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?)


December 16: doodles & dental care

On this day in 1988, my Mom went to what we, living on a military base overseas, called "the exchange." The AAFES Main Store was basically our one-stop solution for non-grocery items, like a small department store.

She bought a variety of things there that evening, including "doodles", "dental care", hair accessories, and girl's clothes, undoubtedly some of which were Christmas presents nine days later. She spent $83.30 and paid by check.

I, on the other hand, with no "AAFES Main Store" to shop at, went to Costco. I picked up an item I'd ordered from the photo department, then spent a little over $50 on holiday-related merchandise.

The only way I was able to go to Costco on a Friday afternoon is because I'd taken that day off to attend holiday parties at each kid's school, one in the morning, the other in the late afternoon. The last couple of years since I went back to work full-time, my work-life balance, as they say, pretty cushy in comparison, have given me new perspective on remembering my Mom, she working sometimes more than one full-time job (when she was a single parent), while juggling the needs of two children, running holiday errands after 8 p.m. The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas have proven most challenging for me as a full-time, working-outside-the-home parent, when so many additional factors are added to what is essentially a math equation that already rarely works out each week. These kinds of weeks were her last.


Who is Amanda Fisher?

I'm starting a new project today (art, writing, investigative, all of the above?), retracing a few of my mother's steps during her final few weeks of life, as evidenced by receipts (and other pieces of ephemera) found in her wallet when she died on December 28, 1988, the wallet serving as a kind of time capsule from almost 28 years ago, having traveled over 5,600 miles (we lived on Rhein Main Air Base near Frankfurt, Germany at the time).

On December 8, 1988, she went to the post office. Looks like she mailed four packages, most likely back to "the States", probably to one or both sets of parents/grandparents and one or more of her four sisters. She spent $54.71.

So today, while I didn't have any packages to send (yet), I too went to the post office and spent $56.40  (as close as I could get to $54.71 in first class holiday stamps).

But who is Amanda Fisher?


don't call it a she shed

When my youngest kid came along, almost 4 years ago, her "nursery" eventually took over the extra room in our house that I'd slowly but surely claimed as my office/studio. Since then I've distributed the contents of my studio across my bedroom closet, the hallway closet, and one wall of the garage. Not ideal. But then I got a full-time day-job and haven't had much time to work in a proper studio, anyway. And not that you need a proper studio to be an artist and make stuff, either. But having a dedicated space of some sort helps, especially when you share most of your 1000 square feet of living space with a spouse who mostly works at home, two kids, and pets. For example, I'm typing this on my laptop in a little writing nook I created by clearing out half of my bedroom closet, the other half partially filled with portfolios and boxes and bins of older work and materials for ongoing projects - indeed, my wardrobe takes up very little space in my closet! Our drawers are under our bed. Ah, urban living!

I briefly considered renting a studio when I got this day job. A couple of years ago, you could rent a small studio in a shared building in Oakland for as low as $250 per month. I weighed the pros and cons of being in a shared artists' space with the convenience of having a space in or very near my home.

Given my homebody tendencies and the little bit of time I have to spend on making work, having little to no commute to and from my studio seemed like a must-have. The challenge then became: how do we carve out some dedicated studio space in a smallish house with a smallish outdoor space we didn't want to sacrifice. Our two options seemed to be: hire a general contractor for a one-room extension (hello, sticker shock ... also, good luck finding a GC in the Bay Area right now) or build a 10 x 12 detached studio (no design permits required!), either option assuming the removal of a 10 x 13 rusty garden shed we were mostly using for storage. In the end, building a studio shed in place of our old garden shed would be the most cost-efficient way to add space without losing any of our back yard.

That said, we'd already maxed out home improvement projects we could handle with cash and we weren't about to charge any of this (paying down our debt as we were according to the debt snowball payment method). So we looked into home equity line of credit and cash-out refinance options. We bought our house over six years ago, possibly the best time to buy a house in the Bay Area in recent history. Talk about lucky. Our decision to move back to Oakland in the midst of the great recession, only one of us employed at the time at a 50% pay-cut, to boot, not to mention a one-year-old in tow, had paid off. When the start-up company that Neal worked for at that time was acquired by a larger company, they cashed out his stock options. No more stock options was a bummer, but we were finally faced with the possibility of having enough savings to put something, maybe not 20%, but something down on a house in the Bay Area! Indeed, we were able to scrape together the minimum 10.01% for a conventional loan, but because it was less than the standard 20%, we've been paying mortgage insurance as well. Given the increase in home values in our area, the cash out refi worked out to be a better deal for us. Our mortgage now, with the mortgage insurance out of the equation at long last, and a few other tweaks, is only about $100 more per month than we were paying before, and we got a decent little chunk of change back to fund the studio shed, relandscaping, exterior house painting, and a couple of additional interior projects as well (if we have anything leftover after the outside projects are complete!).

After day 2 of installation. A little more work, wiring, and paint and it'll be done!

