making memories

Confession: I actually pretty strongly dislike (yeah, okay, I hate) the expression "making memories." No offense if you're keen on it; I guess I would just argue that we don't really control which experiences are retained as memories as the expression seems to imply (the allure of control is so strong, after all, even when it comes to memory). Memories just get made and what gets retained over time is not necessarily always what we'd like to keep in our brains. And on the flip-side, sometimes our fondest memories are of fairly mundane experiences.

yarn + glue = magic!
Anywho...For the 100 Day Project, however, I'm using the expression more as a play on the idea of memories of making and how important the act of making stuff has been in my life since I was a wee lass. I recently traveled to Bend, Oregon, and retrieved a Mazda5 trunkful of childhood relics from my step-Dad's attic: boxes of art projects, letters, cards, photographs, quilts, and stuffed animals (a huge box of stuffed animals) that he's been storing for me since I moved from Bend to the Bay Area in 1997.

some things never change
Since that trip, which conveniently coincided with the start of the 100 Day Project on April 4th, I've posted an image every day (sometimes I'm a day or two behind) of something someone made for me or something that I made during childhood. Many of the items I made were completed right around the time my Mom died in 1988, or shortly thereafter in the first half of 1989, which was an unexpected discovery, especially given my memories of that time are incredibly hazy. It's interesting to think about these objects as memory triggers from a time I really don't remember all that well.

I invite you to follow along on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. We're less than 1/4 of the way through these 100 days so there's plenty of making memories/memories of making to enjoy.



Last summer, when the 8 year old came home with stories of playing Just Dance at Steve & Kate's, he and I joked, dance enthusiast that I am, that we should perform a duet together at this year's variety show at his school (at least one performance last year featured a mother-daughter duo). We promptly purchased the game and started playing, perfecting our moves and narrowing the field of potential routines. As the deadline to commit to try-outs loomed earlier this calendar year, despite some hesitation on my son's part, we decided to go for it, signing up to perform the first 90 seconds (routines had to be 2 minutes or less) of the Just Dance 2016 choreography to Animals by Martin Garrix.

The variety show was at the end of an extremely busy week at work and it's been a wacky couple of weeks since. I came down with a nasty cold that still lingers, both kids had a 24-hour stomach bug last week (on different days), and I got a bacterial infection under my fingernail. WTF. Art for a future has been on hiatus, indefinitely. I'm either legitimately crazy-busy, as they say, the ADD-tending brand of flakey, or a combination of the two that is lethal to one's art aspirations. In support of the "crazy-busy" theory, here's how a typical weekday goes: I wake up at 5:30 am to do a 20-30 minute workout in my living room. This is more about daily stress relief than it is about my physique or general health. Obviously. Around 6:15 I hop in the shower. I attempt to get myself as ready for the day as possible before the kids wake up, which is, on average, around 6:30 am. Neal, meanwhile, makes breakfast. Occasionally, but only on school days, we have to wake the 8 year old a little after 7 to allow enough time to get ready and out the door by 8. The 4 year old is usually the first to wake up but always the last to finish breakfast. She requires extensive prodding, occasional puppetry, and the promise of digital technology to get dressed, brush her teeth and hair, and put on her shoes. At the moment, Neal handles schlepping the kids to their two different schools while I head straight to work. So, yeah, I feel "crazy-busy" by 8 am every day even with a personal chef and morning chauffeur for my kids.

Work is incredibly busy lately. I realized recently that my "day job" has morphed into a career. How the hell did that happen? If I don't have an errand to run, which I often do, I try to take a 30-45 minute walk at lunch to counteract the extra pounds my body seems intent on storing in my backside and belly since taking on this mostly stationary gig a little over two years ago. On any days that don't involve afternoon meetings in San Francisco I'm pretty firm about leaving between 4:30 and 4:45. I pick up the kids and arrive home a little after 5. Neal cooks, I clean. By the time we do those two things, we have about 30 minutes, if we're lucky, before the most tedious, drawn-out bedtime routine in the history of humanity begins. The 4 year old's bedtime is technically 7:30, but I'm lucky if she's in bed by 8. It takes approximately 60-90 minutes to get her in the bath, out of the bath, teeth brushed, pajamas on, books read, encore presentations of various things like saying goodnight to other members of the family and going to the bathroom, and in bed for "snuggles and sleepy song". Reverse engineer from 7:30(ish) and there's your evening.

