be my future defining art style.

i am the room

Cathedral

I am nothing without my telephone. I know when to wake up each Sunday morning because my neighbor and the only man I think I’ve ever loved calls me that day every week at 8 am. He suffers from delusions whilst he sleeps and every Sunday at 8 thinks he is calling his ex-girlfriend who lived in my apartment before me but died a few years ago. When he wakes up, he has no idea he even called. He used to sleepwalk and leave roses at my door too, but now he just calls. I saved them all and pressed them between the pages of a phone book, pretending they were for me.

I have 240 clocks in my one-room apartment, all 11 inches in diameter. I like to perform surgery on them so they all tick to slightly different beats, though I’m sure one of them must read the time right, I just can’t see which one. There are no doors in my apartment save a curtain in front of the bathroom so the 240 sets of clicks can be heard throughout the entire home, a pleasing tune that helps me keep my own personal rhythm in the outside world.

My telephone is how my best friend and I talk when she’s feeling depressed. She feels depressed often. I’ll pick up, and she’ll lament in a timbre so tragic I’m sure it could make angels scream, “I have no one at all. I am completely alone.” When I ask her if she’d like me to come over, she is only a six minute drive away after all, she usually says no, that’s fine. And then she’ll hang up.

If we are what we eat and it is what’s inside that counts, I wonder if I ate my telephone what would I become? I guess it depends if we believe we are defined by what we need or instead by what needs us. It depends if we are defined only by ourselves or by the other living beings that surround us, and if the latter is true whether the ones that shape us are those that choose us or those we chase after.

There is a group of people I call my friends that meet at the same bar every Thursday night. I know they meet there because social media tells me so. I know everywhere they go. I have a theory that the internet is so popular mainly because it is the only other communicable entity that can be as into you as you are. It also allows us to assume everyone else is just as interested. My mobile has a clock in its tiny right-hand corner, a sad clock that does not tick, a clock with no soul at all. These friends never tell me they are going but they say hello to me once I arrive, so that must count for something, right?

I have another theory that says human beings can be paralleled quite closely to furniture and architecture. Some people are chairs, tables, bedside lamps. Some people are windows, doors. Some people are picture frames or Persian rugs, and some people; some people are the entire room. They are the walls that contain all the other items that have no real value or function without them, just a hapless collection of what could have been a catalog worthy design if only there were walls and a floor to set the tone. I was a chair, and my friends were all the room.

They discussed memories from parties I never attended and shared stories about people I’d never met. I laughed along with them as if I had. I was a chair. People always liked the fact that I existed, but were all the same vaguely disinterested. As I sat on the end of a long table sipping a beer the conversation turned to a concert last week that I had actually attended, and when the break in conversation flow called for it I interjected. The others hardly so much as nodded in my direction. I could say the same things they said, use the same mannerisms and vocal inflection, dress the same way and listen to the same music but still my voice would remain at that inaudible frequency that results when chairs attempt to speak to rooms.

I was not the room, and nothing I or anyone else might do would change that fact. You see, rooms are only attracted to other rooms, and so houses are built of big, vacant cubes with no doors leading from one space to another, no windows to see into the other aside from themselves.

Sometimes, often, I feel different than how I seem to have been born. I am tall walls with cathedral-cut windows and boldly colored masterpieces on all the walls, masterpieces that can make viewers involuntarily excrete from one or more orifices, that induce early labor in pregnant women and that make the old and toothless drop their dentures. Only, there are no viewers. There is a round glass table, jade green glass and low to the ground with silken plum colored pillows surrounding; a place where no one sits. And this entire world fits inside a modestly sized rust-orange armchair, covered in dots shaped like pimento-filled olives. I’ve outgrown myself, my skin just a sack of old clothes too short at the ankles and awkwardly fitting under the arms. My visions of myself cannot fit inside my worldly receptacle but they have nowhere else to go, and I realize this now more than ever.