We started design work in the spring and began getting quotes on the actual landscaping work, but by the time we settled on Modern Shed for the studio, and given their 9-10 week timeframe on delivery/installation, we had some downtime and waiting. Landscaping demolition began in early October, followed by a couple of weeks when progress was very slow, mostly rain-related. But suddenly, this past week or so, seems everything is coming together rather quickly. It's a surreal experience but I ain't gonna lie - it's pretty great. I can't wait to get in there and start making work again. After the last few weeks, difficult on many levels for many reasons, I may just never leave!


art for a future

What can I say about this week so far that hasn't already been said by far more intelligent folks with a much more clever way with words? If you'd like a sampling of the reaction and sentiments that I share, just take a peek at my Twitter feed. There's not much to add here. Except to launch, at last, a project I've been sitting on for just about 8 years, since the last Republican was in our country's highest elected office.

Art for a future is yet another call for participation. I created these 6 x 8 inch offset lithography postcards as a sort of art prompt, pairing Durer's famous 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' with an art historical quote about how that work functioned as a prism through which the events of the time period were viewed, but also offering the brilliant David Hockney's comment, as, perhaps, a counter to this function of the images we produce: “If we are to change our world view, our images have to change.” Right now, I really feel our actions and words need to change, but I'm equally interested in the kinds of images that will come out of this next chapter of humanity. I'm cautiously optimistic and, as always, I look to art and culture for comfort.

So hope on over to the tumblr and submit your response. Email me (becky [at] rebeccabirdgrigsby [dot] com) for postcards - request one for yourself and/or a stack for a group, especially if you're a teacher working with younger folks (although middle school and up is probably best for this project).


America right now is Westworld's Teddy Flood

In the final days of this election, my mind keeps going to Westworld (so, yeah, spoiler alert), specifically to the character of Teddy Flood, played by James Marsden. In one scene, we discover that Teddy, a robotic "host", was given a vaguely tragic backstory that was never fully developed. In another scene, faced again with the possibility of a future with fellow, increasingly sentient host Dolores (played by Evan Rachel Wood), Teddy alludes to some "reckoning" he needs to do first.

Running with this television show metaphor, it seems to me most Americans right now fall somewhere along the Teddy spectrum as his storyline progresses, with a collective backstory that is at least in part “a formless guilt you will never atone for,” and with a whole lot of reckoning yet to do. On one end, Teddy, vaguely optimistic, looks toward the future but never manages to break free from his story's loop. On the other end, Teddy's path, now with a fatalistic backstory, seems destined to lead to a violent end.

Choose your next adventure wisely, fellow Americans. Because this election ain't fiction.


loss, literally

As those of you who follow me elsewhere probably know by now, we lost our 18 1/2 year old cat Sophie on Thursday, October 13th. Actually, we "lost" her on Monday, October 10th, in the true definition of the word; she died three days later. I've written about the cats (Xander is the other half of this duo, who together gradually grew to be a very "bonded pair" since their adoption together in 1999) quite a bit over the course of this now 11 year old blog. I'd like eventually to write even more about Sophie's life, about all the delightfully mundane things I never thought to record here. But for now, the story that I need to get down is about the events of that awful week: her loss, our reunion, and her death.

The evening of Monday, October 10th (my birthday, which will forever be marked by the start of this tragic timeline of events) was a perfect storm of chaos. I'd taken the day off and Neal and I had enjoyed the day together after I volunteered in my son's art class that morning. We did some clothes shopping (still one of the most challenging things to do after having kids), had lunch, then tinkered around at home while the landscape guys jack-hammered away at the concrete out back on day two of the relandscaping and general home improvement project that had just gotten underway. I was suddenly in a bit of a funk that afternoon, which I wrote off to Sunday grumpies something fierce after a four-day weekend (not to mention the aforementioned jack-hammering going on outside). I was running later than I wanted to fetch the kids from their schools. I wanted to get them a bit earlier than usual, not only because I could, but because we had arranged to have a sitter that night for the first time in about ten months. I scrambled to put together a "cheat sheet", as promised to the sitter, and tidied their rooms and laid out their PJs before dashing off to retrieve them.

As I backed out of the garage that afternoon, I spied Sophie in the corner of my eye making an unusually spry dash toward the garage door as it opened. I threw the car in park, hopped out to nab her, placed her in the kitchen, a bit annoyed, I admit, ("Sophie!") and made a mental note to be sure she was inside the house before we left again later that evening. She'd been acting a little strange the past few days, suddenly seeming very interested in the outside world.

Kids fed, kitchen quickly cleaned up, the sitter came and we left, but only after walking through the bedtime routine with her, she fielding many interrupting questions from the kids, us responding to a half-dozen extra hug & kiss requests from the three year old in particular. In the chaos, I failed to translate my earlier mental note into a verbal communication with Neal, and neither of us registered the exact location of each cat as we left. Had I noticed Sophie in the garage, of course, I would have promptly deposited her inside the house. But I can't say I was really looking out for her in that moment, either.