There is something about snuggling with her in her bed, in the dark, that zaps whatever little bit of energy I may have had left after a busy day of work. I literally feel like I could fall asleep every night around 8 pm. But I rally, throw in the laundry, fold the load from the last night, if it's not done already, and then make three lunches for the following day (one for myself plus one for each kid). Friday nights are my favorite not because anything exciting ever happens but because I don't have to make lunches. Woo!

In the meantime, Neal is getting the 8 year old ready for bed. We have had this same routine since kid #2 was a baby. On the one hand, they get some one-on-one time together and his bedtime is slightly later as a perk of being first-born. On the other hand, do you think it would be okay if I had the 8 year old put the 4 year old to bed while I enjoy a cocktail on the back patio??

Like the 4 year old, the 8 year old has a technical bedtime of 8 pm which translates to an actual bedtime of 8:15-8:30. By then, I've usually finished my evening "chores" referenced above but not always. I do enjoy getting 7 1/2 to 8 hours of sleep so ideally I'm headed to bed to read a little by about 9:30 pm. That leaves me an hour, max, between the time my work/family day is done and when I should really be getting to sleep. And keep in mind, I was kinda ready for sleep at 8. Those last 30-60 minutes of the day aren't exactly my brain's finest. And in that hour, I have an ongoing to do list that includes the following:
  • at last count 7 ongoing art projects/ideas
  • various website updates which are all a total time-suck
  • 6-7 grants, fellowships, and residencies to consider applying to
  • 3 design/Etsy-related ideas to execute
  • writing (I'm trying to write a screenplay - no, really - and I have 3 blogs to maintain)
  • 2-3 crafty projects (remember the tardigrades?!)
  • an endless list of projects around the house, not to mention weekly cleaning, and 3-4 DIY/spring cleaning projects
  • robust planning/to do lists for seasonal/holiday crap between October and April
  • kids' stuff including, but not limited to: birthdays, homework, longer-term projects, volunteering, behavioral goals, general shopping, etc.
  • other planning around extended family, travel, etc.
That's a lot to cram into an hour, at best, each day, right? If I had my druthers, I'd have all day to tackle those bullet points. But I don't. So, as counter as it is to how I like to work, creative generalist that I am, I should probably focus on just one extra thing that's not work or kids. I try instead to chip away a little at all categories over the course of the week and it's just a disaster. What I decide to focus on is still a little bit up in the air but the thing that motivates me most is the thing I'm least qualified to do: write a screenplay. Why a screenplay, you might ask? Well, I've been interested in narrative/storytelling for a long time, and I've found that that's a tall order for a painting, for example. I came up with a work-around that sounds a little something like this: "I'm interested in creating a setting for the possibility of narrative" which I think is what led me to interactive projects and social practice, the idea being the viewer/participant would provide much of that narrative aspect. And I'm still interested in doing that, but I also have a very specific story to tell. Like Moonlight, it will be "both sweeping and specific", I promise. And rather than write it out prose-like, I'm interested in telling this story primarily through images, visual person that I am. There's also something very appealing about the structure of a screenplay, providing the skeleton for a story without fully fleshing it out. As far as my inexperience goes, well, I've watched a shit-ton of movies. So there.


art for a future, take two post-inauguration

After the election, I wrote about wanting to revive this project, finally putting to use the 500 postcards I had printed with this design about ten years ago, while a grad TA for Chantal Zakari's 'Publish!' course at SMFA.

