At Corn Hill Festival, the vendor in the space next to me is a Chinese man who spends most of his time sleeping and smoking. While I am packing up, he steps into my tent for the first time to look at my work.
Seeing my photograph on the cover of a copy of Rochester magazine that I have displayed, he scrunches up his face with confusion.
“What is this word? ‘Courage?’“ he asks in broken English.
I try to explain that courage is a kind of mental toughness. “It’s strength on the inside,” I say, pointing to my heart.
The man makes a guttural sound, a grunt of sorts. “You not look strong to me,” he says, pointing at my face in such a way that indicates he isn’t talking about my face so much as my personality. “You just look. . . tired.”
It’s an odd moment.
Because he’s not wrong.
Wearing crazy pants, space buns on my head, and a big smile, I’m sure I don’t look like the most courageous person in the world.
But the truth is I’ve survived some really difficult times: rape, a brain injury, the loss of my marriage, my home, my neighbors, my community, the people I thought were my friends.
For many years now, like an ant in a storm, I’ve worked to rebuild.
I know that people see me as creative and resilient. They see my house, my car. They see me pushing myself to meet new people and try new activities. They see I’m making money and running a business — and they assume I’m ‘fine.’
And most of the time, I am.
But the truth is I am exhausted.
Exhausted by a lifetime of trying too hard, of not letting go, and too much looking back. Exhausted by the stupid things I do — the accidents I cause, the poor choices I make. It weighs me down.
It’s tiring having to be strong all the dang time.
I know everyone is going through something, that I’m not special.
But I’d gladly trade all this mental toughness for a good long cry, followed by a nice long nap in the arms of a lover.
If you ask me, courage is overrated.
What’s got you feeling weighed down and what would make you feel better?
PS: You can also enter in person on August 3, 2019 at Jack Craft Fair at The Outer Harbor in Buffalo, New York — 225 Fuhrmann Blvd. I’ll have all the things — prints, masonite tiles, magnets and coasters — there for you to purchase.
When one of my former roommates suggested a bunch of us “girls,” get together for a weekend, I jumped at the idea. Monique found an adorable, affordable B&B in the middle of Geneva, an old house that was big enough for each of us to have our own individual bedroom with enough shared space to make for a communal experience. And it was wonderful reconnecting with my old friends, women I hadn’t seen in nearly three decades.
We curled up on couches, stayed up late in our jammies, catching each other up on our lives, our loves and our losses, our successes and our failures.
And that part was wonderful, intimate and restorative.
But then it was time to venture out to the “larger” campus to connect with other alums celebrating their reunions as well.
In general, I think I do pretty well socially, but last weekend, I was forced to confront something that I don’t think I processed until this weekend.
While Hobart & William Smith Colleges was a good fit for me intellectually, socially, I was a complete misfit.
I grew up in a family where alcohol did not exist. With the exception of a very infrequent glass of wine, neither of my parents drank alcohol. We never had beer in the house, and their basement “bar” still displays the same unopened bottles of liquor that were there when I graduated from high school. We just didn’t drink. The few times where I’d tried alcohol in high school, I ended up feeling afraid and alone. It just really didn’t agree with me, so I evolved into the designated driver and avoided most social activities that revolved around alcohol.
And then I went to college.
I remember my first night on campus. It was a warm September night, and all the girls in my dorm dressed up in pretty summer dresses to attend a fraternity party.
“It’ll be fun,” someone told me.
So I put on a dress and followed along.
That night, in that frat house, I was ogled and objectified. Men made unwanted advances, touching my hair and my body — which was bad enough — but watching my female classmates consume so much alcohol that they were literally falling down drunk was worse.
I didn’t know how to talk to people who were drinking so excessively, people who were so over the top sloppy that they didn’t respect my boundaries.
Meanwhile, they all seemed so comfortable — drinking & laughing & talking about lacrosse.
It was like that most weekends and, eventually, I stopped attending those types of parties altogether, opting to study in my room or in the library.
Last weekend, I had to confront my social anxiety around alcohol consumption.
While most people were much better behaved then they were thirty years ago, at one point, I was so overwhelmed by all the drinking and so underwhelmed by all the small talk, I retreated to the basement to regroup.
While I was hiding out down there making friends with a row of washing machines, a former classmate approached me aside to remind me how I’d helped him to edit several English essays which were difficult for him. (Though I have no recollection of doing this, it sounds like something I’d do.) He said that with my help, he went from earning C’s to A’s. I was stunned.
