Monthly Archives: May 2014

Why Must It Be So Inhumane?

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I went to my doctor about the weird, gnawing stomach pain thing. He ordered some blood work and an ultrasound of my stomach. A week ago, I had both of those tests done, and both labs said the results would be in my doc’s hands by Tuesday. I waited. I felt very conscious of trying to be “good” and not be the anxious, high-strung patient. I know that is probably stamped all over my chart anyway, yet still I try to preserve my humanity and avoid being pigeon-holed.

I called yesterday morning and asked the harried (and thoroughly incompetent but usually nice) receptionist if my doc had my test results. First, she couldn’t figure out who I was, because I stated my name, which is what I’ve always gone by, Genni. I know this woman. She knows me. She says, “Who?” I say, “Guenevere?” OH, she says, Gwen!

There is no good reason under the sun to try to correct this at this juncture, even though I have never gone by Gwen, some people insist on calling me Gwen and no real amount of polite reminders can help. She also sometimes calls me Genevieve, which makes more sense with Genni but no sense with Gwen.

Gwen! she says, hurriedly, I will have to call you back about that! and hangs up.

I wait. No one calls me back.

I have a fitting for a client scheduled at 8:30 am this morning. Naturally, my doc’s other (incompetent, unable to understand patient confidentiality) assistant calls then. I have to go outside because I work in a concrete building. She says, “He wants you to come in for a follow-up about your labs.”

Has no one in the medical profession ever watched TV? Do they not know the feeling a person gets when they can’t get their results over the phone and have to come in? That means you’ve got cancer, that’s what that means, and that is the way my brain works. Already, I’m starting to feel panicked and shame (because I am panicking, I am always there to kick myself when I’m down), so I take a big risk and say, firmly, “Can he see me today, then?” Oh, no, she says. I go out on a limb and say, “I am not the sort of person who can spend a weekend obsessing, so he either needs to see me or call me.” I imagine her deciding what ink to use on the “High Strung Anxious Sort” stamp for today’s entry into my chart. She tells me to hold on. Then she comes back and says that He says it’s nothing, it’s benign, he just wants to go over it with you. Also, she says, they are “only here until noon today.” I imagine them clinging to their desks, shouting that they have more patients to see as, at exactly noon, a giant vacuum cleaner hose drops from the sky and sucks them all away until Monday.

I consider but do not offer to send him a co-pay and promise to say I had an office visit so his (also incompetent, costing him huge amounts of revenue) insurance people can file a full claim if he will JUST GIVE ME THE RESULTS OVER THE PHONE.

So I have an appointment on Monday. Also, I feel like crying, and like I am stupid and worthless, and like now there will be no end to the anxiety I have already had about this all week. For two days this week I was sure that I looked maybe a little sallow. Maybe my eyes were yellow? Maybe my liver is really damaged from all that shameful, bad alcohol I drink and I will die.

My inner Vulcan told me that if I am “not sure’ if I look sallow, then I do not look sallow, see also: very healthy diet, EDS, IBS, POTS, alcohol the ONLY bad habit, please shut up.

For another two days I decided my thyroid was too big looking and maybe I had a goiter or would have to have it removed or had cancer and would get really fat and lazy on thyroid meds.

The Vulcan asked me to please find something constructive to do with my time and to stop babbling. Also, stop looking in the mirror and stop asking Dr. Google stupid questions.

The literature about EDS often refers to the need for counseling to help sufferers deal with the mistreatment they have often received at the hands of medical providers. It is a known fact that we get the short end of the stick and are typically misunderstood. I have a doc who understands, but he is actually just a nurse practitioner and he is surrounded, like Sleeping Beauty, by thoughtless, incompetent, harried thorns who thwart me at every turn. At every turn, I walk away from interactions feeling like I’ve been given a wedgie and a dunce hat. I feel stupid and afraid.

It’s the most familiar dance I know, and I am a permanent guest at the party.

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The Joy and the Despair

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It is rare to find classes on flat patterning anymore, and while it is enjoying a revival thanks to hip young stitchers like Gertie it’s still largely a lost art. When I first started at my job, my co-worker taught a flat patterning class and I sat in.