After leaving the bar I walk to the local everything store and pick up a roll of plaster bandages. That man I love, my neighbor, I didn’t tell you before but he works at a morgue. I imagine he too feels out of place, immersed in death yet his own organs and tissues still very much alive. He knows I am “one of those creative types” and together we have a special understanding. When he works the night-shift, dressing and embalming the newly deceased for funerals, he’ll let me in a back door most people who haven’t worked there for at least ten years don’t know about. “Hello,” he smiles and ushers me inside. New for today is an elderly man with a wide, exactly forty-five degree angle wedge of a nose and a distinguished, curled upper lip, a young woman in about her mid-thirties with round marshmallow cheeks and deep set eye sockets and a middle-aged gentleman with an extremely pronounced brow, a cliff casting a dark haze over the collection of facial features below. I set to work covering each cool face, like leather in air conditioning, with a thick layer of Vaseline.

“Not very old at all,” I indicate the one with the cavernous eyes, “What happened to her?”

“Poisoned. Something she ate they said. A severe allergic reaction.” He stops and tips his head up, away from the grey pillow before him, stuffed full with soft, springy fat and tender organs. His hair sways back against his face in one smooth, rhythmic motion, swinging forward again as tangled ropes hit against his elastic skin. Strands move and jump like pendulums and I wish he were made of wire and metal so a sound might reverberate, a sound I could record and add to my clock symphony. He was a clock, that was his parallel. He was a time bomb, but in this place more than any I knew that all humans were in their own way. He’d always said what he wanted to be more than anything was a broken tree branch, torn in a breeze carried far away from its tree.

“You remember how I told you my mother was mentally ill?” I nod. I have finished with the old man and am now laying the wet strips of plaster over the Vaseline, an old tin bucket at my side. Once the strips are smoothed and set, I move on to the poisoned woman, rubbing clear jelly around her soft cheeks, over her eyelids, the skin jiggling back into place after it is rubbed like pudding left sitting too long in a pan. “Well she tried to poison me once. I was home from school sick, nine years old, and she put something in my tomato soup. My neighbor stopped by to drop off the homework I missed for the day since she had a kid in my class. My mom had been outside gardening. When the neighbor realized how sick I was she insisted on taking me to the hospital right away. I could have died.” He shrugged and looked out an imaginary window, for this room had none, “I guess I just thought you should know.”

I didn’t really know how to respond, so I just looked up attentively. Most stories like that don’t want a response. These stories just yearn for the simple knowledge that the storyteller is no longer the only one who knows. We spent the last twenty minutes while waiting for the plaster to dry in silence. This was not uncommon though. There are a lot of people that wouldn’t believe me but sometimes relationships can be built simply by both persons existing at the same moment. A misconception is that interaction only applies to two of the five senses, hearing and touch. Simply by thinking about someone you are interacting because they are occupying a space in your mind, changing your thoughts and perceptions either by replacing those you would have had were you not thinking of them or by interjecting within your psyche some of their own words or ideas … just as I was interacting with the dead. Twenty minutes later I had lifted the faces from their fallen owners and bid farewell to the clock and his companions.

Why do I do it? Why do I collect the dead’s faces? It is not for the reasons you’d expect. It, for starters, has nothing at all to do with preservation or memory. The dead are just subjective faces no longer present in the world at this given moment. Their fleshy counterparts do not speak and move and act out a life independent of the plaster faces any longer. They can be whomever I imagine.

In my apartment I have 240 clocks hanging right now. I grab three new faceless clocks out of the storage closet, housing clocks being all it is used for, and affix my new faces to them with strong, chemically smelling glue. I will have to find a space for them somewhere; the party is getting crowded.

I need these faces to define myself, just as much as I need my telephone. That is why I do it, face collecting. This way I am not the only one who knows I have a world inside of me with cathedral windows. It’s another question that bothers me often: Are we the people we see ourselves as or are we a collection of how others see us? Do we define ourselves or are we defined by the effect we have on others outside our own world, by the adjectives we bring to mind in their world? Or are all definitions as useful as broken clocks …

It is 4:30 am when I hear a frantic pounding on my apartment door. The rattling of the wood adds a new pattern to the rhythm of the clocks, their own sounds offset by the fact that they shake along the walls. I run to the door before the whole place comes crashing down. Through the peephole I see that, thankfully, it is just my neighbor from the morgue. I unlock the door and ease it open; he forces it the rest of the way and jumps into my arms, knocking me backward over the arm of my couch. My form is instantly surrounded by soft pillows and I can feel the contours of his limbs pressing into mine, imprinting. His breath is warm against my chest, my heartbeat pushing his face in and out. He is sobbing, the tears containing as much heat as his breath so that it feels as if I am being soaked in blood.

