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The rantings and ramblings of Kimberly Allison

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

2 ml Can Change Your World

It's been a very long time since my last blog post.  I confess it.  A "beat-me-with-a-wet-noodle-for-I-have-sinned" amount of time.  But, once you read this, you will understand why.

Do you know that it only takes two milliliters of saliva to do a DNA test?  But that little amount of spit can tell you where your ancestors called home.  It can tell you what chance you have of having curly hair, dimples or blue eyes.  It can tell you if any of your ancestors were knuckle-dragging Neanderthals. It can connect you to thousands of cousins you never knew you had.

Or, in my case:  It can also tell you that your heritage and race are completely different from what you have been told.  It can also tell you that the man you call 'Dad' is not the man connected to your DNA.  

Take a long moment to allow that to sink in. A LONG moment.

Imagine eagerly looking into a computer screen waiting to see your German heritage or your Cherokee roots only to find... they are not there.  Neither are the surnames that are connected with your family line.  Confused, you delve a bit deeper and find the names are not at all what you expect.  The pie-chart on your heritage page is funny looking.  You see Irish and English.  OK, you know this is your mother's side.  But what is this Spanish / Iberian / Native American / Sub-Saharan African?

Congratulations.  You have discovered what genealogy circles call a "Non-Paternity Event".  Just a fancy way of saying 'Who's Your Daddy'.

As DNA testing becomes more affordable and more commonplace, this will happen more and more frequently.  People just like me will discover that a part of them is not only missing, it is completely unknown.  Perhaps through a torrid affair or a one-night stand.  If the mother is lucky, her newest child will blend in with the family and no one will be the wiser.  But what if that child does not blend in?  What if that child is a dark-haired, brown eyed Intellectual / Artist with a yen for the Big City who is trying to blend into a family of blue-eyed blondes who prefer fishing and living off the grid?
What is the mother finds it nearly impossible to hug or touch that child?  Or if that child is always posed off to the far edge in family photographs?

I am sure you have already guessed what is coming.  Last year, I took a DNA Test from 23andme.  I was curious to see that 'Cherokee' heritage I have always been told that courses through my veins.  But instead, I have learned that my blood holds the ancient lines of Mayan people and Spanish Conquistadors.  My blood also contains the blood and sweat of slaves held against their will on the sugar plantations of Jamaica.   It also labels me the "family secret".

No,  The reveal did not go over well.  I discovered that I was not an unknown surprise, but rather tangled in a web of carefully-constructed lies, held together with blackmail and threats.  50 years into this, I am sure my Mother thought she had succeeded in taking her secret to the grave, since she is in the home stretch.  She never would have imagined that advances in technology could cause cracks to appear in her Crystal Palace, and a single drop of saliva could cause it to come tumbling down.

My Maternal family formed a wall of unity.  They didn't think it would harm anyone is I just ignored the results and continued the charade.  And heritage and history didn't mean that much anyway.  Just step away from the DNA test and resume your position at the edge of the family photo.

But I had a BIG PROBLEM with that.  Monumental, really.

To deny my heritage and to pretend I was 'one of them' would be to announce that I was ASHAMED of the very act of being conceived, and no child, under any circumstances or of any age should be made to feel that way.  All I had to do was look at my three sons and make my decision.  I refuse to be ashamed of who I am.  I threw the entire system into meltdown.  It was insisted that I apologize for demanding to know who my father was.  I refused.  I was told that I was worthless but I would not back down.  In the end, my sons and I were disowned by my maternal family.  Simply for wanting to know who we are.

Ok, you can take a deep breath now.  The story does not end there. Remember those cousins I told you about?  Literally, all of us have THOUSANDS of them!  Don't believe me?  Take this into account:

You have two parents:  a mother and a father.  No exceptions.  They have parents, too:  your grandparents;  four of them.  This gives you eight great-grandparents and sixteen great-great grandparents.  This number will double every single generation back.  When you reach the 10th generation of great-grandparents, you have 4,096 of them.  By the time you reach your 18th generation, you will have 1,048,576.  Yes, that is over one MILLION grandparents.