We proceeded to enjoy our evening, extending the atypical experience of being out without kids (translation: we're not very good at date nights) with grocery shopping, of all things, so as to get closer to the contracted return time of 10 p.m. agreed upon by us and the sitter. I texted the sitter that we were on our way home around 9:30, to which she promptly replied something along the lines of the three year old still "making her way to sleep," a much gentler expression to describe the situation than I'd use. I was again annoyed. This is why we don't do date nights, I grumpily mumbled, mostly to myself. As we neared home, we transitioned into tag-team mode, like when one kid throws up and each parent automatically knows their role ("You get the barf bowl, I'll get the towel."). One of us would pay the sitter and get the three year old to bed while the other put away the groceries. Tomorrow was a school and work day, after all. The sitter was paid, the toddler successfully transitioned, asleep at last, from our bed to her's, the perishable grocery items in the fridge. The chaos from earlier had returned full-circle and, face washed, teeth brushed, laundry in the washer, at last I crawled into bed without even thinking about either cat, I'm now very sad to admit.

Tuesday morning began as any other (indeed, our days with kids are bookended with chaos). I usually get up around 5:30 a.m. to squeeze in a workout, then hop in the shower as soon as Neal is out of the bathroom. But because we'd gotten to bed later than usual Monday night, I "slept in" until about 6:15. Get up, take a shower, get halfway ready, help with breakfast, kids up, eat, "clear dishes, get dressed, you guys, did you brush your teeth yet?, okay socks and shoes, Elias you have band!, Daphne finish eating!" Neal took our eight year old to band practice around 7:35 or so. With a relatively quiet moment at last, I suddenly realized I hadn't seen Sophie, hadn't really interacted with her, since Monday afternoon. Where the hell was she? I calmly checked all the usual spots. She's disappeared before. Once she got stuck in the eight year old's closet and she was either in there long enough or pissed off enough to use it as her temporary litterbox. By the time Neal returned, I still hadn't found her, searching for her while also finishing getting myself and the three year old ready for the day. Daphne and I left the house around 8, the surreal possibility that Sophie was actually missing this time only just beginning to settle in.

Neal works from home so he was able to search more thoroughly inside and outside the house, and walk around the neighborhood after we left. I skipped out of my first meeting of the day, posting about Sophie on Next Door instead. Neal posted on our neighborhood's Yahoo group. I checked both the East Bay SPCA and Oakland Animal Services shelter hours on their websites, thinking I'd use my lunch break to search for her. The SPCA is closed on Tuesdays; the city shelter opens at 4. Such annoying hours, I thought. A possible sighting about 2 blocks away from a neighbor who was very confident she'd seen our cat and responded almost immediately to my Next Door post is the only explanation I can wrap my brain around as to why I didn't leave work early Tuesday afternoon to check out the city shelter. That and stupid afternoon meetings that could have been rescheduled. I was still optimistic Sophie would somehow find her way home at that point (we were leaving the garage door open about a foot at the bottom with food just inside for this very reason). It just didn't seem likely that she'd be at a shelter less than 24 hours after going missing. This is Oakland after all; I can't imagine picking up stray cats is high on the animal services officers' lists. I'll check the shelters later in the week, I thought.

I finished out the day at work, fetched both kids, and took them home for dinner. After dinner - and explaining to the kids that Sophie was missing, that somehow she'd slipped out - we took a family walk to continue looking for her. The gravity of the situation started to sink in that evening. As soon as the kids were in bed I drove and walked around some more, sobbing in my car and apologizing to Sophie out loud for allowing this to happen. Somehow I managed to get some sleep that night, and on Wednesday spent another lunch break stapling lost cat posters - something I never imagined I'd have to ever do - to telephone poles in a 2-3 block radius of our house. That evening I started to think I might have to come to peace with never knowing, imagining Sophie instead on a series of wild adventures before selecting a serene spot somewhere to peacefully curl up and die.

Thursday morning I got a call around 7 a.m. from a woman about 5 houses down the road - a neighbor I don't know very well, a neighbor who would have no idea the cat she spotted Tuesday morning was our's because our cats are mostly indoors, and when they have been outside, it's only been out back. She told me she saw my poster just then and that she'd found Sophie, who had limped across the street to her, meowing as if in pain, early Tuesday. She fed her a can of cat food and then almost immediately took her to the shelter. She said the SPCA. My heart lifted. She should still be there, she said. Oh my gosh, I said, thank you! My hopes were up, way up, I couldn't help it. When did the SPCA open again? 11 a.m. They would be the longest two hours, but I'd go to work and I'd get through the morning. I'd take an early lunch break and retrieve Sophie. I told myself I'd likely have to take her to the Vet. Should I call now to make an appointment for this afternoon? No, I'm getting ahead of myself, I told myself. I knew I needed to manage expectations for the kids but I failed to do so for myself.