We continued to talk about what we’ve been doing since graduation – our families, our work – and eventually we went back upstairs. Though he disappeared back into the throng, and I stayed on the fray, I felt seen and heard.
I imagine he has no idea how much that interaction meant to me.
During that conversation, my former classmate told me I’d made a difference in his life.
And it rocked my world because, quite frankly, most of the time I don’t feel very significant at all.
When I left the party shortly thereafter, it was dark outside. There was a rabbit on the lawn, sitting perfectly still on the grass. Her fur was grey in the moonlight and she looked alert and a little afraid. I don’t know if anyone else saw her, but I did.
I often feel like I move through the world like that rabbit — off by myself, on alert, ready to skitter away, secretly hoping someone will notice me.
Back at home, I was eager to get into my studio.
I knew I wanted to honor the weekend, that moment in particular.
This piece isn’t finished yet, but when it is, it may have to live with me for a little while as a reminder that all creatures, great and small, are here for a reason — and that we are all truly connected to one other.
Do you attend reunions? Why or why not? Has anyone ever said something to you that moved you to tears — in a good way? What was it?
“How can you justify charging $20 for a print,” a lady asked me last weekend at my first outdoor festival ever. “Seems like a lot,” she added.
I know this woman probably doesn’t deserve an answer, and I certainly don’t need to justify my prices — but I thought people might be interested in knowing what exactly goes into one of my $20 reproductions at a festival.
1. Create the artwork.
That means coming up with an inspiration, and then turning that inspiration into reality with paint, vintage papers, colored pencils, crayons, oil pastels and other ephemera. I don’t know how to put a price on creativity, but I can tell you that part alone takes between 20 and 30 hours, no matter the size of the canvas.
To do this, I set up a photo session in my house. Because my house doesn’t get the best light, I use three white poster boards curved in such a way as to accentuate the colors without throwing any shadows. The lighting has to be just right.
3. Emailthe high res image file to my printer across town.
4. Pick up prints. Check quality.
5. Hand slice each individual print into the appropriate size.
7. Slide all reproductions into individual cellophane wrappers. Remove the plastic strips that protect the adhesive tape and seal each envelope individually. This does not take into account any of the marketing I do (which I do by myself), or the fulfilling of orders (which I do all by myself), or the packaging (which I do by myself) or the trips to the post office (which I do by myself).
8. Many months in advance of any show, I have to apply to be juried in & pay the application fee, which ranges in price from $45 to over $300, depending on the venue. I have to remember to bring and display my Certificate of Authority, which I applied for and paid for. This allows me to legitimately collect taxes (which I pay someone to file).
9. Purchase/create a display & practice setting up — tables & tablecloths, tent & tent weights, banners & racks, signage & business cards — the list goes on. I have to make sure I have duct tape & binder clips & clamps & pens & scissors & bandaids & all kinds of other random things that I might need. I even pack my own lunch!
10. Make sure the card reader is working and set up pricing for each individual item. Research and apply the local sales tax in every county in which I plan to show.
11. Go to the bank to get change.
12. Enlist help. I don’t have any single designated person to assist me, and my tent weights are 40 pounds each…so I need peeps with stamina. At this last show, I was helped by my father & an old friend from high school! I am beyond grateful to them both!
13. Set up tent & display. At this particular show, my load-in time started at 7AM. Which means I was up waaaaay before that.
14. Sell. Stand for roughly 11 hours — in any kind of weather, rain or shine. Be professional & fully present while talking to anyone who wanders into my tent. Answer questions, take orders & hold down the fort.
15. Handle unforseens. On the first night of this particular show, there was a torrential downpour. Many tent canopies had not been weighted properly, so they toppled over or — literally — blew away. My tent was okay, but the high winds toppled my tables, soaking my tablecloths, signage & some of my merchandise, which I hadn’t thought to put away. I had to make an executive decision to close-up show, packing everything up in the middle of the night in a heavy downpour.
15. Tear down. At the end of a show, I do everything in reverse: box up, tear down, pack up, drive home, transfer everything back into my garage until the next festival.
So yes, lady in the white leggings. My prints are twenty dollars. And, now that I think about it, it doesn’t sound like near enough.
How would YOU respond to a comment like this? What do people not know about the work YOU do?
Many people believe that playing video games rots people’s brains. But what if playing video games – in moderation – can also help people to heal from brain injuries?
When I was going through physical withdrawal after coming off of clonazepam, I was so impaired that for many years, I could not read or write.