“It’s my fault she … it’s my fault … it’s my fault she died,” he gasps for breath. “She drank poison. I poisoned her.” His eyes are upturned and silvery blue, moisture on the tips of light yellow eyelashes like dew on a field of grass dead from winter. “I had meant the poison for me, but she accidentally drank from the cup …I, I hadn’t wanted her to be left knowing I killed myself. We were together, I loved her … I couldn’t have her knowing that was the cause of my death, I couldn’t do that to her. I was trying to protect her, have her think it was just a random act of fate. Instead, she’s left this miserable place and I’m all alone, still here …” he paused, “I wasn’t meant to live since I was nine years old, and now, now I can’t die. But if I would have, she would never … she would still be …” He turns his head and brings up his arm to caress the face of a clock on the wall behind the couch. “I’m so jealous of them all, every single day,” he caresses the plaster as one would a lover. His hand is shaking until suddenly in one final act of brutality he throws the clock from the wall, afterward burying himself inside of me once again. The woman from earlier now lies broken, dead a second time and so soon amongst scattered golden screws and clock parts, still making a slight twinkling din as they roll across the floor and into each other. Her eyes are in pieces now, but I can still feel those dark holes upon us, judging, always judging.

His frame is so tiny and fragile in my arms, I’m cradling him like one would a small child. I want to protect him from the woman’s gaze. His arms reaching tight around my neck, I can feel the smooth contour of muscle against my shoulders and clavicle and I know he could hold tight enough to strangle me but despite all his strength, I have never seen anyone look so small. “I’m just like my mother,” he whispers. “No matter how hard I tried to stay away, how hard I tried to make my branch fall. I became her I became her I became her …”

I hold him tighter until his face seems to seep through my chest … his eyes crying my blood my heart pumping his tears until I can feel us containing each other. His eyes might seem vacant now, his face expressionless but that is only because he is wandering in the room with the cathedral windows, looking outside upon a tree with many fallen branches. I can hear the clocks even louder now as he has stopped crying, and to their rhythm I in my own mind chant, I am the room. I am the room.

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Artist Bio

Interview With The Artist

A couple of months ago, I was interviewed for an article on the website of a local artists’ group I’m a part of. The interviewer asked some thought provoking questions, so I thought I’d share my answers here for those who are interested in gaining a little more insight behind my work and process. You can also check out the resulting article on the Exploding Circle of Artists website. Friend and fellow artist Heather Deogracia manages and writes articles for the site, and I’d also encourage you to check out her blog. She is an innovative artist, fierce mental health advocate, and regular volunteer and supporter of art happenings in the community.

1. Why do you do what you do?

I have been drawn to creating pretty much since birth, and was lucky to be supported and encouraged in this from a young age. Art has always been a therapy for me and a vital avenue for communication and expression as someone who has also experienced social anxiety well, pretty much since birth. In addition to creating art myself, I also run an inclusive arts and wellness program at Creative 360 geared towards adults with disabilities. Every day I see how creativity both empowers the creator and impacts those around them. Integral to my own personal art and my day job is the idea that everyone can be an artist, everyone can do something creative that touches another person and it is never too late to begin.

2. How do you work?

For the most part I work in my home studio. I started out as primarily a pencil and ink drawing and watercolor artist, but at this point it is rare that I only use one or two materials in a piece. I have fallen in love with mixed media, and though the main bones of my art are usually created in prismacolor pencil, ink or watercolor, I enjoy mixing in acrylic, metallic enamel paints, beads, fabric and lace, old jewelry pieces, collage from old books, and other findings. I especially enjoy using materials I have been gifted by friends or family that have a specific memory or story attached. For a recent project, I used sparkly lace scraps leftover from a very extra angel costume my mom sewed for me when I was five, and some mismatched clip-on earrings that belonged to my grandma.