At about 10:30, allowing plenty of time to get across Oakland, I left work and headed to the East Bay SPCA. The cat carrier was in the back of the car, where I left it. I didn't want to seem overly optimistic, after all. I had her basic pet papers - even her original adoption papers from the SPCA, then the Oakland SPCA, back in '99! - and a copy of the lost cat poster with her picture on it. I was visibly shaking. When they opened, I filed in, trying to contain my excitement. Ho hum, just here to look for a lost cat. They seemed to want a lot of information, including a lost pet report, and details from the woman who'd brought her in. Why couldn't I just peruse the cages, I wondered? They explained that if they had the last name of the person who surrendered her, they'd more easily be able to reunite me with my cat. I called the woman who'd called me earlier that day to get her last name. All I knew at the time was that her first name was Leticia. After I reminded her who I was she clarified that she'd taken Sophie to the shelter on Tuesday morning, the one on 29th Avenue, that she'd dropped her off with an officer there around 7:30 a.m. As soon as she said the word "officer" my heart sank. She meant the city shelter. I volunteered at the city shelter ages ago, before I was married with kids, before we'd even adopted Sophie and Xander. I came home every weekend afternoon that I volunteered there in tears, that place is so unbelievably depressing. Leticia asked me to text her when Sophie and I were reunited. Yes, of course, thank you. We hung up. The woman at the SPCA must have seen the look of defeat cross my face because she said Sophie should be fine. They have a five-day hold on strays, so she should still be there. I remembered their odd hours, not opening until 4 p.m., but at least they were open that day (they were closed on Wednesday). She encouraged me to go there anyway, if I had time. Sometimes, she offered, if you knock, the volunteers will let you in.

So I drove back toward the direction of work, via Oakland Animal Services. The city shelter is right next to a set of train tracks and the crossing guards were seemingly stuck in the down position, creating total gridlock. After several minutes going nowhere, I weaved illegally through the traffic to turn left into the shelter parking lot. There were two other people there to surrender animals. An officer came out to reluctantly deal with the surrendered animals but refused to let me in, confident though I was that my cat was there. I offered to even come back at 4 so they could officially "release" her then, when the computers were on, if I could just see her now, but he denied that possibility. I didn't want to be difficult so as difficult as it was I turned around, got in my car, and drove back to work.

When I got back to work, I made my way through several afternoon meetings, trying to distract myself by staying busy. I interrupted my busy-ness to double-check the protocol for claiming a lost pet. There were all these requirements around documentation, proof of ownership, and rabies vaccines. Thing is, the rabies vaccine is not required for indoor cats. Recommended, yes, but not required. I called the Vet and asked her if she could send me Sophie's records, perhaps with a cover letter explaining why, given her age and relatively fragile health, she had not received the rabies vaccine in several years. What if they wouldn't release her? Could they inoculate her right then and there or would I have to wait another night? The anxiety made me feel physically ill. To boot, the fax machine in my office was out of ink and the cartridge somebody had ordered was the wrong one. Who still uses a fax machine, anyway?! Forget it, I told her, and thank you. I'll swing by on my way to the shelter. I'll be there around 3:45, I told her.

I left work early and picked up the papers right on time. I crossed town along streets I'd somehow never traveled in my nearly 20 years in Oakland. I listened to NPR but my mind was racing and my stomach was churning. I'm going to bust Sophie out of kitty jail!, I thought. I'll take a picture and share it on Instagram with that caption. People will tell me how lucky we are to be reunited and I'll counter that with how unlucky I was to lose her in the first place, not unlike how I felt when I found my passport the day after losing it in London. We were supposed to go on a short trip the next day but maybe Neal could stay behind with her, get her to the Vet on Friday for a check-up, stay close to home. How shitty would it be, after all, to leave her for three days after being in the shelter for that long? It'll be okay, I thought, surely I can manage the kids on my own after a week like this!

I got to the shelter a few minutes early and was second in line to sign in when they opened the doors. I couldn't believe how busy it was, most people there to surrender animals. One woman brought three dogs in and they didn't appear to be strays. She was ahead of me and it took her forever to sign her name. Come on, I thought, hurry UP! At last, I signed in. I waited. When they called my name, they asked if I'd filled out a lost pet report. Oh my goodness again with the paperwork! Okay, fine, I'll fill that out. My hand was shaking to the point that my writing was barely legible. A volunteer greeted me, listened to my story, told me she'd be right back to take me to "the wards". It's not often we have someone looking for a lost cat, she told me, so she was pretty excited. For some reason, though, as soon as we went though the first set of doors, my heart sank, again. This whole thing suddenly felt totally doomed. What condition would Sophie be in when I found her? I fought back tears. She led me through the first of four wards. Sophie, I called, Sophie? Kittens, whole litters in single cages. No Sophie. She asked me when my cat was brought in as we entered the second ward. Tuesday morning, I said. As we made our way through the third ward she left to fetch another volunteer who'd been there on Tuesday. That volunteer joined us and I showed her the picture of Sophie on the lost pet poster I'd made. She looked at the poster then at me then back at the poster several times. She asked me how long ago that picture had been taken. I said I don't know, 6 months? A year maybe? (It was 2 years old.) She has some congestion in her right eye and nostril but otherwise she basically looks the same, I added. Then she said something about a cat who was brought in on Tuesday "in really bad shape." If that's your cat, she added, she was "in really bad shape." Was. The other, more cheerful volunteer urged me to finish looking through the wards. Still no Sophie. She told me that the other volunteer was checking with the Vet, could I wait out front? I asked her if there are exceptions to the five-day hold for strays? Yes, she said, if the animal is not doing well. If the animal is "in really bad shape."

