Patreon in 2016

In my very first Patreon newsletter, sent in December 2016 (really!) I wrote about a life that feels very strange now. Eight years is a long time in the life of a Gillian, after all. To celebrate the changes that eight years bring, my posts for the next few weeks will focus on what happened in 2016. I was 55, and many things happened. This, then was that very first piece for Patreon:


On the Bigness of Hair

Today the air was full of unshed rain. This caused my hair to be big. Since the whole morning was taken up by a visit to the National Portrait Gallery with a group of creative writing students, my hair took on a significance. I was dressed quietly and modestly, as befits a teacher, but my hair was acting big.

I noticed the hair in portraits and I commented on them. We looked at the various stages of Victorian women’s hair in particular. We discussed the technique by which ringlets could be carefully developed and the importance of the sloping shoulder in relation to the hairdo. We talked about the sex factor of Big Hair. And all the time I was aware of having big hair.

I’ve often taught the different values our ancestors have given to various physical traits and dress. Sometimes a waist is important and sometimes a slit in the side of a dress is seen as impossibly heart-breakingly daring. Hair was a constant for a long time. There are still many groups that prefer to not see women’s hair at all than to have symbols of unbridled sex in the eyes of everyone.

Old postcards and the earliest of films show this attitude clearly. The sirens of the screen and the charmers of the cards wore a surprising amount of cloths. Titillation was through showing the possibility of skin rather than actual skin. But the hair! It was padded and it was pulled and it was piled up high. The postcards weren’t decorous at all – they were simply focused on something that far too many modern viewers don’t know to look for.

I kept the depictions of sirens in mind when I was walking my students through the Portrait Gallery. The word ‘sirens’ is in mind because of Norman Lindsay, whose portrait was there, sporting both a satirical look and a satyrical look. He was part of the change in culture that objectified the body of a woman. One day I’ll find out if anyone had counted the number of naked women he drew compared with other artists of his ilk and time. His more formal pictures still focused on the hair and these were of decorous women, but he felt the siren call of bare skin and was notorious in his day for refusing to block his ears against that call.

In the gallery immediately before Lindsay were the Victorian matrons. Unlike the sex symbols of the day, their hair was not so big. It was not small. It was most definitely soignée and often beautifully curled, but the nature of the hair of the dignitaries was quite different to that of the hoi polloi in the theatre.

Big hair isn’t simple. It reflects social stratification and relationships as much as it reflects fashion and hygiene. Except today. My big hair today was perfectly simple. There’s a lesson in that, too.

No Good at It

I took a drawing class through my local parks and rec department and learned that I can, in fact, draw. What I lacked was an understanding of how to look at something if I wanted to draw it.

I didn’t do this to become a serious artist and certainly not to become a professional one. I just want to be able to draw. I always have, even though I was told as a kid that I wasn’t any good at it.

I don’t know if it’s still the case — though I suspect it is — but back when I was a kid if you weren’t naturally good at something you were often told not to bother. Seems like a lot of teachers can’t be bothered with explaining things so that they make sense to those who don’t have a gift for them.

Plus, of course, art isn’t “important” because the accepted opinion is that it’s hard to make a living as an artist. So only those who are already talented are encouraged to try it and even they are rarely encouraged to take it seriously.

The fact that learning to draw can give you insight and personal satisfaction never gets considered. Just from taking this one short class I have learned so much about how to look at things as well as how to try to render them on paper.

I took up martial arts at 30. I’ve got a fourth degree black belt in Aikido and am a decent teacher. I still do a lot of Tai Chi. I spent years going to the dojo four or five times a week.

I am not a superstar and I never became a professional teacher. But movement matters to me, matters a great deal. It has nothing to do with making a living, though everything to do with who I am.

I spent much of my youth in marching band. I used to sing in church choir. I have a decent voice and can play an instrument. I am not a professional musician and I never had the urge to become one. I like to perform. I’d like to get back into making some music, just because it’s pleasurable to make music.

All these things are important, as are many other things we do in life. You don’t have to make a living from them for them to be important.

And all these things are good for your brain, good for your thinking, good for your health. Continue reading “No Good at It”

Mad for Beads

I don’t think of myself as a crafter, but I do do a lot of craft-like things. Maybe I should rethink?

I like knowing how to do things, even if I don’t do them brilliantly. I like to sew (big project sewing–mending and quotidian stitchery not so much). I taught myself to knit, and have knit some stuff, but not much–as with sewing, I tend to do a big knitting project that is almost certainly out of my league, and eventually finish it.

And then there was Klutz. I worked at Klutz Press for three years in the production department. One of the things most Klutzniks did routinely was to test instructions. So I learned to make tiny Fimo beads, and to do quilling (it’s curled paper art), and make Star Wars-themed paper planes. And I made things with beads. So. Many. Beads. I wound up organizing the massive bead stash (by size, by style, by finish), and when Klutz’s California offices closed, I was offered the opportunity to take any and all beads when I left.

I was good. I was even thoughtful. I did not just take all the beads (there were a lot of beads–in order to test the beads, both for compliance with US regulations on materials for kids, and for working with projects and designs–we had to get beads by the ounce, and an ounce is a lot of beads). I chose beads I liked, and I mostly chose the really small beads: 11/0s, Delicas, and 15/0s (okay, I took some 8/0s and 6/0s, t0o. I’m not a saint). In the years since I left Klutz I’ve become a fairly competent bead weaver.

I bead at night, while we’re watching after-dinner TV. I don’t string beads, or work with wire (I know some amazing bead jewelers who do both, or either); what I do is the intricate, fiddly stitching of beads in a pattern. Bead weaving. The necklace in the photo above is done with the flat Cellini stitch; it winds up looking complex, but really, the hardest part of finishing the flat Cellini necklace is remembering which bead I’m supposed to be picking up when. I’ve made climate change necklaces (bands of different colors for different temperatures, over a 100 year period… pretty and sobering) and Russian leaf earrings, and, and, and… It keeps me from fidgeting while I track plot and dialogue.

So what do I do with the pieces I make? I’ve sold some pieces here and there–mostly those commissioned by friends. Then, last year, after a friend had a good experience with entering her artwork in the World Fantasy Convention, she persuaded me to try entering my beadwork in this year’s WFC Art Show.

Spoiler: I got into the show. To my surprise and gratification, I sold half of the work I showed. More than that, I got the sense that this is something I’m good at, and something that has the potential to give joy to others. In the words of Ruth Gordon when she was given an Academy Award at age 73, “I can’t tell you how encouragin’ a thing like this is.”

Life, the universe and… buildings

Next year’s world science fiction convention is in Glasgow. This is a wonderful thing. I want to be there so much that I already have the t-shirt. So why am I not writing an ecstatic fannish post? Why is my Monday piece a faint and short whimpering?

It’s the dreams. Every time I see the building that is ours for the convention, I have dreams. Not of meeting favourite people or arguing about books, or eating good local food. I dream of … how to explain it? I need a picture.

You know I’m Australian? I lived in Sydney for a few years and visited one building often, and know it from one direction in particular. In that direction, three white helms elegantly overlap each other and look as if they’ve been dumped from an adventure in space. If they grow roots, they will sprout, and we will have Opera House children. This is exactly what happened. Of course it is. You can see those children from most angles.

Sometimes the family imbibes just a bit too much alcohol and dresses up for a night on the town.

Vivid Sydney 2018

Well, the nickname for the Glasgow building is the Armadillo. Imagine the Sydney Opera House changing from party dress to camouflage, its children all in a row and pressed tightly together, ready to tackle alien invaders.

Whenever I see the Armadillo, I dream this dream.