It was HARD. There are a lot of very technical aspects to sewing that generally then meet up with artistry and design, and the ability to see something that is flat, like fabric, and predict what changes you can make to it that will result in it fitting a 3D form is a real stretch for some of us artsy types. I have not had a lot of opportunities to really use those skills since then, although I flex those muscles somewhat in fittings and have gotten good at seeing something and knowing what needs to be done to make it fit properly. But the business of moving darts and accommodating a person’s figure in a flattering way is not something I’ve gotten as much opportunity to do as I’d like.

I am at a point where I feel pretty confident that if someone offers me a project, I can do it–even if it’s something I haven’t done before–because my foundation of knowledge and experience are such that I no longer fear those things that are new to me. I have taken a client who wants a dress for an evening wedding and wants it to fit her body in a flattering way. I have been really pleased that as I mocked up the pattern she chose, each time I had a notion that something wasn’t right and that I needed to do X to fix it, research proved that my instincts were correct.

In other words; we once had a student who asked a lot of questions, and one time he asked me something and I answered him and he said, “You know the answer to everything, how do you do that?” and I said, famously, “I know, right? IT’S LIKE WE KNOW WHAT WE’RE DOING.” That became a shop motto from that day forward, and even at home today, as I split and moved a dart from the side seam into a shoulder and waist bust dart, I was saying out loud to the dogs, “DAMN! IT’S LIKE I KNOW WHAT I’M DOING!!!” And there I am, in the zone, moving darts and making notes and feeling like a super star and….

 

….my back and my hips and my ankles and my wrists say, “STOP.”

I resent that. I want to work all night and keep shaking my fanny (in my studio alone) to Gorgol Bordello and patterning like a BOSS. Instead I need to stop and go take a bath, and hope my notes make sense tomorrow. That is not to say that I am not grateful for being able to do what I did accomplish today, but I am just not ready to be the person who has to go take a bath and lay on the heating pad. Who has to say no to a sexy times offer from my husband because I said yes last night and my hips hurt so bad today I can’t stand it.

If you were hanging outside my studio, you’d here, “YEAH! LIKE A BOSS! It’s like I KNOW WHAT I AM DOING!” followed by, “DAMMIT. It’s NOT FAIR!” Then muttering and a short stop to whine to the internet.

If only my body could keep up with my brain, I’d achieve world domination within days. As it is, ya’ll are safe for a little bit longer.

Scribbling

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My second grandchild was born a week ago yesterday, and her mother’s labor and birth could not have been better. My daughter, who was born in sorrow and trauma delivered in control and joy and it helps to heal the wound in me from when she was born. At that time, no one I knew talked of PTSD as a result of a traumatic birth experience. I recall my dad speaking scathingly, furiously, of “that one feminist that thinks EVEN BIRTH is rape.” Part of what happens in many birth processes when attended by male physicians (and women who subscribe to patriarchal notions and underlying hatred and disgust with the female body) is a violation and does result in long-lasting trauma. For a long time I would imagine going to the address listed on my daughter’s birth certificate for the doctor who delivered her, knocking on the door and then killing him.

Some of that was healed with the birth of my third child, where I was in control and was attended by a loving partner and a midwife who did not subscribe to the traditional violence of episiotomy and domination and instead supported the process. I breastfed that child until he was three and a half and that greatly healed the damage done to me and my daughter when she was born. It was further healed by seeing her go through the birth process with total agency and belief in herself, her body and her partner. She is strong, despite a weak beginning, and her daughters are strong because of her.

The unfortunate ripple was that the baby developed a high bilirubin count and was suddenly whisked to the NICU at about a day old, and that really triggered memories of my experience with my daughter. I wasn’t allowed to hold her for the first two weeks of her life. I experienced every single possible roadblock to nursing her and was finally manipulated into giving it up when she came home from the hospital. Her father walked out on us within days of her coming home. I didn’t bond with her until she was a year and a half old, and was tortured that entire year and a half that I was a bad person and flawed mother, a judgement I passed on myself that greatly harmed our relationship for years.

My daughter’s experience was not mine. She received support and accommodation from the NICU, her partner, the physicians and her family. It was hard for me to remember that she was not having my experience and that I did not need to react to her experience through mine, but to also be able to empathize that yes, I knew exactly what it was like to see your baby with IVs and tubes and monitors and to feel helpless and afraid.