As I waited I again fought back tears. Sophie wasn't near the end, I didn't think, but she wasn't in great shape, either. She was 18 1/2 years old, after all, and about a month earlier, we had taken both cats to the Vet, the first time where we've had any serious end-of-life conversations about either of them. But we left that appointment certain Xander, although the younger of the two, would be the first to go, indeed encouraged to start mentally preparing ourselves and our kids, particularly the older one, for the inevitable. Sophie had developed some congestion in her right eye and nostril, congestion that we treated, not terribly successfully, with antibiotics, but our Vet was optimistic she'd recover. She'd been acting strangely and not eating as well as usual over what would be her final weekend. Neal and I talked on Monday about both cats, and I remember saying I should call the Vet Tuesday morning to see if we could get Sophie in again before our trip, try another round of antibiotics, maybe some cortisone to boost her appetite. Somehow, on Monday night she went from Vet check-up probably a good idea to "really bad shape."

I texted Neal that it wasn't looking good. After several minutes in the waiting area, the volunteer reappeared to escort me to a classroom, where the other volunteer waited. As the first volunteer departed I asked her if they'd indeed put Sophie down. She nodded, apologized, and then quickly ducked out, leaving me to wait with the other volunteer. At this point, I had, as you might expect, totally broken down. The volunteer and Vet explained again, through my sobs, that Sophie had been surrendered "in really bad shape." The woman who dropped her off, furthermore, did not stick around to give any kind of report, so they had no idea where she'd come from, how long she'd been out, etc. Not that the neighbor had any of that information, either, but the shelter was working with absolutely no background information on Sophie. They saw a likely stray who was very old, who'd probably been out for a long time, with a host of health issues, including a mysterious limp that developed sometime between Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning. Furthermore, once there her health rapidly declined. She mostly refused to eat or drink and by Wednesday couldn't stand on her own, by Thursday morning was laying on her side, not even able, or willing, to lift her head. The Vet reassured me that they don't take this kind of thing lightly (though I'm willing to bet they had an "oh shit" moment when they realized they'd just euthanized my cat) and that they felt she was in pain, suffering. The technician who'd been there each day Sophie had and had taken a bit of a liking to her was with the Vet when they euthanized her, sometime between when I tried in vain to get access to the shelter around 11:30 that morning and when I returned at 4 that afternoon. It's okay that you weren't here for her, they seemed to be telling me, because we were. Her body was still a little warm. Lukewarm. But she was gone. I was so close, but I'd missed her. After I said goodbye, again apologizing to her that I'd failed her, in the end, I took her body, wrapped in a towel, in a cardboard carrier, all of which felt impossibly light, to our Vet for cremation.

The only positive thing I take away from how these events unfolded is that at least I got there in time to see her, to confirm that it was her, and to take her body to our Vet for cremation (her ashes are now sitting in a little wooden box on our mantle - something I wasn't sure I wanted when discussed in the abstract but knew immediately I wanted to do when confronted with Sophie's lifeless body). Otherwise, I was and still am overwhelmed by the crushing pain of the loss of a cat I wasn't prepared to say goodbye to just yet, a cat who was an integral piece of the fabric of our lives stitched together over the last 17 years, almost our entire time together as a couple, before we were married, long before we added kids to the mix. Then there's the regret around things I could have done differently or better in her final months, and the endless string of should haves and what ifs that riddle her final days. What if we'd checked for her sooner? We should have checked on her sooner. What if we'd knocked on doors and talked to neighbors in addition to online list-serves and paper posters? What if that other neighbor hadn't been so confident she'd seen her two blocks away? Would I have gone to the shelter on Tuesday afternoon, after all? What if I called the shelter before they opened? If I told the officer who wouldn't let me in that not only was I confident my cat was there but that she was "in really bad shape," would he have let me in? And what if I'd made it to the shelter on Tuesday? Would that have made a difference in her potential recovery? In the very least, we could have been there for her to make that choice and be with her when she died. One thing is certain: once missing, we tried so very hard to find her. But we failed and were therefore robbed of that final act of being a pet's human guardian. Failing her in the end negates the otherwise overwhelmingly good 17 years we shared with her.

In the end, I know that last bit is what I need to focus on in order to heal and move forward, and I will write that portion of her story someday soon, when the sum of her good years again outweighs the tragedy of her final days.


art vs craft

About a year into grad school I started a latch-hook pillow based on the famous photo of Georgia O'Keefe by Alfred Stieglitz.

The in-progress pillow wasn't exactly met with approval or encouragement during group critiques that fall semester, as I wrote about here. About a year later I finally finished it and listed it in my Etsy shop.

It finally sold several years later (I kind of wish I'd kept it but I'm happy it went to the good home of an O'Keefe fan). I'm still not totally sure where I was going with that project, much like I'm not sure where I'm going with these felt copies of mid 20th century oil paintings by Mark Rothko that I've been sporadically posting to my Instagram account since mid-summer.

I'm just going to leave these here for now. Because I can. Because I'm no longer in art school.


work less, make art

I consider this post part 3 (of ???) of my "I got a day job!" series (a series approaching 2 years in the making). As I wrote in part 2 (ish), I've become increasingly weary of the advice around keeping/justifying one's day job (usually, ironically, from creative types who long ago quit theirs'). On the one hand, I can see the potential disadvantage of having too much time on one's hands to write or make art (I can't really ever imagine that being a problem, but I get it). Indeed, I'm most productive when I'm fairly busy; I manage my disposable time better when I have less of it. And most of us need to make at least some money. But there's a limit to how much you can do with so little to begin with. You do, after all, need some time to make art, if making art is important to you and something you'd like to do. And if you're like me, you might also require a little solitude/space to think about making art. Instead of that whole "pick any two" thing (my three things being time, space, and money), I'm trying to claim a little piece of all three.