So... Have I blown your mind yet?

So, yes, you have a few cousins.  People that share your DNA.  Maybe even a few that share your eye color and your penchant for heavy metal music. And me?  I was eager to introduce myself to as many as I could.  Some of them couldn't have cared less... but others were as happy to meet me as I was to meet them.  A virtual family reunion!

But most amazing of all was my cousins from Costa Rica.  Literally dozens of them. As an Oregon Girl whose Spanish skills end at asking where the bathroom is located, this was quite the discovery.  I was incredibly naive.  So much so, I even had to verify from one cousin that Spanish was the National Language.  (Hey, Brazil speaks Portuguese so don't judge.)

Before I knew it, I was sucked into the world of genealogy and hunting for family.  Some more wonderful cousins came to my rescue and helped me learn to read charts and find connections.  I learned how to build a family tree.  Before I knew it, after only 3 months of intense work, I had narrowed my paternal line down to 6 Costa Rican brothers from a Jamaican father.  I had located my Great-Grandfather and my Grandfather.  I was one step closer to learning who I was.

                                      My middle son alongside his Great-Great Grandfather

For as long as I can remember, I have adored writing.  I love the idea of painting pictures in your mind using only words.  I have been told "You would be a great author!  You need to write a book!" Just one tiny problem... I had no idea about what  Now.... I know.  My own life has revealed the most incredible story plot ever.  I am now writing my very first book.

I'll keep you posted when and where it is published.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Enter The Freak Show

Just a sad, little clown looking for love and popcorn.
     After a few years as a working artist... OK, you got me....after my first year as an artist, I finally had to confess something.  Being an artist is actually hard work.  Yes, I have gotten to rub elbows with some celebrities and I have sipped wine in art galleries while chatting about my latest creation.  I have seen my work in magazines and signed a few autographed copies (even though I was blushing intensely the entire time)!  And I am always and forever thrilled beyond words when someone gushes about how they love what I do.

     But there is another side you don't really see, and it's far from glamorous.  It's the unending mountain of supplies that never seems to get cleaned or organized.  It's breathing adhesive fumes while my sons are screaming they will get brain damage from it.  It's scrubbing paint out from under my fingernails that will never see another manicure. And since bills and show fees must be paid, there is a lot of what I call "Sweat Shop Sewing".  It's me, hunched over a hot sewing machine, in an over-heated room, with The Birthday Massacre blaring in the background.

     It's sewing not one, not two, but FIFTY dog collars, one right after another.  Or maybe it's a heap of wool pillows.  While it is fulfilling and satisfying, working with your hands and gathering the fruits of your labors, it isn't exactly rocket science either.   I can sweat and sing as much as I want, because my brain isn't exactly being put on pointe.  In fact, it's pretty much a 'clock-in-and-clock-out' kind of production..

     Now don't get me wrong.  I truly love what I do.  I am the captain of my own ship, as well as it's crew.   I can put on my most comfy dress, crank up that music and lose myself.   No one to answer to except myself.  And I can update my Facebook status whenever I want.

   But one thing was missing.  I make these girly dog harnesses that would never work on our BBW of a Basset Hound. I make pillows that our Puggle considers a rare, delicious delicacy; so they much be forever placed out of his reach and NEVER on my couch. And always, and I mean ALWAYS, my thoughts are this:

"What, exactly, do my customers want?  What can I make for them?  What would they like?"

     So, one day I hit an inevitable wall.  I stared at those dog collars and I had to admit it.  I was bored silly.  I needed so do something FUN.

    I wanted to feel that excitement that I felt when I was a child and my teacher announced it was time for crafts.  I didn't want to think about a price tag or a deadline.    I wanted to take out my mental crayons and safety scissors and do something simply because I felt like it. So, I signed up for a class at a local art gallery.  Maybe learning some new techniques, and being out of my Captain's Chair, would encourage me to explore new waters.