As The Shrink reminded me today, with PTSD, events that take one back to the trauma are triggering, and set you up for further destabilization. So some of my other feelings this week make more sense, given that I was triggered by the events around the grandbaby and also, the shooting in California stirring up my PTSD from the murder of my best friend and her daughter by her husband. The next step, hopefully, will be to catch on *before* I react. Because sometimes I don’t know why I am lashing out or angry or even what it is that I want–and that’s the place that the PTSD takes me. I am very sensitive, empathic, and sometimes unable to distance myself enough from things outside of my control. So we will be working on that.

Meanwhile, the baby came home today and with any luck, this will have been a tiny ripple instead of a tsunami. Fingers crossed.

Skill Building

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Numerous young students have said to me, wistfully, “I wish I could get more sewing experience.” I inevitably reply, “Do you sew at home?” Most of them say that they have a machine and they want to use it more, but, stuff and other stuff and excuses. I tell them all the same thing: If you don’t live and breathe sewing, you won’t get better at it. I didn’t wake up one morning to find that the Sewing Fairy had finally come and granted me mad skills. I started sewing when I was 20 years old, and I made some appalling stuff. I kept doing it, though, and that was before you could google any technique in the world and find a tutorial, a blog, a youtube that would show you how to do it. Was there a corduroy dress that had the nap going opposite directions and un-interfaced lumpy collar and cuffs? There sure was. But I kept going.

I never took a formal sewing class, but my job for the past four years has been like getting paid to go to sewing university. The fact that I am not on contract in the summer doesn’t mean that I stop, either. I love to sew. Each summer I set myself a goal in terms of skill-building. The first summer was patterning. I patterned and built a 3/4 length fitted coat with curved design lines and contrast fabrics and I built it without any instructions, willing myself to figure it out. I wear that coat several times a year, and it is stunning.

The next summer was the summer of knit fabrics, and I designed, patterned and built myself a swimsuit. I made a dress, a skirt and vest and some tops. Last summer was the summer of zippers, and I put invisible zippers into everything and made lapped zippers and zipped the hell out of anything I could. This summer, I have pledged to take a series of Craftsy classes.

I have just finished the first one, the Sew Better, Sew Faster Jacket Express taught by Janet Pray of Islander Sewing Systems (ISS). I always struggle with formal classes, because I never like the project, but I vowed to do it as instructed so as to hopefully learn some new skills, or, as our instructor promised, “Some really nice tips.” OH THE TIPS. There is a fussiness to some sewing instructors that I find very off-putting. In particular, this class had a lot of disapproving references to the “Home Sewing Industry”. I’m not sure why, since ISS patterns are not marketed to manufacturers, they are marketed to home stitchers.

The approach I would have preferred would have been less smarmy and more in the vein of acknowledging how poorly many commercial patterns are designed and how they cut corners that result in garments that look “home made” in a negative way. Many times my coworker and I have examined a pattern’s instructions and been dismayed by them. If ISS patterns are better, then I am glad to know that, but they are not a category separated from home sewing.

The things I did get from class included perfectly-executed welt pockets, some techniques that eliminate hand-sewing when constructing collars, cuffs and faced-yokes and more topstitching than I thought possible, and I really *like* top stitching. I privately named the class “Topstitch The Shit Out Of It” because it crossed the line a few times where technique for the sake of technique conquered design requirements (why you would ever topstitch around a welt pocket when the whole point of a welt pocket is its understated-ness is beyond me).

The issue now is that I have very well-constructed jacket made from vintage, hand-stamped bark cloth with vintage buttons that I doubt I’ll ever wear. So there’s that to contend with.

Jacket Express 1       Jacket Express 2

Maybe I’ll offer it up for a silent auction fundraiser or something.  Next up is a commission for a private client, so I can really work on my fitting skills and fine sewing, as it will be a Dupioni silk with silk charmeuse lining for an evening wedding that my client is attending in Kansas City. I’m looking forward to it.

I Planned for Red

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In my mind’s eye, the deer in this drawing would be red. I’m in charge of that, so last night I worked on them. This is what happened:

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Those are not red deer.