For a time, I couldn’t bear to look at any electronic screens. There was something about those blue screens that I just couldn’t tolerate. If you’ve ever watched a TV show on a broken television screen, that’s kind of how I experienced screens: the picture appeared pixilated and it was just too stressful for my poor, injured brain to handle.
At some point, someone suggested I start trying to “retrain my brain” to handle stress by playing simple video games. They suggested that I would be able to measure my distress tolerance by seeing how long I could play, that it would be a fun way to chart my healing process.
The game seemed easy enough to play: you simply try to get three or four or five of a one color candy in a row and try to blow up a certain number of translucent gels or collect nuts and cherries. No one was being shot at or injured, and – for some reason – the colors and shapes didn’t bother my eyes.
And while I’ve never been particularly interested in video games, I downloaded the app.
At first, I could barely play for even a minute. It was impossible for me to tolerate all the action on the screen; my eyes watered and I found my pulse rate would increase to the point of discomfort.
Instead of quitting though, I decided I would challenge myself to play every day for as long as I could.
I mean, if someone said playing video games helped him to heal, well… I was willing to give it a try.
After a while, I found I could last for one full life. Then two lives. Eventually, I was able to play long enough that I actually ran out of lives and had to wait to play another day.
Strange as it sounds, this is how I began to measure progress.
As I became more successful at the game – I could play longer with better results and less physical distress – I found a little place inside myself that reasoned that I was actually healing and that I could apply the same principle with everything.
There is something about the immediate and concrete feedback in video games (e.g., through points, coins, dead ends in puzzles) that served to reward my continual effort. In fact, research has shown that the extent to which individuals endorse an incremental versus entity theory of intelligence reliably predicts whether individuals in challenging circumstances will persist or give up, respectively (Dweck & Molden, 2005). These implicit theories of intelligence have implications for how failure is processed and dealt with.
Being immersed in Candy Crush taught me an essential basic lesson: persistence in the face of failure reaps rewards.
And my experiences of failure did not lead to anger, frustration, or sadness; instead, I responded to failures with excitement and interest and a motivation to improve my performance. When faced with failure, I was motivated to return to the task of winning, and I felt optimistic about reaching my goals.
Shortly after I started playing Candy Crush, I started painting.
At first my paintings were primitive – simple hearts and words. Over time, I tackled imaginary monsters, portraits of pets & people.
Six years later, my brain is nearly healed.
I still have some trouble with long-term planning and some memory loss between August 2013 and September 2015.
But I’m reading again.
I’m painting & participating in art festivals.
I have friends again.
A social life.
And I still play Candy Crush every day.
(PS: I’m on Level 1197, in case anyone was wondering.)
What weird thing do you believe helped you to heal when going thru difficult circumstances?
Contrary to popular belief, I do more than just eat, sleep and make art.
I’m in the throes of a kitchen renovation right now; hopefully, it’ll be done within the next decade.
Because I have an artistic sensibility, it’s been hard for me to narrow down my preferences. I can appreciate super rustic looks featuring a lot of dark wood as well as sleek contemporary styles bordering on sterile.
In the midst of this project, I had the chance to go on vacation with my son over his spring break. We traveled to Treasure Island, Florida where I literally sat on the beach painting mermaids for a week.
Now I am back home, trying to avoid making difficult decisions about stupid things like countertops and drawer pulls.
Here is what my kitchen used to look like:
Here is what it looks like as of today.
I have no appliances, so if anyone wants to invite me over to dinner, I’m available.
I’ll keep you posted on my progress.
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At the end of each year, I like to take a step back and check-in with myself.
I look at the intentions I set for the previous year and see how I did.
2018 Goals in Review
• Participate in an art festival: Always the over-achiever, I participated in 10 shows in 2018, and as a result of these shows, I sold over 600 pieces of art – with the final sale on Christmas Day!
• Create an email list. I kept better records this year of all the people who made purchases in 2018, and I sent out three customized newsletters where I was able to give prior customers first dibs on original work that I’d made. I was also able to let people know where my upcoming shows would be. In 2019, I plan to offer folks on my mailing list special discounts and occasional extras which you’ll only find via my email.
• Grow my social media engagement. In 2018, I stopped worrying about Twitter and LinkedIn. Facebook is my preferred site, where 890 people currently follow my RASJACOBSON ART page. I’ve got another 700 or so over on Instagram, and my blog has about 4,000 followers.
