7.05.2017

why does she do it?

Following up on my previous post on the topic, I thought I might spend the summer leading up to my last day at my day job exploring in a little more detail why I included each of the articles in my "quit your job" bibliography. I thought surely I'd included Anne-Marie Slaughter's article 'Why Women Still Can't Have It All', which was published in The Atlantic in 2012, a couple of years before I went back to work full-time, almost a year even before my second kid was born (her book, on the other hand, came out a few months after I'd settled into my current gig). I've thought of that article often since January 2015, but I didn't include it in my bibliography because I didn't want it to be perceived as a sort of "women & work" reader. I don't believe the issues I'm been dealing with, supported by the articles that I've included, are necessarily unique to my being a woman or a working mother. I think they're equally, if not at times more tied to dissatisfaction with a daily routine over which I don't feel I have much creative control. And yet, as I settle into this odd liminal period, coming out, so to speak, to people every day that I'm leaving my position at the end of summer, I find myself returning to this tension between career and family that, whether I address it here or not, is undeniably at the core, alongside creative concerns, of why I'm quitting. In short, being a FTWM has been a bit of a drag.

My favorite kind of working mother stock photo! Except this is me and my daughter.
After I read the book 'I Don't Know How She Does It', my main question wasn't so much how she does it but why? Granted, I was self-employed with half the kids I have now, and I'm not exactly on par with what a hedge fund manager does (or makes) in my current gig, but at the time and even more so now, after 2 1/2 years of working full-time while juggling family needs alongside my desire/need for more time to be creative, I couldn't understand why she (spoiler alert!) was still at her job at the end of the book. Her daily routine sounded miserable and exhausting; in a word, unsustainable.

On the other end of the spectrum, my issue with books like Laura Vanderkam's 'I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time' is that the onus should not be solely on working mothers to figure out how to "have it all"; the problem is with the systems in place that make the necessary ingredients like decent pay, flexibility, and opportunities for growth and advancement so challenging in the first place (and don't even get me started on the fact that she only interviewed women who make six figure salaries, as if an arbitrary amount of money equals success).

Which is not to suggest I think mothers shouldn't work unless they're ready for a life of misery. Most of my mother friends do work and wouldn't have it any other way. They're equally overwhelmed at times, but for the most part they love what they do, they're wonderful parents, and they have items in that elusive third bucket as well, whether it be a creative hobby, exercise, a side gig, volunteering, the occasional date night, etc. But, just because other women do it well or, more importantly, because there are plenty of working mothers who don't have the choice to work less or stay home with their kids (I was raised by one), is no argument for martyring oneself. It's a little like telling your kids to finish their dinner because there are starving children in Africa (do parents still use that line?). American kids finishing their leftovers is hardly going to solve world hunger. Likewise, staying at a job that makes me unhappy won't ever solve the systemic issues that make this math equation virtually impossible to solve in the first place.

A couple of years ago, a study made the rounds that reassured working mothers that their kids were going to be just fine. My response to that article, not unlike my response to Allison Pearson's novel was, great, but how are the working moms doing? Ultimately, what I find refreshing in Slaughter's take on all this compared to someone like Vanderkam is that she focuses not on what working mothers are or aren't doing well, or enough of, or too little of, or by defining their success by how much money they make. Rather, she goes to the heart of the problem and addresses the issues that make the "feminist narrative" most easily accessible only to women who "are superhuman, rich, or self-employed." Ultimately, I find less useful the stories of working mothers who've found success in the existing system and a growing interest in changing the system itself to be more equitable and accessible for all women.

Finally, with respect to that "feminist narrative," feminism for me is all about choice. You can't tell me I can choose to be what I want, and then tell me my choice is wrong (nor would I do this to any other woman). It's the same defense I explore in my screenplay which is, in part, about the princess culture backlash backlash. But more about that in a later post. I need time, after all, to finish that screenplay, top on my to do list that begins on September 1st.

6.23.2017

pay for it

Yeah, so, yesterday was a parenting milestone for me. And by milestone I mean, barring a diagnosis of cancer or death by freak accident, one of the worst days of my tenure so far as a parent. Not only did my newly minted nine year old have the virus his four year old sister had exactly one week before (nausea, fever, congestion, fatigue), on Wednesday evening, in response to furious scalp scratching, I checked and confirmed not one, but TWO cases of head lice. I removed several live bugs from each kid's head. Yuck.