3. What are the background themes and ideas that makes your work stand out?

With my art, I enjoy making the internal external. I’m very interested in the dynamic of the individual’s public/interacting self versus their private self. Rather than using dramatic facial expressions in my portraits, I tend to leave their expressions mysterious and neutral and let the external surroundings speak to the content of the subject’s mind and soul. This most likely stems from my interior design background, and the idea that the external environment should reflect the people who inhabit it. Much of my work involves psychology and is inspired by my own thoughts and experiences, but I like to leave the visual narratives open ended so that each viewer can bring their own experiences to a piece and connect with it in their own way.

I am fascinated with the detail in both the external and internal structure of all living things; humans, plants, and animals. The natural world around us is truly filled with the most amazing forms of living sculptures if we take the time to look, and keeping this idea in mind reminds me even on the worst of days how luck we are to be alive. This appreciation of observing and exaggerating the most minute details in the world around us is another element that finds its way into my work.

4. How would you describe your style and how is it integral to your work as an artist?

My style is very vintage inspired, and I like to make my art timeless in a way by incorporating visual elements from all different time periods. I am also influenced by surrealism, and always want to show people something in my art that they can’t see in real life. In my work with portraits and figures, I look to antique photos as a reference and usually combine multiple sources to create the exact body and face I am picturing in my head for a certain piece. I am very much a visual thinker, and one day a friend was venting to me over the phone about a stressful week she’d had. (I promise I was listening, but …) As she was talking, I started to see a little cartoon in my head of her standing staring at me, wearing a tall top hat, and her brain was growing out of the top of the hat with all types of different objects representing what she was thinking about sticking out of the protruding brain … The image was a nice blend of hilarious and disturbing, and also gave me the idea to start doing portraits with visual representations of each subject’s thoughts flowing outside of their body.

5. What role does the artist have in society?

Though we don’t always realize it, art and design is everywhere around us in our society … In the music we hear, in the buildings we live and work in, in the ads or posters we see, the clothes we wear, the furniture we sit on, the movies and tv shows we watch, and the list could go on and on. Without art, our world would be empty, inefficient, and without meaning. Beyond that, art has the power to give people a voice. Art is an important tool for communication, and is able to open people’s minds to ideas they may not be as receptive to if delivered in a different way. Each artist has to define their own role for themselves based on the goals they have for harnessing their own personal form of creativity. As for me, I feel called to use art as a tool for connection and reaching out to others. Sharing the therapeutic benefits of creating with others is a priority for me because of the anchor I know it has been in my own life. I aim to make art and creativity accessible to all, no matter their age, ability, income, or any other qualifier. Do artists have to use their skills to make the world a better place? I suppose no one technically has to do anything as we all have autonomy over our own lives, but I certainly think they should.

6. What is your favorite artwork you’ve created and why is it your favorite?

This is a hard question as I develop a connection to almost every piece of art I create like they are my children, no joke. That being said, at this point my favorite piece of art I created is “July: She Is Free”. This piece was from a 12 part series titled “Unlimited” that I showed at Founder’s Brewing Company for ArtPrize 2017. The series was comprised of 12 mixed media, surreal portraits in which the meaning was influenced by the use of pattern and color. The series depicted women of all ages, races, and time periods, each communicating a different story. The aim was for the pieces to speak to women’s collective experiences beyond their differences. We tend to think of time and events in terms of our own personal history or the history of the nation in which we currently reside. But of course, there are women everywhere living out their day to day lives all over the world, with hopes, dreams, fears, relationships… Our situations and struggles are very different, but were we in some alternate reality all given a chance to meet, I suspect we would find some surprising similarities, maybe more than we ever expected. We are all worthy of love, safety, respect, and dignity. I am particularly attached to July because it depicts someone with a visible disability, something that is almost never seen in portrait arts. I am a huge proponent of disability rights, empowerment, and visibility. This piece was shown and awarded at the Midland Artists Guild’s Annual Juried Exhibition of 2018, and I actually overheard an attendee afterwards whispering to a friend, “But why would you want to draw those kind of people?” This is why I do what I do. Visibility and education are vital, as prejudice is rooted in ignorance. I aim to continue to challenge what beauty is in art.