Class Project "War Machine" uses found objects, bullet casings and toy soldiers.
(Instructor Richard H. Freund)
     I returned with new supplies and some fresh ideas.  And for once, I didn't care if my creation was, ahem, marketable.  It could hang out in my studio for all I cared.  I just wanted to make a creepy doll.  I wanted it to look old, even ancient.  I wanted it to look as though it harbored a secret ghost or a dark past.  I wanted cracks and wrinkles.  I wanted Night of the Living Dead meets Mexico's infamous "Island of the Dolls".  In short, I wanted to do what I wanted to do.  A project just for me.

And it was FUN!!!!

   When my husband and sons got home, I couldn't wait to show them.  I felt like I was 8 years old again, fresh out of camp, yelling "Look what I made!"  I fully expected them to look at it, and ask, exactly what the hell I had been doing all day.   I did not expect my husband to look at it thoughtfully and say "You know, that is really pretty cool!  You should put that out at the show this weekend and see if it sells."  Honestly, I didn't expect it would.  After all, this was Art for Me.  I couldn't care less what the critics had to say.  For the first time, I really didn't focus on what someone else wanted.  I simply did what I wanted to do.

I'll be damned.  That doll sold almost immediately.

    Truth is. I love that old and creepy stuff.  I'm a Goth Gal at heart and I delight in what other people would term as spooky.   Not Halloween Store spooky, but the type that makes you feel there is another story that an object holds.  And I discovered I was not alone. For every customers that recoiled in horror, someone else would breathe "Holy shit!  That is AWESOME!  Do you have more of these?"   Never in my wildest dreams did I expect these things to be as popular as they were becoming.  I made more.  Again, they found adoring homes.  I made a few zombies and they shambled away as well. Maybe I was onto something.

Enter the Freak Show.

   Not everyone was as enamoured as I was.  In fact, these dolls sometimes got me into trouble.  Once I was put on notice by one of our bigger bi-annual shows that someone had complained that my dolls were 'scaring young children'.  There seemed to be a large divide between my customer-centric work and my 'Frankly-My-Dear-I-Don't-Give-A-Damn' dolls.  Some shows seemed eager to embrace it.  Others seemed eager to start spraying me with Holy Water and chanting prayers.  So we decided it was time to divide ourselves into two camps.  Thus, Freak Show Dolls and Curiosities was conceived.

   Contrary to popular thought, the name I chose has nothing to do with the TV Series... in fact, I only saw one or two episodes (I stopped when Jessica Lange began singing Lana Del Ray). Instead, I wanted to recreate a gritty, Victorian-style show.  One where people stared at things unknown and delicate ladies fainted from the shock.  Someplace where sensibilities no longer reigned.  A world where I could be as deranged as I wished.  A Ringmster into my warped imagination.

   So, you will now see two sides of me.  Siamese twins of the basest form.  A few of our dolls and curiosities will travel with us at our regular shows (soon to be behind curtained walls at our more sensitive venues!)  Other places, we will put our freaks on proud display.

   Likewise, we are expanding into different arenas.  While we will show at our regular shows, like Old Town San Diego, we are starting to branch out into shows of a creepier nature.  September will mark our debut at Son of Monsterpalooza in Burbank.  This is a convention for the horror genre, with Hollywood make-up artists and special effects specialists.  We seriously can't wait for this show!

So enter one...enter all.   Prepare to be horrified and amazed.  You have entered the Freak Show.

Please come see us at  Son of Monsterpalloza in Burbank CA, Sept 18 - 20, 2015

Recycled mannequin using "Special FX" textural techniques;
a first for me.  It took 5 days to complete this zombie!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Showing Off!

"There are few who'd deny at what I do I am the best, for my talents are renowned far and wide"        Jack Skellington (Nightmare Before Christmas)

I received a message on Facebook  that left me (momentarily) speechless.

    I had recently joined a "sharing circle" for artists and other creative souls.  The single rule had been simple.  "All members must contribute".   I liked that.  No lurkers in the cyberspace shadows!  Everyone must share a part of their creativity.  So... I jumped in.  Since I am a visual artist (and since the term I jury under, "Green Multi-Media," sounds like I write books about the Jolly Green Giant) I posted a few photos over the course of a few weeks.  Then, came the message from the administrator that went a little like this...