We hadn't yet experienced this common nuisance. For something so common, the level of misery was surprising and is, to some extent, ongoing. Because it was my first time, both kids had it, and I was dealing with it solo, I decided to go to a nit removal salon. Doesn't that sound nice? A day at the spa, if you will. The four year old, with her long hair that takes five minutes to detangle at least once daily,  managed pretty well through what is apparently not a terribly pleasant experience. My son, on the other hand, who refuses to comb his shaggy hair, ever ("I like it messy!"), shut down after the professional nit picker (?) pulled a comb called "The Terminator" through his hair maybe three times. I seriously threatened to cancel his birthday party tomorrow if he didn't quickly learn how to deal with a little discomfort in this life.


Long story short, both kids were treated, the nine year old now sports a summer buzz cut, the house is ridiculously clean, and combing through everyone's hair with a $20 accessory* is now a critical component of our morning and evening routines. At least until we go back for a head-check early next week. I'm feeling pretty in touch with my primate roots, let me tell you.

*Do yourself a favor and order one of these from Amazon RIGHT NOW. If you're a parent, it's only a matter of time before this hell will visit your home. Be prepared and save yourself ten bucks. Then you can go to a real salon and treat yourself to whatever self-care you can purchase for ten bucks (upper lip wax, perhaps?).

Anyway, we were listening to Hamilton this morning, as one does while getting ready for the day, and when 'Wait For It' came on and it got to the part where Aaron Burr sings "Life doesn't discriminate..." I got an idea for a cathartic way to process the big emotions I've been experiencing over the past 48 hours. If you're a parent, a Hamilton fan, and you've experienced this common misery before, this is the anthem for you.

Pay For It
(set to the tune of Wait For It from the Original Broadway Cast of Hamilton soundtrack)

The kids come home from school and camp every day
I’m making dinner when I tell ‘em “put your toys and games away!”
The 4 year old complains her head is itchy,
behind her ears and the nape of her neck.
That tickling feeling in the hair…
Infestation. Oh heck!

Lice doesn't discriminate
Between the curly
and the straight
It lays all its eggs and it stays
And we keep picking anyway
We cringe and we cry
And we clean
And we wash all the sheets
And if there's a solution, ain’t gonna lie,
After all the other remedies I’ve tried
Then I'm willing to pay for it
I'm willing to pay for it

Pay for it!

This is just one of those things I cannot control!
We practice good hygiene,
Never had a problem before.
I checked her head after the last outbreak,
The nits were too small to see,
They’ve been lying in wait!

Parenthood feels like an endless uphill climb
Found so many live lice
Put all the brushes on ice.
It could be worse,
but this comb-through’s taking all my time.

(What if I shave her head?)

Lice are human parasites,
You might sleep light
because they bite and they’re active at night.
Their nits warm while they incubate.
Lay eggs every day.
And they’ll mate, make no mistake!

So if there's a solution
where my child thrives and no louse survives,
Then God dammit
These buggers are gonna pay for it.
Yeah, they're gonna pay for it!

6.05.2017

peanut butter jelly time

I quit my job today. Well, officially, I gave notice last Friday, then I told my boss' boss today. But my last day is almost three months from now. You see, I can provide a generous notice because I don't have another job lined up (yet).

People have already inevitably begun to ask me what I plan to do. I anticipated this, so a few weeks ago I started a list of possible responses. Here they are, in no particular order:

  • I'm going to figure out how to make hand-stitched felt phone cases for Android, minus the carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • I’ll be making videos for my YouTube channel “dances with kids” of me, dancing with my kids.
  • I’m developing recipes for a cookbook called “Sweet on Oakland: Cookies Inspired by Oakland Neighborhoods".
  • I’m starting a food truck business that serves only peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. Each PB&J order comes with a free carton of milk!
  • I’ve signed a NDA and I can’t tell you where I'm going from here.
I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that not many of these responses will satisfy the question, "what are you going to do?" So, in other words, what people really want to know is, "how do you plan to make money?" Because, as you can see, I have no shortage of things to do to fill my time. And I do plan (hope) to monetize a few of them.

Before I get to the "quit your day job" bibliography promised above, here's a collection of thoughts I've already posted on this topic since my second kid came along over four years ago:
Additionally, here are some things other folks have written on the topic, suggested further reading (and a few things to listen to and watch) if you're looking for a "work less, make art" reader:
I think that's enough for now. A list of movies about characters who've quit their jobs or made some sort of big life change will likely follow. You can otherwise follow my journey right here. And here and here and here.

4.24.2017

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.


3.22.2017

animals


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.

2.17.2017

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.

1.18.2017

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!