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Artist Bio

My Experience With High Functioning Anxiety

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2019 has been rough. In an earlier post I commiserated that at least living in constant fight-or-flight mode birthed some awesome artwork, and I kind of kept doing that thing where I would joke about how terrible I was feeling, brush it off, tell myself it was just a “bout” that would pass. Then the months went on and I was still dealing with ramped up anxiety, waves of depression, moments of intense anger and irritability and an overall difficulty to control my emotions. I recognized what was happening because I’d been there before. As of this week, this time I am doing something about it.

I’ve dealt with anxiety since childhood, and always thought about counseling but then it would get better for a little bit, so I’d put it off. I had bouts of being pretty miserable and losing hope in nearly everything but at the same time, not to be funny, I wasn’t failing at life. I was maintaining a reasonable amount of friendships, I was handling a high stress job, I was churning out personal art projects that I was happy with at a pretty amazing speed … I’d had fleeting thoughts of suicidal ideation from high school going forward but they were isolated incidents, few and far between, and I always viewed them as some pesky creature that had invaded my brain like ‘hey, get out of here, you don’t belong!’ not something I seriously wanted to happen. After all, I’m the girl that goes to lengths to do everything possible now to guarantee I make it to 100 years old (constant worrying over mortality is probably another anxiety symptom, but hey)! I felt I didn’t really have a right to seek counseling because in the back of my mind I thought they might laugh in my face when I showed up for the first meeting and say, “Why are you even here?” So many people struggle so much worse.

One thing I’ve learned through my job working with adults with all forms of disability including psychological, is that all mental illness is wildly misunderstood by the population at large. I feel like with my struggles being mostly unseen, when shit finally hit the fan and started to get worse throughout the last 6 months or so I ended up feeling more isolated actually then when I’d been keeping silent and “passing”, and I don’t think I was prepared for that. My anxiety and depression didn’t fit the mold, and some days I wondered if I should just start laying around in bed just so people would take it seriously but the thing is, I was filled with energy and the last place I wanted to be was in bed. High functioning anxiety is real and it is tough, though it may not look as dire on the outside. I can never speak for everyone, but here is what this girl with high functioning anxiety wants you to know:

Don’t analyse us. (Unless you are our counselor and it’s your job 😉 ) We are already constantly questioning our every move, every word, every facial expression as we move through the world. People are allowed to not be at 100% 24/7. Saying “Why do you sound tense, why are you so turned up, calm down!” (I’ve literally had people say these things to me when I’m not even raising my voice, just have a serious expression on my face!) over and over again even if it is asked out of concern does not help, it just makes the anxiety worse. There are constructive ways to check in, but policing facial expressions and body language are not it.

When we talk about how we feel, don’t respond with, “You just need a drink”. I do drink socially, but usually try to not drink when I am feeling particularly low because it tends to make it worse. I am lucky to not struggle with this right now, but many people with anxiety and other either situational or permanent mental health issues self medicate with substances, so this could actually be really unhealthy and dangerous advice. I did struggle for a period of about a year in college with self medicating social anxiety in large gatherings with alcohol, and although we are very casual in the US about binge drinking being a “normal” part of transitioning through young adulthood, it really shouldn’t be as normal as it is.

Similarly, please don’t keep telling us we need to drink more tea, eat 10 almonds every day, or just eat a freaking banana. Full disclosure, I love all 3 of those things and do consume them quite regularly and guess what, I still have anxiety. Yes, a healthy diet certainly does impact one’s mental health and quality of life, but it isn’t always a magical panacea. I myself make a habit of eating healthy and tend to just think fresh, healthy food tastes better anyway. Yet again, I still deal with anxiety. Assuming someone’s mental health issues are occurring because they aren’t taking care of themselves is just that, assuming, and is just going to compound their feelings of guilt, shame, blame, and guess what – anxiety!