I went back to them this morning. I decided to throw caution to the winds and got out the watercolors. I got to here:

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Then I had a sort of momentary connection of brain synapses and remembered that I teach makeup and color and that continuing to shadow in purple or brown was not going to give the contrast and depth I needed. It’s elementary—I needed to use red’s complementary color, which is green. How is it I can teach this stuff and then forget to use it? Objectivity vs subjectivity, I think. I get really emotionally drawn into my work, so I tend to be unable to see it clearly. This is also something that I teach in Stage Makeup–we are unable to view our faces objectively or, even, as a whole. If I look at my face in a mirror, I see its parts, I see my perception of my face, but I am not able to view it without all that subjectivity. If, however, I photograph my face or look at someone else’s face, I am able to view it more objectively.

So after some subtle changes, here’s where they are currently. I *think* they are done and I can move on. I also have trouble knowing when to stop until it’s too late and I’ve overworked something, which is another reason photographing work in progress is helping me to view it better.

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What I can’t explain is why they aren’t pure crimson red as planned.

Everything Has a Camera & All the Pictures Suck

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I did not take these photos with my iPad. I have ranted before about the iPad not having a FLASH, so I will resist here and note that these equally crappy photos were taken with my phone, a Samsung Galaxy 3 that I despise with every fiber in my being, but our relationship must last at least one more year before I can toss it aside like yesterday’s news and get a phone that I can actually use with some modicum of success.

ANYWAY.

Remember the poor deer and her zombie child? That deer has just been floating about, looking great but lonely, ever since. I talked with the Shrink today about why I don’t let myself work on art very much, and as you can imagine it’s all very complicated and tied to my childhood and a critical parent, etc. The upshot, in addition to the fact that I need more water in my life (we fell into some astrology talk, yes, it’s a holistic thing), is that I don’t feel safe expressing myself as an artist and I especially don’t feel safe showing my work to people. As I end every fucking sentence from my mouth to the shrink, “I’m a lot better than I used to be!” I’m trying to stop saying that.

I came home today and wasted some time on those match three type games that I am addicted to (currently some Jelly one, a farm animal one and this is really embarrassing the Frozen match three that Disney put out and I know, you guys, I know but the game is pretty darn good and we all have our dirty secrets). Then I flung myself into the studio and looked at that deer and came to a conclusion. I decided I wanted a mirror image sort of thing, almost like a textile (go look at that Frida fabric again if you wonder where inspiration came from). I ignored my internal shrink that started babbling that I was embarking on a piece about a relationship I have recently cut off because I don’t care, and the real shrink that I am paying suggested not judging myself and just “letting go and expressing.”

So I did this on bristol:

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Sorry for the shitacular lighting. In this day and age of Dooce and all that it is reprehensible to post bad photos but I can’t spend anymore time on that part of it or guess what? I’ve found another reason not to work on art. This is colored pencil on vellum textured Bristol.

Then I grabbed some trusty copy paper and found my figure:

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About four years ago I suddenly stopped wanting to draw hair. I had drawn hair really intensely up until then, to where it was maybe more Fashion Plates than art. I also stopped wanting to draw really detailed clothing, for the most part, and I did a whole series of a girl in a blue hooded dress and cap. I sold that entire series, and that girl in the cap and bell-shaped skirt is still critical to me, so I went with her again. Once I was happy I inked her:

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I did not ink her face–I think I lose a lot when I ink the face because then once it goes onto the Bristol, it’s been traced three times and hello? Telephone game in colored pencil. Then I added her into the mirrored deer:

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And OH HOLY MOLY do I like it now. So much I had to walk away for a bit so I don’t get all slobbery and try to kiss her too soon. We just need to sit together for a little while, and then I’ll see when the right time to try to hold her hand arrives.

 

 

Frida Fabulous Skirt & Hawking my Wares

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I’ve finished the first summer sewing project of 2014. Alexander Henry recently released a new Frida Kahlo fabric that you can see here. I found it absolutely wonderful, and ordered the one I linked to in the navy background and several of the complementary prints as well. My plan is/was to make one skirt for me and one to sell on Etsy. Most importantly, my skirt is finished:

Frida Skirt FV Frida Skirt Ruffles

I added the set of three tiny ruffles to go right across the butt for a little Salsa attitude and I’m wearing it to a party on Saturday. After having my serger for at least 5 years, I finally realized that the reason my rolled edge stitching never worked quite right is because I didn’t realize it was telling me to flip a lever. Sigh. Just when you think you’re a genius and the best ever, you figure out something like that. Stay humble!