To that end, earlier this summer I began negotiating some changes at work that, ideally, will both enhance my creative fulfillment at my day job and allow for more time to fulfill those needs outside of work (mostly the latter). Like Amazon's pilot program announced last week, I've reduced my work hours to an 80% FTE schedule effective this week, which for me translates to about 30 hours per week (based on a 37.5 hour work week). And while I'd like more time with my kids and more time in the studio, rather than work six hours a day so I can pick them up when school gets out (knowing I'd get little done with them in tow two extra hours each day), I'll have one day per week, while they're in school (that's key) to squeeze in all the things I have precious little time for right now: studio, chores, errands, and yes, family, on the random Friday school closures and picking kids up early when I can swing it (but prioritizing studio time as much as possible). Fitting in some non-studio tasks each Friday (without letting that take over the day completely) should free up some family time on the weekend as well.

So far I have a to-do list with 5 categories of projects, each category including 2-5 tasks. Not just for this Friday, of course - I've highlighted my goals within that list for the first Friday I have off. And as a good artist friend shared with me once, you should always take your to-do list for the day and cut it in half, regardless of how realistic you think it is to begin with. So, as hard as it will be to cut my existing list in half, that's what I'll do. Chipping away at an iceberg, to be sure. I'm just thrilled to tackle the tip!


so I think I can dance

Okay, well, sort of. If you follow me elsewhere you may have noticed I've been sharing evidence of my latest obsession. While already a self-described "dance enthusiast" in a more passive sense, I recently became interested in learning the choreography to some of Britney Spears' songs. I don't know why, midlife crisis maybe? Why waste time trying to answer that question when I could be dancing? I figured there must be some video tutorials out there, right? I've only tackled one so far: Brian Friedman's choreography for "I'm A Slave 4 U", as seen performed by Spears, of course, in the video for the song. This uncut version is on her collection of videos (which I own, obviously).

Say what you will about her singing, but girl can dance. This is one take, people. Anyway, here we are practicing, kids more or less cooperating in the background.

Why time-lapse? Well, one answer is that we are practicing the tutorial (I'll get to specifics in a sec), which is over 10 minutes long. The time-lapse version is under a minute. Another answer, and this may explain why I continue to document myself dancing in time-lapse mode, is that my dancing, for now, looks better sped up. Don't worry. I'll post some regular videos at some point.

So how did we learn the core choreography? Via this tutorial by Girltalk:

I'm not sure why they stop where they do since the original choreography does continue beyond where their part 4 concludes. You can see it in the uncut version of the video, above, and in Brian Friedman's workshop/performance, below:

Isn't he incredible? Anyway, clearly I've got my work cut out for me. On a related note, my son and I in particular have also been fairly obsessed with playing Just Dance 2016, after he was introduced to it in the "dance studio" at his summer camp. Here we are practicing Calvin Harris' "Blame":

Ironically, here I am dancing with my kid when adults dancing with kids is the primary reason I'm abstaining from SYTYCD this season. Indeed, #danceswithkids is kinda my new thing. But I'm a mom and an amateur, you know? And I'm not pushing my kid to compete, I'm selfishly more interested in learning to dance myself!


Katy Caboose, Hopeful Romantic

As I’ve mentioned more than once, juggling kids and creativity with the need to make a little cash is challenging, to say the least. But there is one small advantage to having less time to make art: I have plenty of time to think about and mentally edit current projects while I’m wrangling kids, between the elusive and fleeting moments of productivity. This frequent experience forces a somewhat impulsive and impatient person like myself to, as my coworker regularly reminds me, “hit the pause button.” Spending time at work and, more importantly, with my kids, also opens me up to sources of inspiration I might not come across otherwise, like the book that’s been on recent rotation in my toddler’s bedtime routine: The Caboose Who Got Loose.

Katy Caboose is, simply put, disappointed with her life. She dislikes being jostled and bumped at the back of the train, not to mention the endless cloud of smoke caused by the engine up front. Her journey as caboose takes many turns and bumps that cause her near-constant fear and anxiety. But it’s all relative, right? Maybe she just needs an attitude adjustment. Indeed, one night at the train yard, her situation is put into perspective by the sad little shack of the switchman, who envies Katy and tells her that. Taken aback, she doesn’t have a chance to respond to the shack before being re-hitched to the train, but the experience gives her a new outlook on her lot in life, albeit only temporarily. After a short time, she finds she’s still not happy being a caboose at the back of a train, wishing instead to be a tree, or a house, or a little cabin in the woods, with a view and fresh air. Simply put, Katy cannot deny her deep dissatisfaction, no matter how many sad, little shacks tell her she doesn’t really have it all that bad.

