Thursday, June 30, 2011

Butterfly People

Another of my rewards for crossing the novel finish line was a nice big stack of art magazines (pretty much everything Somerset Studio publishes, plus a few on quilting and sewing.) I parked them on the porch table so I could get my fix whenever the dogs and I came out to hang with the birds.

I admit, I am kind of addicted to ArtMag world. It's an amazing, beautiful place. On this planet (populated entirely by the nicest women you'll never meet) everyone talks about the creative life as a journey of self-discovery. No one ever gets angry or annoyed or has a bad day. While they're effortlessly throwing together the most astonishing projects, they're also finding enlightenment or artistic validation or having some other kind of continuous spiritual orgasm.

In almost every issue there is someone who works exclusively in shades of white, or transforms plastic grocery bags into designer purses, or turns old watches into steampunk cuffs and pendants (which they claim they wear in public. I'm dying to see that.) Their friends are amazingly gifted artists who only want to inspire each other to greater creative heights. Their homes smell of cookies and lavender and baby powder. They have more Victorian art scattered around than Queen Victoria did. They listen to classical music 24/7. There don't seem to be any men in ArtMag World, but there's always a punched copper pie safe in the kitchen, a claw-footed tub in the bathroom, and somewhere near a window a mason jar tied with raffia and filled with sea glass and a single sunflower that never dies.

I want to go to this planet someday, and crash an ephemera exchange tea party so the hostess has to whip up in five seconds a place card for me out of old Valentines and Scrabble tiles. I want to gobble an entire cracked porcelain platter of those perfect chocolate raspberry scones dusted with powder sugar through a doily and sprinkled with edible flower petals. I want to tie bouquets of fresh violets gathered with vintage lace and old rhinestone brooches to the handles of coffee mugs and then watch people try to drink from them without putting out an eye. After we collage the contents of a hope chest into a 5 X 7 shadow box with the word DREAM stamped crookedly on a white-washed Barbie's head, I want to talk about the creative life in words that in our world are most often used to describe scented fabric softener, women's winged sanitary products, and extra-plush toilet paper.

Most of all I want to meet these women -- these fabulous, ethereal, gossamer creatures who evidently don't have jobs, spouses, weight problems, body odor, bills, etc. Apparently they never walk the floors at 3 a.m., sweaty and pissed off because they're having hot flashes or can't turn off their brains. Their lovely white cats sit in windowsills all day instead of hawking up hairballs and sharpening their claws on the furniture. I never see one of these artistic types perspiring as they plow through a six pound stack of their art while their peach tea goes cold and the ant bites on their right foot itch like the devil. They certainly don't seem to get hate-mail from disgruntled folks who decide they've forced their art on the world, and for whatever reason it offends justifies the audience bitch-slapping the artist with partially-starred expletives. No, I think they just shimmer all day as they flit around on translucent jewel-toned wings, like butterfly people.

Maybe this is why so many creative souls fear they're not legit; because they don't live on ArtMag world. They don't sprout wings the minute they rise from their not-so-snowy sheets. When they look at themselves in the mirror, they realize their T-shirt and shorts don't match, or their bra is giving them a uniboob, or they haven't shaved their legs in two months. They go out to drink the coffee they got on sale out of a chipped Garfield mug, and pet their scrawny tabby cat, which has shown its love by depositing an eviscerated lizard on the seat of the spouse's favorite armchair. The mail doesn't arrive in envelopes covered with calligraphy tied together with an ombre silk ribbon. Friends call only to bitch about their bad marriages or ask some insanely inconvenient favor. The tea parties in this world are run by the likes of Rush Limbaugh.

I know I'll never live in an ArtMag world. Writing is not especially pretty. Most of the time it's very hard, exhausting work that seems to take forever and can't be accomplished by gathering a list of supplies and following half a page of instructions. Our results are always and forever a stack of printed pages and that's it. You can dress that up with as many rhinestone brooches and dew-spangled violet bouquets as you want, but underneath all the ephemera you pile atop it the work remains work.

To be honest, I don't think ArtMag world exists. I think the all-white artist has a house that smells like chlorine and chalk, and the baker just burned her latest batch of scones because her mother called and distracted her, and the steampunk jewelry maker has to get a tetanus shot because she sliced her finger open while dissecting that rusty old watch. They live in the real world, just like the rest of us poor slobs, and while you'll never see the bleach bottles, burnt offerings or bloodstains in a magazine, they're still there, just beyond the butterfly wings.


  1. I personally don't want to live anywhere as sterile as ArtMag world. The grit is what makes life interesting, and it's definitely what makes art interesting.

  2. Amen! I also feel that way about organizing magazines too. I want my house to be organized, neat, or just less cluttered so that I don't have to pick up toys and such before company. But I live in the real world. I have two kids 7 and 4 and they have enough toys to open a used toy shop. So I look at the covers of those magazines and fantasize!

  3. I get that same feeling when I read scrapbooking magazines and get a glimpse at the perfect, perfect scrapbook studios some people seem to have.

    It's fun to visit those worlds and sigh and say, "If only."

  4. Excellent post today! You've perfectly identified how I feel when I read some of the ARTMAGs. But I do believe there is a dark reality in between the pages. Thankfully-it's a lot like my world some days.

  5. Anne V.11:27 AM

    This doesn't quite fit the post, but speaking of the time and energy for creating, NaNoWriMo has launched Camp NaNoWriMo for the month of July. Now all of those people who want more novel month fun can take on the challenge in the summer as well. I know you post about this in November and thought you might be interested to know about this development from the Office of Letters and Light.

  6. Oh I needed to hear this today of all days. Although I didn't think anyone had noticed the uniboob thing.

  7. Oh my, yes! As a former employee of the aforementioned ArtMag crack, publisher... I can't say how often I become irritated by exactly this. I admire the art (most of it), but the "standard of living" it promotes alongside is just another way to make the rest of us feel sub-standard.

  8. Anonymous4:49 AM

    I've found that keeping a running tally of my word-count does wonders for my feeling of legitimacy as a writer.


  9. Atropa Rainwater12:05 PM

    Oh! I needed that. I realize this is an older post now, but that was the second great laugh I've gotten from this blog today.

    I create my own little realities that I live in - my husband tells people I'm quite mad.

    I write and bleed emotions all over my pages while enjoying quality coffee with friends and eating gourmet chocolates. My house is huge and perfectly clean and I am a huge success as an author.

    Then my dog wet-noses me in the side and I realize everything I just wrote was crap, it's cheap coffee from Costco, I don't have friends (not that do coffee with me), and I'm munching on cheap chocolates leftover from valentine's day. I'm sitting at a rickety desk in a (messy) rental house and am on poverty flats right now.

    And then I just crack a smile and laugh, pet the dog who is so proud of himself for distracting me, and weave my illusion back around myself.

    While I intend to be very successful (I own a business and many websites on top of writing) and I want to enjoy the nice things in life, sometimes the imagining of those nice things is half the fun. It gives you something to go to and enjoy for a bit while things are dodgy.

    I know a pro scrapbooker. Nicest lady you could ever meet, but her life is in a shambles. But she's happy through all of it. I've seen the gluing together of the fingers and putting a picture upside down on the page. Not perfection.

    Sorry, maybe this all seems a little off-topic. But I'm coming to the conclusion that we create our own glamour. And the crap that comes with it (like the inky mess ALL over my arm today because my pen rebelled) is just part of the massive fun. :)

    Thanks for putting up with me . . .


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