"OK.  Now you're just tooting your own horn.  You've made 3 posts.  Stop showing off."

   To say I was puzzled was an understatement.  I felt like I had joined a book club and had been called out because I had finished reading a book.   I had sincerely believed that I was showing my personal creativity by posting pictures of a altered mannequin in 2 different stages of development.  To a creativity-sharing group no less!

So I went to my computer and typed in the term "show off"  what came up was this:


noun, often attributive \ˈshō-ˌȯf\
: a person who tries to impress other people with his or her abilities or possessions

Well, so far, so good.  I expected that definition from "Miss Merriam-Webster".    But why would it be considered 'showing off' when posting photos to a peer group?  Why should I feel shamed for showing my abilities?   After all, what evils could 'showing off' bring about?   It just seemed odd to me that the pictures of my fiber-works ruffled nary of feather... But it was my painting skills that seemed to set the "Fine Arts Major" administrator into an emotional overload. My fingers punched in my next search into good ol' Google:


noun \ˈen-vē\
: the feeling of wanting to have what someone else has

Hmmm....  Now things made sense.

    The term "show off" is very relative.  To show off to someone is to be rude.  It's inappropriate. Imagine a beautifully trained dancer performing an exquisite lyrical routine to a group of new paraplegics.  The message is this;  "Look at me.  I can do what you can never hope to do".  Or a skilled woodworker that joins a beginner's whittling class.  That is showing off.  But to show a group of peers, some who are way wildly talented, what abilities you possess is not.

    I think I know where some of this mindset of 'showing off is not polite' came from.  But we must substitute the word "polite" with "lady-like".  In my generation, and those before me, to show confidence in abilities was simply crass.  It was simply better form to bat your eye-lashes, put on that Scarlett O'Hara Southern drawl and say "That thing?  Why, silly little ol' me couldn't do that to save my dear life!"  You see... having confidence, while fine for the men-folk, was simply not appropriate for women.  It was considered more feminine and more polite, to self-depreciate ourselves and our abilities.  But one mustn't over-do it.  To knock yourself down too far was equally as rude, as it seemed you were 'fishing for compliments'. To be a proper lady, one must walk a fine line. Never say you are good.  Never say you are bad.  Best to say nothing at all.

But is there a difference between confidence and cockiness?   I am reminded of 'Jack's Lament' in one of my favorite movies "The Nightmare before Christmas".   Somehow, I don't think his angst would be as palatable if he sung " Yeah, some people might think I am good, but I don't know.  I think I'm fair to middlin' at best."  For us to truly understand his pain, we must accept the fact that he is quite good at his job. It's his job satisfaction level that is in question.  If he didn't tell us that he was good at what he did, but how empty it left him, we might just wonder why he didn't just hand over the reins to Oggie Boogie, marry Sally and go raise some kids in a nice suburban cemetery. (And we already know that Oogie was more than willing to take over.  Envy runs deep in sock monsters.)

    Yes, there is a direct line between showing off and drawing envy. It shows up in so many ways.  I know a woman, who will side up to me whenever she hears some news about me.  Was I published in a magazine?  Well, she has been published in lots of magazines.  Was I just on TV?  Well, she has been on TV lots of times.  It was only when she made the faux pas of saying "Oh, I am going to the Emmy Awards this year".   When I happily informed her that we were going too, her charade, to her deep chagrin, was blown. I know the reason.  It's envy, pure and simple.  A case of "I want what you have".

Tooting Your Own Horn vs Self-Promotion

    To be a member of a corporation is easy.  You simply pass on your info to your press agent.  Smaller companies with tangible items can pay for advertising.  But the end, the goal is the same.  You get the word out.  With any luck... if you build, they will come.

   But to be an artist, craftsman or any individual with a marketable skill can be a bit trickier.  Truth be told... as a business, you simply must take out your horn and toot your tune.  Because without that self-promotion, your business will not thrive.   Here, lady-like modesty won't bring in a paycheck.  You do have to stand from your roof-top and yell   "Yes!!! As a matter of fact, I AM that good!"