I don’t want to give away the ending for anyone who hasn’t read it yet. It’s a great little read with wonderful illustrations by Bill Peet. I recommend you read it, even if you don’t have a kid to read it to. But I will say, following up on something I recently posted on Facebook about how disappointment gets a bad rap (courtesy of the always great Brain Pickings), that I can really identify with Katy at this particular moment in the book, conflicted between her overwhelming feelings of unhappiness, self-doubt around the legitimacy of those feelings, and the fear that comes with making a change. Disappointment is what we risk when we strive for more (not unlike the relationship between loss and love). And that striving is at the heart of what it means to be an artist.  As Geoff Dyer writes in White Sands, “When I am no longer capable of disappointment the romance will be gone: I may as well be dead.” Indeed, I think it’s not only okay to admit disappointment but perhaps even embrace it as a catalyst for closing the gap between the work you do for pay and the work you do for love.

And indeed, oh indeed, yes indeed I really do. At least, I hope that’s the case and that my story ends as satisfactorily as Katy’s, hopeful romantic that she is.


I got a day job! (Part ... 2?)

Last spring, a couple of months after landing my current day job (after a nearly seven-year mix of staying home with kids and self-employment - a transition I wrote about here), I struck up an online conversation with Abby Glassenberg of While She Naps about the atypical (and generally less publicized) move from freelance to full-time, not to mention the added puzzle piece of juggling a family on top of working for an income and more general creative fulfillment. After almost a year passed, she picked the thread back up with a phone chat a few weeks ago for an upcoming article on this very topic in the Craft Industry Alliance journal. We had a lovely chat about the challenges of juggling a day job that’s not necessarily as fulfilling or flexible as running a creative business, versus the endless, exhausting hustle that is being your own boss.

In the end, however, my comments were not included in the article, which took a generally more positive attitude toward the kind of thesis put forth by folks like Austin Kleon (who doesn’t have a day job) and Jen Hewett (who doesn’t have a kid) that the work you do for pay makes financially possible your other creative pursuits and that quitting your day job should not necessarily be the end goal of those efforts. Let’s just say, after almost 18 months of exploring the unique work-family-creativity trifecta, I don’t agree.

With just 168 hours in a week, if you’re working full-time, outside the home, have at least one child, and want to stay generally healthy (and/or maintain any kind of social life), there’s just not much time leftover to pursue creative efforts in any sort of substantial way. And I’m not trying to make excuses for myself. Having kids is a decision I made, fully aware it would have significant consequences on all areas of my life. But this is the specific demographic I find myself in (and it’s not exactly a niche, to have a job, a kid or two, and creative needs) and at the end of the day, it’s a pretty simple math equation. Adding kids to the mix makes the whole “keep your day job” thesis pretty shaky and very few people are talking about that (not to mention the fact that I’m a little weary of the advice to keep my day job from people who quit theirs’ years ago). People are talking about striking a “balance” between career and family. People are talking about fitting creativity into and around your 9-to-5 schedule. But very few people are addressing this: just how do you keep at least three balls in the air: day job, family, creativity? Is it possible to have a full-time job, one or more kids, and a meaningful, consistent creative outlet?

At any rate, Abby linked to my blog post that started this whole dialogue in her newsletter on Wednesday, then Tara Swiger tweeted it. I’ve been getting some decent traffic from those two mentions. And initially I was thinking, that’s cool ("let's get this party started, amirite?!") but, over a year later, people are kind of reading the optimistic “before.” And as it turns out I wrote about the transition at least two other times before I got a job, when I was trying to cover at least the cost of part-time daycare, and again after I decided to pull my youngest from childcare and my oldest from any sort of after-care (here and here). If those were collectively the “before” posts, should I follow up with an “after” post?

Well, I’m not really there yet, because I’m somewhere in that orange-blue-green intersection in the above Venn diagram and I’m not sure how I feel about it, to be completely honest. So it’s safe to say this is my “middle of the story” post. Part 4, if you will, of an at least 5-part story. If you’re in the middle of your work-family-creativity story, I want to hear from you. Tell me your story at becky [at] rebeccabirdgrigsby [dot] com. And if you come across stories like this one, from a fellow "freelance to full-time" creative type (with a kid, to boot!), send them my way, won't you?


national doughnut day!

Today is one of my two favorite holidays - National Doughnut Day, not to be confused with National Donut Day. I'm sorry, you're questioning the need for two days we get to celebrate dessert for breakfast why again?

Anyway, remember that time we visited three donut shops in one day in a quest to find the best donuts when visiting family in Bend, Oregon? That was fun. I think I'm still trying to lose the weight I no doubt gained on that trip.

I thought about doing something equally insane today - hitting up Dick's Donuts in East Oakland first for the best basic donuts in town, then Donut Savant in Uptown Oakland for the best not-so-basic donuts (their "cron't" is simply heavenly). I could've also made a stop at Doughnut Dolly for the basically-overpriced-but-okay-yeah-they're-pretty-good custom-filled donuts. But instead I stopped after Dick's because I needed a little time to craft a "tardinut" (that's a donut that looks like a tardigrade. Obviously.).