Thank goodness my followers are super interactive: helping me create titles for new artwork, giving me opinions, and helping to gauge general interest of particular products. I started producing short videos and have taken a liking to painting LIVE thanks to everyone’s kind comments and sense of humor about my lack of professionalism when things don’t go as planned.
• Get featured in traditional media. Being featured on the cover of Rochester Magazine far exceeded my wildest expectations. I have to thank Derek Darling at Whitman Works Gallery. If I hadn’t had that art opening there in 2017, I might never have had that opportunity open up for me. I plan to scan the content of the article and upload it to my blog in 2019. I was also interviewed on WAYO and the interview can be found HERE.
• Post one blog a month.I did it, but it wasn’t easy.
• Raise attention to the dangers of benzodiazepines. The side effects associated with benzodiazepine withdrawal are horrifying and hard to articulate. The damage these drugs cause is devastating and there are planetary repercussions for inflicting this kind of harm. These days, I’m fortunate to be able to help to raise awareness about the dangers of benzos and to offer counseling to those who have been injured. In 2018, I spoke with over 100 benzo warriors on 3 different continents.
At shows, I display information about what exactly happened to me, and I always meet someone who wants to know more and wants to share stories. I treasure interactions with other survivors, and I’m reminded of how important it is to continue to be a voice for people who – through no fault of their own – are still struggling with chemical dependency.
I made a donation to World Benzodiazepine Awareness Coalition, which was matched by the folks at Paypal.
• Teach writing classes. I currently teach Intro & Advanced Memoir classes from out of my home – & I have several private clients with whom I work independently to help birth their books. I’m honored to have these incredible women share their stories with me.
• Buy a house. I did it. I moved in! I’ve never lived in a house all by myself before, and it has been an adjustment. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find good people to help me, but I’ve now got a lawn guy and a plow guy and a handyman.
Intentions for 2019
In 2018, my word of the year was CREATE.
All I wanted to do was make and paint and sell and promote.
This year, I’ve got a bunch of goals – and they aren’t all art related.
• Complete draft of my memoir. It’s time.
• Take an online art class.I’ve already started, and I’m stoked because my friend & fellow artist, Nora Tay Gelb, and I are doing the course together! If all goes well, we’ll be painting together for 51 more weeks this year!
• Kitchen renovation. I’m feeling compelled to transform my house into a HOME. Hopefully, a redesign will make the space more functional and inviting.
• Create a painting for over the fireplace. There’s a huge space. It’s blank. ‘Nuf said.
• Paint LIVE once a month. I’m not on any particular schedule with it, but that’s the way I roll. I wish I could commit to every other Friday night or something, but my creative muse doesn’t work that way. I do plan to run a few interactive auctions where people can bid on artwork, and the highest bidder will win. Simple as that!
• Plan a warm weather vacation with other singles. This one TERRIFIES me. I don’t like to travel alone. I just really don’t like it. But if I want to get out of Rochester during the cold weather, I’m going to have to do it because nearly everyone travels with their families and I don’t really know any singles who have the desire/resources to travel soooooo…I’m going to have to research this. If anyone has any experience with this kind of thing, please let me know.
• Secure new gallery space. I left The Hungerford back in May, and now I’d really like to have some small amount of real estate where I can sell my work and be social. I’m not focusing on this one until after the kitchen is done.
• Make an effort to date/meet new people. This is really hard for me because I’m a homebody by nature. I don’t like going out late or meeting at bars or clubs, but I’m willing to say YES in 2019 to events, invitations and networking opportunities.
• Plan for a show for December 2019.
• Get a kitten. It’s time to open up my heart to someone else.
In this part of the United States – January usually means down jackets, snow pants & polar fleece. Normally, I’m batting the flakes out of my eyelashes & scraping the ice from my windshield . By now, I should have built a snow fort or two, gone skiing or sledding or sipped hot chocolate by a fire.
But this year, while the earth is firm under my feet, I can still see the grass.
We are at a threshold, neither in nor out.
So on this winter morning, as I slid out the door wearing short sleeves — a blue t-shirt against the white sky – biting through soft summer flesh seemed…wrong.
Delicious but wrong.
In subtraction, they would call it the remainder.
I’m tired of these remnants, the what’s left sticky residue of summer on my fingers.
Let it be winter or let it be summer, but enough of this in-between.
Can you tell I’m feeling grumpy and frustrated? How am I ever supposed to move to a warmer climate when the mere thought of moving to a different state all by myself brings on a full blown panic attack?
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