We aren’t “faking it” to get out of things we don’t want to do. I’m an adult. When I have to dial back on some things and allow for more margin in my life to recharge, I’m not “playing sick” to get to stay home from school and watch cartoons. I am a person that hates sitting around being inactive or being unreliable, and often joke that I’m allergic to relaxation. So, if I say I’m having a hard time and just can’t do a, b, or c, I mean it and usually no one is more frustrated about it than me. If I am experiencing a particularly rough time, there can also be a fear of potential embarrassment; What if I start having a panic attack and can’t get to a private place quick enough?

We don’t always need a solution from our support system. We don’t need a team of cheerleaders shouting at us, “You can do it! Pull it together!” We don’t need “tough love” and to be forced into going through the motions as if nothing is wrong in hopes by sheer force of willpower the cycle will be broken. We need to be heard. We need our support system to listen to understand, not listen to “fix” us or listen to reassure us “it’s not that bad”.

At the same time, no one else is responsible for our mental health but us. Anxiety is not a license to lash out at people with no consequences. No one is obligated to play therapist when we should be seeing a professional counselor. No one should feel the pressure of being the “one thing” keeping us going, and it is ok to respectfully call us out if you feel we are doing any of these things.

Know that there is no required severity level to getting help. You don’t have to wait until things reach a breaking point. Here are some other excellent articles with insight into a less often talked about dimension of anxiety:

What Are The Signs Of ‘High Functioning’ Anxiety?

What It’s Like To Have ‘High Functioning’ Anxiety

The Characteristics of High Functioning Anxiety

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Artist Bio

Slaying The Artist’s Block Monster

12One of the most frustrating things in the world for any creative person is that tricky artist’s block, lurking where you least expect it waiting to destroy everything that once brought you joy. It is quite literally the worst. I’ve experienced my own bouts of artist’s block on and off over the last year, and hope that some of the things that were effective for me may help other creatives out there. Without further adieu …