This is on the reverse of each of the cards below (and in the series).
Not surprisingly, I had no takers on the interactive element, so after the inauguration, I decided to use them myself. Every day since January 20th, I've used the back of one of these 6 x 8 inch postcards to record something somewhat positive or, more recently, as I continue to find my way with the project, something resistance-related that happened that day. Here are some of my favorites so far:

When I've missed a day for one reason or another (only three times so far), I try to catch up the next day using two postcards together in a way that makes sense, both visually and conceptually.

If you'd like to follow along, I'm posting these on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, but if you're only interested in 'art for a future' and don't care so much for pictures of my kids or other political rants, I have a tumblr devoted to this project alone. You can follow along there.


contents of a dead woman's wallet

Over the past 15 years or so, my interests as an artist have returned time and again (even when encouraged to move away from intensely personal imagery and subject matter) to the place where displacement, loss, memory, and commodity meet. In my most recent effort, which I've collectively titled Who is Amanda Fisher?, I have applied a daily (or so) goal over the past year to make “art from ephemera” to a deeper investigation of the contents of my dead mother’s wallet, which functions as a sort of time capsule 28 years after she died. After I started the project, I was pointed to Jack Finney’s 1956 short story Contents of the Dead Man’s Pockets, which has served as inspiration for continuing the project beyond the date of her December 28th death (the last dated material in her wallet was from December 24, 1988). I’m interested in confronting the relative value of these scraps of paper as they take on added meaning and significance through the distance in time and space from those original experiences. Furthermore, might it be possible to recreate a narrative, however fictional in nature due to the unreliability of memory's function over time, by replicating my mother’s actions as evidenced by, largely, receipts during her final weeks? What do these scraps of paper say, if anything, about my mother or her relationship to me, 11 at the time? What might this project reveal about my own choices and priorities 28 years later, not unlike Finney’s character, as I juggle the demands of my day job, a family, and my own creative needs and drives?

Those are questions I hope to explore, possibly in a more interactive way as well, as the project evolves in the first half of 2017. Stay tuned!


100% FTE, or "I got a day job!" Part 4

Back in September, I wrote about how excited I was to work less, make art, reducing my day job schedule to 80% FTE (which in my case translated to 30 hours split over four days, with Fridays off). That schedule was short-lived for a number of reasons, largely the fact that I feared, after 5 to 6 weeks, I'd taken a 20% pay-cut to do the same amount of work, spending several hours most Fridays "off", and increased time during evenings and weekends, checking in and catching up remotely. And I'm not exactly the "lean in" type, but reducing my schedule, while still legally considered full-time, meant I was no longer eligible for merit raises (of a whopping 1-2% annually, but still), just one example of how not working full-time penalizes those who choose to spend their time elsewhere (and I'm certain this all or nothing approach is not necessary). Kind of irksome, wouldn't you agree? So in November I resumed my 100% FTE schedule, part 4(ish), if we're counting, of this whole "I got a day job!" adventure that started exactly two years ago today.

And in an exercise of opposites, during this same stretch of time, my backyard studio shed was completed! Isn't it a thing of beauty, those 120 square feet of pristine, serene, kid-free space in which to think, design, create, paint, etc.? If only I had more TIME to spend in it. Alas, despite my quest to avoid picking just two but rather claim a wee bit of all three ingredients to a creative life-work "balance" - time, space, money - seems I'm back to two: space and money (and, blasted!, not even that much money).

That said, I did manage to crank out some crafty projects for the holiday period and thought I'd highlight a few here, beginning with our annual holiday card, something I've designed myself every year so far that we've been a party of 2+:

Inspired by the adult coloring book craze.
Sent with a couple of crayons (that likely got crushed in transit).
I've had these styrofoam balls for a couple of years that I combined (well one, anyway) this year with my pom pom stash and my love of the glue gun to make a cupcake ornament for my mother-in-law.