And, you know, work. Sigh.


mapping where you summer

With a second, smaller batch going out earlier today, I've now sent 36 of the total 45 miniature Adirondack chairs scrapped from this project almost 10 years ago. I had to send a replacement chair to one participant whose first chair broke in transit! So I may try to send a few more out, but I'll likely keep a few in case this happens again.

To celebrate, I made a map showing the first name, last initial, and city & state of each participant. Isn't it fun to see them all plotted out like so? At least a couple of these chairs will be traveling internationally later this summer, so I may begin to post pictures as separate map markers with a different color to indicate travel. The possibilities are endless.

Meanwhile, my little chair has been mostly hanging out with me at work this week. I have a couple of summer trips ahead, but on the other hand, that's part of the appeal of this project - to see the reality of summer for different people around the country. If you'd like to see what others are posting, search the hashtag #wheredoyousummer on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And yes, I'm aware this particular hashtag is associated with a Leisure Society contest. I'm a big fan of "hijacking hashtags" after all.


where do you summer?

Back in grad school, inspired, like so many students from elsewhere suddenly in this foreign land known as New England, I created one project inspired by travels there as well as back in California and Oregon. Miniature Adirondack chairs were eventually scrapped from what became a pared-down floor installation of many, many CMYK screen prints of sand, water, etc. I honestly can't remember what my original intention for the chairs was, but they've been hanging around my studio ever since. This spring I got the idea to distribute the freshly re-painted white chairs to artists, friends, family, fellow alums, and other creative folks as I posed the (it would seem to me, anyway) dated question, "Where do you summer?"

Friends have started receiving the nearly 50 chairs late last week and today, with a second batch going out via USPS on Thursday. So it's early and I'm not sure exactly what form this project will take.

As images start trickling in (above are some examples over the long weekend of the chair I kept and will carry with me all summer), I'll share them by linking here in addition to writing about overall ideas as they develop around the project as it takes form. As I wrote in the brief statement for the original project, titled "for we are where we are not," I'm still very much interested in the distance in time and space in the dissemination of these chairs around the country (and, as the participants travel this summer, around the world), and in creating a setting for the possibility of narrative. What that narrative looks and sounds like is to be seen and largely dependent upon the project participants.

Stay tuned! And email me if you'd like to play along - becky [at] rebeccabirdgrigsby [dot] com


it must be bunnies

It's been an odd couple of months and this post will be a little odd, likewise. Humor me. As the busy-ness of my day job settles down, following the academic year as it does, I finally have a little bit of mental wiggle room to reflect back and plan forward. Let's start with the former and I'll get to the latter over the next week or so. Because I've been doing a lot of planning for summer projects and goals over the past few days, but I need another day or two to flesh things out a bit more, as they say.

A month or so ago, right before Prince died, I was thinking again about David Bowie. His song 'Fame' came on the radio one day while I was in the car, and that song always reminds me of Pretty Woman. And I just thought, how silly it is that all of these people I admire, from relatives to friends to artists and musicians, have these profound memories of Bowie, about how they owned a certain album - on vinyl, no less! - or how Bowie inspired them to be whoever they wanted to be, however unique that vision might be, male, female, whatever... And, me, I thought back to a movie that I watched multiple times as a budding teenager.

Then when Prince died I was struck with an almost identical memory, flashing back to the bathtub scene in that same movie, where Julia Roberts' character is singing along to Prince's 'Kiss', with Richard Gere's character secretly watching her, unbeknownst to her and her earbuds. "Don't you just love Prince?"

I do. Not that the two deaths need comparison, and I was incredibly shocked and saddened by the loss of David Bowie, but Prince's death, as far as celebrity deaths go, affected me a little more. I have so many memories of his music and the movie 'Purple Rain', all of which extend way beyond Roberts' brief bathtub rendition of a couple of lines from one popular song.

For some reason that I think has to do with my recent interest in serendipity and stuff, I found comfort in the fact that artist Amanda Parer's giant, inflatable rabbits (technically titled 'Intrude' which is appropriate if you didn't dig their presence then and there as much as I did) were witness to San Francisco's tribute, with City Hall donning purple lights for one night after Prince died. We had just taken the family to see the rabbits the weekend before and they were deflated a few days after the Prince tribute.

Because who's not cheered up by the sight of giant, inflatable bunnies, you know? (Well, everyone except Anya, I suppose. I can almost always work in a Buffy reference, after all...)

let's play polo: a long overdue recap

I have two new projects that kind of fall under my umbrella of "social practice art" in that I'm trying to get other folks, in one of the two projects other artists specifically, to participate in some way. But before I launch those here, I wanted to, at long last, compile a quick recap of #letsplaypolo as it unfolded on October 10, 2015.

In short, participation was light, as these projects tend to be for me lately. But a handful of folks went along with it, and I'm much appreciative of they're being game to do so. Here are some pictures from the day.

Locally, we teamed up with another family - so there were 9 of us in total, all in matching yellow polo tops - at the Oakland Museum of California.

I saw one other person, not in our group, wearing a yellow polo, but didn't act quickly enough to capture it on camera. And of course I have no way of knowing if he was participating intentionally or if it was a coincidence.

I'm still deciding if I want something like this to be an annual thing. Check back soon for those other two projects I hinted at above!