  • Get in the habit of daily practice. This first one is pretty standard yet still is, I think, the most difficult. You don’t have to complete something amazing every day. Even if it’s just a silly 5 minute doodle, do something to get in the habit of being creative on a regular basis. By keeping the creative part of your mind engaged daily, you will have an easier time getting in the zone when you have actual large amounts of downtime to work. As cheesy as it may sound, you can even try sketching something that made you happy each day. This is something I’ve done in the past that serves a dual purpose of not only helping me stay creatively engaged but helping me to focus on the gifts I am experiencing when the stuff of life is starting to get me down. Just think, even on your most awful days where you really don’t have much to be thankful for, look around you. Our world is pretty amazing, like a living work of art. We could live in a world where everything is brown and gray but we instead are able to live in a super saturated, colorful environment where everything that surrounds us naturally is so vibrant and intricate – even things many people think are gross or irritating like bugs ;). Ignore the schmaltz factor and just try it, I promise it works.
  • Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t meet your own expectations. Just make time to create where and when you can. If you get too legalistic about daily practice or having to work on your art for x number of hours per week without factoring in unavoidable external circumstances, you are just going to get defeated and end up creating the fated Impossible Task for yourself. Don’t discount the smaller moments and tell yourself you aren’t being productive enough. I am a big fan of sketching ideas on scrap paper over a lunch break at work, and then really diving in over weekends. Something different may work for your life and schedule. Just don’t let the fact that you may not have as much spare time as you’d prefer to devote to your craft stop you from doing it at all.
  • The Rush HourDraw from what you are feeling. Sometimes we have these specific  plans of visuals we want to create, but for whatever reason we just can’t get it out of our own heads. In the moment, something isn’t clicking. Creative practice is different from forcing yourself to to exercise or do the dishes … Sometimes not being enthused or inspired can be a legitimate barrier to getting anything done. If you experience one of these blockades, then what I’ve found works is to just roll with it and draw from what you are feeling in that moment. Are you feeling tense and exhausted? Make something about it, which is exactly what I ended up doing when I began the above drawing, “The Rush Hour”. Creativity is such a personal experience that draws on bringing the inside out, so if you aren’t in the right mindset don’t force yourself to make art about something that you aren’t feeling right now.
  • Don’t be afraid to start multiple things at once. As creators there is always that fear of being the jack of all trades and master of none, or being that artist who starts a million projects but never ends up finishing anything. However, I have found that within reason, having multiple things going at once can actually help you to be more productive. Sometimes you just get sick of looking at a project or you get stuck and are not sure how to move forward, and may need a couple of days to plan your next steps. Also, our brains all work differently, and some people simply cannot focus on one thing for an extended period of time even if they desperately want to. If you have multiple creative things going, you can simply put what you are working on away temporarily and move onto something else when you get stuck or lose focus, rather than putting your art away entirely and just turning on Netflix for the rest of the day.
  • 53786370_10156360021179895_3968639679464472576_nCreate challenges for yourself. I don’t watch a ton of TV, but I am a big fan of cooking challenge shows like Chopped and Masterchef, and am a sucker for the mystery box challenge. You can do the same thing with art instead of food. One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed participating in the ArtSnacks challenges while I have a subscription is because being limited to only a random selection of materials and colors and having to create something from that is a great way to generate new ideas and think of new ways to use familiar media. You can write different materials on scraps of paper, randomly draw 3, and make something amazing using only those 3 elements. This is something myself and other instructors have been trying to do with our Artshop Program students when we notice them getting stuck in repetitive ruts. Another idea is putting one of your favorite playlists on shuffle, and whatever song plays first, the words in that song title are your inspiration for what you are making. These are especially beneficial exercises for project control freaks like me (and probably some of you out there)!
  • 00000PORTRAIT_00000_BURST20190311175233624Get together with other creative people and do silly, low stress artsy activities. For my day job I run an art therapy based program, so I every day I get to see the power art has to inspire joy in both the creator and those around them, and how art has the power to make people feel heard and understood, and lift some of the individual weights we all have holding us down in our life even if only for a moment. Let’s be real though, art is also difficult and like any other skill takes practice and discipline. Make sure you have a balance in your life of serious artistic practice but also creative activities that are just for fun, where the process is more important than the outcome. I’ve recently been getting together with a small group of friends for monthly creative nights, and even if all we do is some silly home decor Pinterest fail project, just the practice of no-pressure creating is so rejuvenating. I’m also working individually on a screaming ceramic baby head paperweight, so there’s that. Ah, therapy…
  • Enter shows and events! Keep an eye out for opportunities to show your work. Sign up for things even when you feel you aren’t ready. To be honest, many of us are never going to feel ready so there’s just no point waiting around. To quote one of my favorite musicians, Amanda Palmer, from her very cool book for creators The Art of Asking, “When you’re an artist, nobody ever tells you or hits you on the head with the magic wand of legitimacy. You have to hit your own head with your own handmade wand.” Having clear deadlines will also help you get projects done, whether you are a do-everything-the-night-before creator or someone who plans for months. Also, don’t skip the openings even if it’s painfully awkward and not something you particularly enjoy. Don’t skip out on opportunities to network and talk to other people about what you do. When people hear the word “networking” they automatically associate it with generating business and making money but for me it’s not necessarily about that, but more about building confidence in what you do and being able to explain why you do it. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to inspire someone else!
  • Have a visible list of goals. I am a firm believer in the sticky note. I’m old school in the respect that I have to have my goals and reminders and deadlines physically written out with ink pen or I don’t pay attention to them, but digital means are great too, whatever works for you. The important thing is that you have a visual reminder of where you are going and when you want to get there.
  • 54257592_2437512312986061_671208117400240128_oLet other artists challenge and motivate you, but don’t compare yourself. Talking to other more experienced artists and learning from them is fantastic (Though I’d also argue you can learn from those that may be less experienced as well; I learn from my students all the time!), but it becomes toxic when you start comparing yourself to them. Everyone has their own style, and their own timeline. Don’t feel like you have to completely model yourself after someone else to be successful.

I hope this is helpful to other creative people out there, and if you have other things that work for you please feel free to share! Now get out there and make things happen :).

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