    However, once again we touch on what is appropriate.  I NEVER dig in business advertisement in a personal setting.  Kimberly Allison and Lume di Luna Designs are different entities.  Kimberly is my artist persona.  It's the person who cuts her fingers or throws an uncooperative project down in disgust.  It's the person who says "Ok... I value your opinion.  What do you think of this?"   Lume di Luna Designs is the entity that says "See this wonderful thing?  You want this, don't you?"  It's the business woman that sets up a show, collects the cash, pays the taxes and brings home that bacon.

    And once in a while, the artist and the business woman will join forces.  When someone asks what I do, and I explain that I am an artist.  Is it considered bragging when they want to see my work, so I show them a cell phone picture?  Or is it shameless self-promotion when they ask if I do shows and if I have an extra business card?

Envy Isn't The Enemy

   Envy.  Jealousy.   At first blush the two seem interchangeable.  But this isn't true.  Compare envy to a cold.  Jealousy to cancer.   Jealousy is a BAD emotion.  It's painful resentment.  Envy says "I so wish I had what you have."   Jealousy on the other hand says "Screw you. I wish you DIDN'T have that, because I don't."  In fact, I look upon envy as almost favorable.  It can be as good a motivator as a good, swift kick in the pants. It allows me to look upon someone and think "Wow, I wish I had that.  How can I motivate myself to have that too?"   If a fellow artist had a kick-ass successful show, my first reaction may be envy.  But then I tell myself that their very success means that I can have success too.  Was a friend published in a magazine?  They perhaps I should get off my fat, middle-aged ass and submit some work as well.   In true form, I would never be jealous of my friends, as that would be akin to wishing they didn't have these triumphs.

So, the next time that someone calls you a 'show off' don't be offended.  Thank them.  For there might be something in you that they envy greatly.

New Art Piece:   

"Envy"  Altered vintage mannequin, Wedding gown, recycled lace and found object (resin horn)

    This is the mannequin in question. As a mannequin, her face was decidedly "pixie" with small, pointed features.  She just wouldn't make a nice zombie, as she lacked the stronger bone structure.  This design came to me in a dream.  Since my friends have been suggesting I tackle the 7 Deadly Sins for some time, suddenly "Envy" seemed right.  

   She is not Jealousy... for she is not a "Green Eyed Monster".  Instead, her eyes are red, the color of passion and anger.  her skin is no less than 7 layers of cream, mauve and green.  Her medieval ruff gives her an aire of elegance. But the horn shocks.  Fore all her delicate beauty, she is a monster.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Burning Bridges

My husband is losing his job.

After 10 years of loyal employment, for a boss than can only be described as psychopathic, a meeting was held.  And the basic message was this:  "As of March 1, this company is no more. There shall be no severance or compensation.  Best of luck in your job search.  Oh, and I expect you to lie to our customers.  Tell them everything is fine and dandy until February 25."

There is little in this world that can be described as stressful as a call from your spouse that tells you that their employment is ending.   First you cry.  Then once that is out of your system, you go into a fierce "Survival Mode".  Every blessed penny suddenly seems precious and rare. From every superfluous item there hangs an invisible price tag and you mentally compose Craigslist ads.  Nothing can be considered certain. So you hunker down.

And you seethe.

At least I do.  My husband is choosing the professional high road.  He knows that in spite of all the abuse he has suffered, he may need to use her contacts.  He may need some form of communication.  He knows that in the business world, bridges are made to stand the test of time.

But not me.  I know that bridges are meant to be sturdy and safe.  But should the time come that the bridge's safety is questioned, it is blocked off with big orange blockades and flashing lights. When it is no longer functional, it will be destroyed. As it should be. It's the same in our lives.  When a relationship is no longer safe, but has proved to be toxic, the cord must be severed.  Boss or family.  Friend or lover.   It's time to pass the torch and "Burn That Mother Down."

