Tuesday, January 25, 2011


I've been neglecting the blog of late since I've been devoting a lot of my free time to some hobbies. Call it "refilling the tank," if you will. I'm a very creative person and always have been. And since my profession (writing) is also creative, it was a great career choice for me. But sometimes my writing saps my energy and drains the creative tank, as it were, and I get stuck. I need to change things up a bit in order to get the writing juices flowing again. Plus I have some neurotic tendencies (well, to say "some" would be a gross understatement) that tend to smooth themselves out when I'm working on making something from scratch----be it cooking a dish, baking a cake, sewing a dress, painting a picture, whatever. I really get into the "zone" when I make things by hand, and the whole world and my troubles just dissolve.

Some people take Prozac. I do crafts.

I was very into arts and crafts as a teenager, and my original college major was in the nationally ranked design and art college of the university where I would eventually pursue an English degree. I spent pretty much all of my free time in high school in one of two places: the art department and the theatre/music department. I took four years of studio art in high school as well as music/theatre/performing arts, and even got professional (paying!) art commissions and singing gigs as a teenager. I kept up with the music and theater throughout college and my adult life (doing both professionally, as well as writing professionally) but my studio arts interests kind of fell by the wayside after my freshman year of college. (I did eventually write art reviews and cover the Chicago art scene as a journalist, but that's not the same.)

I had originally planned to be a fine arts major in college, but my parents were terrified I'd end up starving to death, so I compromised and became an architecture major instead. I could draw, but I also was good at math and science and I thought buildings were cool, so I thought this was a reasonable compromise. Plus I'd actually stand a chance of getting a job when I graduated. I got admitted to the No. 1 architecture program in the country at the time (University of Cincinnati, which US News and World Report still ranks as No. 1) on a full scholarship. To say that the program was rigorous would be a gross understatement, too. Not only did I have to shell out literally thousands of dollars in drafting supplies my first quarter, I also pretty much had to give up eating and sleeping and spend my entire life "in studio." The program was hard to get into to begin with, but the first year was designed to weed out 60% of the incoming freshmen class. It was so very, very hard that I often I sat up nights at my drafting table and sobbed. Being one of very few women in a male-dominated major was also not easy to deal with. I also had bad experiences with professors and fellow students (and one other woman in particular, who harrassed me and destroyed my architecture models because she secretly liked the guy I was dating at the time).

After trying to stick it out for a while, I knew that architecture was not for me. I considered switching majors over to fine arts, but the fine arts studio was right next to the architecture department, and I wanted to get the hell out of that entire end of campus. So I followed my love of reading and writing across the quad to became an English major instead. To keep my parents happy I told them it was really since I planned to go to law school, but that was pretty much a lie. I just wanted to read and write and be left alone. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Speaking of history, I've always been a huge history buff, and one of my hobbies is historical reinactment. I'm especially fascinated with the history of writing, books, and publishing, especially old illuminated manuscripts. I had done some calligraphy and illumination as a kid but stopped doing it after the architecture-major fiasco. But lately I've been getting back into it, and I'm surprised how good I am at it after taking an almost 20-year hiatus. Spending an hour or two working on long-obsolete writing and publishing techniques has done wonders for my psyche, not to mention give me a newfound appreciation for just how easy it is for us to communicate in writing here in the 21st century. It wasn't always that way----reading and writing used to be a luxury enjoyed by very few, and books were luxury items that cost lots of money and also were a means to show off the great wealth of their owners.

I've been back into my artsy-crafty stuff for about a year now, and it's actually boosted my productivity as a writer tremendously. Whenever I get stuck on a writing project, I go paint something, or maybe do some sewing or leathercraft, which I also like. Eventually I want to put all three skills together and make a leather-bound medieval manuscript codex, but I think I'll have to wait until kiddo is a little older before I attempt something that ambitious. In the meantime, here's some samples of my work.

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