I used the ornament "hardware" from the little ball ornaments I picked up at Target (I intended to make more styrofoam ornaments but never got around to it) so I repurposed the balls themselves in this wreath:

I think I may have added a ribbon at some point; it's foggy now, a month later. Likewise, we were well into December by the time I transformed a Ferrero Rocher tray I snagged at work into a boozy chocolate advent calendar:

I wanted to make a little something for each of my kids and finally got around to using the set of snowman buttons I ordered from The Clay Bean Co. on Etsy three years ago!

I made a simple, felt snowman with the buttons and a similarly designed reindeer with regular buttons. I wasn't exactly going for a literal "deer in the headlights" look but I think it gives this particular reindeer a little extra character.

In the food department, I modified Paper & Stitch's circus animal cookie fudge recipe using Mother's Cookies limited holiday edition and they came out equally tasty (I'll make the classic pink version again closer to Valentine's Day). We also made chocolate gingerbread cookies but my attempt to dip them in peppermint white chocolate failed. They became sandwich cookies instead.

Finally, in the junior department, check out this crazy ribbon tree - with functioning lights! - that Elias made in his after school program. The art teacher in the program facilitated this over a couple of weeks and then sent each kid who participated home with a personalized goody bag full of art supplies! Art teachers seriously rock.

That's it for 2016. My 2017 new year's resolution is to devote these little bits of time (all I have at the moment) to working in the studio. Because when you look back at the end of the holiday period, that's not too shabby for a full-time working parent of two. If I do say so myself.


December 23 and 24: shop around the clock

In the mid- to late 1980s I remember a retro department store commercial that aired around Christmas using the song by Bill Haley & The Comets, Rock Around The Clock (which, coincidentally, came out in 1955, the year my Mom was born) to advertise last-minute shopping hours. I suspect that's what my Mom was up to on December 23 and 24 in 1988, when she returned to "the Exchange" and spent $22 on "Radio, T.V.", and another $19.95 at the Stars & Stripes bookstore on Christmas eve.

I, too, did some last-minute shopping (although I have to confess I kind of hate shopping and while I love the idea of supporting local businesses, try to do most of it online). On Friday, I took my daughter to Walgreen's so she could pick out a gift for her brother (and picked up a few other things as well). On Saturday, we braved the Grand Lake area of Oakland (nice weather, day before Christmas, Saturday farmer's market!) to buy a book for my mother-in-law at Walden Pond books. Unfortunately, I don't have proof of that purchase as I've since misplaced the receipt. But spend roughly twenty bucks at a bookstore on Christmas eve, like my Mom 28 years before, I did.

I don't have any dated ephemera between Christmas eve and December 28th, the day she died, but I have at least one more post in this series that I'll get to soon to wrap up this writing experiment.


December 22: cheese, cheese, and more cheese

My Mom liked cheese. In fact, in general, from what I remember, she quite liked dairy: cheese, butter, ice cream. I remember getting government cheese when we lived in Reno, Nevada, and, later, generous bowls of cookies & cream.

On December 22, 1988, my Mom went to the "commissary" - that's a grocery store for anyone who hasn't spent much time on a military base. Looking at what she bought (lots of cheese, pepperoni, and olives, among a few other items), I can only imagine she was getting ingredients for our traditional Christmas eve pizza dinner. It's curious that she paid the $31.37 tab with a $35 check, getting $3.63 back in cash. I wonder how she spent $3.63?

We will likely order pizza takeout again this year (carrying on that Christmas eve tradition of holiday lights, followed by pizza, each kid then opening one gift which always just happens to be pajamas), so while I went to Safeway I didn't buy cheese and pepperoni. I went in for our traditional Christmas morning "Grands" cinnamon rolls (once again not feeling up to attempting homemade cinnamon rolls this year) but came out with a few additional items: chocolate chips to make more cookies to leave out for Santa, ice cream to accompany Christmas day dessert, strawberries by request of the 3 year old who accompanied me, and flowers for the table. At the store, I couldn't recall exactly how much my Mom had spent on this day 28 years ago, but I was pretty close.

(Can you believe Miracle Whip was only $1.11 back then?)