And yes, my husband will freely admit that his term at said company was exceptionally toxic.   A case in point:  It has been a difficult decade.  Each year we were assured that 'things are going to get better'.  As if to prove this to herself, she spent a good portion of her time on golf courses or vacations in her quarter million dollar luxury motorhome.   Diamond jewelry and facelifts.   In return, my family has learned to forgo vacations and activities. Hell. I can tell you the difference between bargain and name brand tomato sauces. At Big Lots.  It's about 30 cents per can.

I can pinpoint the EXACT moment that I realized that my husband's boss was a toxic sludge of a human being.   Bills were late.  Collectors were calling.  We were working hard to keep our heads above water, then this ugly pitbull-in-heels had the unnerving audacity to ask for a copy of our family budget, so she could 'help' us cut corners. She was convinced that our family of 5 just didn't know how to budget to live within modest means.

My gloves came off.  I wrote a scathing run down of our budget.  A budget that I had trimmed so many corners from, that I often joked that it was round.  I pointed out that our family had no activities planned.  Unless it was free, my family did not go. Our sons don't have the luxury of an allowance. The bulk of our food came from bargain stores.  And in a move that I knew would gross out her high-maintenance ass, I commented that even my shoes and bras came from the thrift store.    (She never replied, but neither did she ever offer to 'help us budget' again.)

And now I am here.  I am just two steps away from the end of this bridge, and Terra Firma is within reach.  I look back and realize that the bridge to which we crossed, and that had started out hale and strong, is in fact decrepit. Somewhere, in subtle placements, holes had begun to form.  Its very foundation crumbling. And I have to agree that it is a far safer option to step off that bridge and into unknown land, than it is to continue to cling to it.

I no longer wish to step foot on it again.  So, it makes no sense to me to try to maintain it.   In fact, the idea of pasting on a false smile and shaking her hand is as repugnant as kissing a viper.  While my husband can, and rightly so do, the professional thing and maintain this broken bridge,  I am whipping out my matches and I am gonna light it up.

Burn, baby, burn.

Therapy through art.

Through my many years of treatment for severe depression, I discovered that art was a wonderful means of emotional expression.   In fact, my husband calls these my "therapy dolls".

These is a caricature of my husband's soon-to-be-ex boss.  Nero fiddled while Rome burned.  She went out and got facelifts.  When she returned to the office, puffy and bruised. no one was allowed to look or comment.   Myself, I have always believed that multiple cosmetic procedures are a very plain way of saying "I am not comfortable in my own skin".  And of course... outside "correction" will never fix the flaws that lay inside. 

(At the time of this publishing, my husband has found a new job.  So it is time to start across that shiny, new bridge!)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Paper or Plastic?

I was at the check-out line of my favorite thrift store, you know... popping tags... when I decided to check out The Good Stuff.  This is where all the expensive, 'too-good-for-a-common-mortal" items are kept.  Tucked behind the cash registers, where one-at-a-time, us eager shoppers are allowed access to see if something is worth the extra dough.  It's where they keep the Coach bags or the really expensive designer duds.  And that's where I saw him.  David.  As in "THE DAVID".  Michelangelo's masterpiece of male perfection.  Of course, me being me, I started wondering if it would be worth painting the 4 ft tall statue as a zombie.  But figuring my hubby would resent the extra weight to lug around from show to show, I talked myself out of the unexpected purchase.

But, of course, you can't see David without peeking at his... ahem... short-comings.  Because Ron Jeremy has nothing to fear from good ol' Dave.  That's when I noticed the 8x11 standard copy paper fastened with masking tape, effectively censoring him.  A thrift store loin cloth. 

With my indulgent "Where does management get these hair-brained ideas" smile, I asked my cashier if there really were that many complaints over the classic statue.  To my amazement, the cashier, instead of joining my amusement, became defensive.

"There are sometimes children back here!"  She huffed.  My smile froze.  Then, I spoke up.  "But children shouldn't be censored from this.  It's a classical piece.  A masterpiece, in fact.  And trust me.  Little boys have already discovered that part of their anatomy already on their own."  Her response was to mumble the amount of change she tossed into my hand, and to turn her back on me, refusing to meet my eyes.