I’ve had to adjust my skirt sloper since I’ve shifted to a gluten free diet, as I’ve lost at least three inches at my waist. I didn’t do it for weight loss, but rather to see if it would help with inflammation and IBS, which I can report that it has. The more shapely waist is just a fringe benefit. It also means there are three skirts in my closet that I made last year that I now have to do extensive alterations on so that they fit me again. Or I”ll just make more clothes….

Also, I have started going through some of my boxes of stock (read:hoarding) and found this fun, vintage caftan that I listed on Etsy this afternoon:

J Peterman Full You can click the Etsy banner on the sidebar to see my store and that particular listing.

I’m already working on the next sewing project, so it’s back to the studio for me.

Some Rules

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As my semester ends, I find myself feeling wise and generous and a tad smarmy. That and a hard cider in my hand mean that I’m feeling like offering you some advice, should you find yourself a college student.

1. No, I did not flunk you. You, actually, had all the control over whether or not that happened to you, and if you did, after much effort on my part to intervene,  manage to fail my class it is a self-inflicted wound. I do not possess the power to “flunk” you out of hand–you actually have ALL the power over that event.

2. “Not flunking” does not equal “Getting an A.” Grades of “A” are earned in my class. A “C” or better is passing. It is my goal for you to pass my class. That “excellence” has been downgraded to “okay” is a regrettable state of affairs, and I stand fully armored and prepared to take excellence back and return it to at least the status of “pretty good.”

3. If it pleases you to snap at me in class or to behave defiantly or argumentatively  in front of an audience, don’t let me interfere with your pathology. Understand though–while it will not affect the fair-mindedness with which I interact with or grade you,  it *will* affect two very important things: Your standing among your fellow students, and The amount of my vast reservoir of “Instructor Discretion” that will be made available to you.

4. What is this “Discretion” business? An instructor has a certain amount of discretion in decision-making. This occurs in the realm of whether or not to make exceptions to stated policies and rules (as laid out in my exhaustive, tested-by-many-before-you, syllabus) based on extenuating circumstances. No exceptions are made for students who are rude, defiant, aggressive or disrespectful. Enjoy your sass, but if you do, accept your consequences.

5. You are not special.

6. No, really, you’re not. Neither am I. We are two players engaged in a dictated activity, and I am the one who makes the rules. Since I am a benevolent dictator, I have not only written the rules down in painstaking detail (your Syllabus), I have spent the first class period reading and discussing and illustrating said syllabus to you. I want you to know the rules so that you can win the game and pass my class.

7. This is special for the ladies. I am thoroughly unimpressed that you have reproduced. I, too, have reproduced. Three times! Having a child is not a handicap or a Free Pass. I don’t care that you had to pick the child up, stay home with the child, take the child to soccer and then to the pizza place and then frozen yogurt. This is a responsibility that you have CHOSEN. It has, actually, nothing to do with whether or not you turned your assignments in on time or came in late or Dog help us all, brought the child to class with you. There is no “reproduction exception” in my grading scale. Get your shit together and take responsibility for your choices, because I happen to be a strong advocate of choice, and you acting like you can’t do your homework due to your uterus is cramping my argument that you are actually a fully capable person and ovaries don’t make you a lesser person.

8. Timing is everything. An email a few days before class saying, “I am going to have to miss class this week because my child has step throat/a field trip/diarrhea, can I arrange to make up the lesson?”  or, “I am in the university band/Typing Club/Choir and we are performing on X date” goes a lot further than jumping into my personal space five minutes before class to shriek that you cannot do whatever I am asking because: Other Thing and then demanding I capitulate to you, or showing up the next week expecting that I will have carefully prepared a special packet of makeup work and notes for you because you are special. The answer to, “Did I miss anything?” is always yes, but I was only obligated to teach it once.

9. Please communicate. Students who communicate with their instructors and let them know if there are issues allow the instructor the opportunity to help them. I am not holding your success hostage, I want to participate in it, but once you’ve failed to turn in a pivotal assignment for which there are clear consequences, there’s nothing I can do to help you. If, at the beginning, you had let me know that you were “adjusting to college after life on the street” or “battling an eating disorder” or “unable to shake the flu for six weeks” then, because I am human and do this because I care, I will do what I can to help.

10. College is a baby model of reality. I would be doing you a grave disservice if I didn’t give you clear expectations and then enact the consequences previously detailed. I like you enough to be willing to tell you the truth and believe that you can succeed. It’s up to you if you hear it or not.