It brought to mind something my cousin had once told me.  She took her elementary school-aged children to California's Hearst Castle.  By the pool, her young son pointed to the lush female bodies of the marble statues and commented "Mom, why are all the woman pregnant?"  She later shared this story as we spoke about the true tragedy of his innocent remark. What was once considered lush and inviting is now fat.  And in modern times, women and men are expected to be perfect.   Waists whittled to sizes and flatness that would have demanded a girdle a few years ago.  Boobs, and now butts, augmented to super-size.  Perfectly straight, even and snowy white teeth share the dental art of veneers.  And let's not forget the long and lush hair, compliments of extensions.  Truly a modern barbie doll. 

But that is where I feel we are doing are children a grave disservice.  Because the message is loud and clear.  So long as you are the model of artificial perfection, you are encouraged to show it off.  In skirts that may be as long as a wide belt.  And if you are flashing those silicone globes, let's tape down those embarrassing nipples (and thus hide the natural purpose of those mammary glands) to further along the illusion.  However, if you lack the funds for surgical "enhancements" there are plenty of "quick fixes" of Wonder Bras and Spanx.   And if age, size, or other imperfection should make the illusions impossible, Ambercrombie and Fitch would like you, the wallflower that you are, to sulk back into the shadows.  Modern society has no use for you.

Recently, I came across an old music video. Rick James' "Super Freak".  Wow.  I remember how, back in those early days, just how HOT that video was.  Sexy models.  Rick acting freaky.  But go look at it now and you will see how your perceptions have changed.  None of those "sexy models" would pass muster these days.  Sagging breasts.  Ordinary faces. Frizzy hair.  Even Rick himself suffers from dental challenges.   It really shook me.  Here in front of me, on Youtube, were ordinary people.  But I found myself critiquing their very human appearance.  It was a wake up call.

I now find myself saying this:  If you are going to censore our "shortcomings" then do it for everyone.  I'm not interested in Nicki Manaj's Bubblelicious Boobs and Butt if you are not going to show me the sultry beauty of Gauduin's tropical temptresses.

And take that tape off David and let the man BREATHE.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

OK.  I will do it.  I will break the promise that I made to myself about NEVER posting about this subject.  I have always read these kinds of posts over the years and thought:  "Wow.  How whiny is this person.  It can't possibly be that bad."  But over the past few years I have had to confess it really isn't that bad.  Nope.  It's actually worse.

Another day:  another lady.  This one was well up in her years.  A shopping bag firmly clasped in one hand, her fingers of the other deftly examining one of my creations in another.  In a "Just-Say-It-Quickly" voice, she asked me the price on a tiny Dia di los Muertos ornament.  I smiled and said "It's $10".  Faster than a sonic boom, her lips pursed and pouted, and her disgust and disdain shot across my meager 10 x 10 foot space.  She gave me a little huff, then stomped away.

I took a deep breath.  Took a sip of water.  Outward, I seemed calm.  But inside I started swearing like the daughter of a sailor that I am.

 I blame this mentality of the "99 Cents Store Effect".  Once upon a time, not so long ago, all goods were handmade.  Craftsmanship was expected, and those that excelled could expect fair price for their labor.  But now, cheap overseas labor and manufactured goods have over-ran our markets like so many cockroaches in a garbage dump.  With reduced quality and the prices to match, it seems that we calmly accept a poorer quality of work in exchange for a cheaper price.  I get it.  Times are tough and it makes perfect sense to cut corners here and there, in order to save a few shillings.

But, this comes at a price to artists and craftspeople like myself.   Suddenly, it's the cheaper goods that are on the pedestal.  It's us who has to reach the benchmark of higher expectations of a lower price.  With that in mind, let's clear the air a bit.

I am a business:   There are a lot of craftspeople who do one or two shows a year, with the thought of "Let's try selling a few things.  It could be fun".  You will often find these crafters at a church bazaars or a school function.  Their work will often be very simple and priced inexpensively.  Truthfully, they are only charging, sometimes even partially, for the supplies it cost to make that item.  But, they are not a true business.  A couple of shows might be all they wish to do before they decide it's just "too much work".

But true art businesses will charge a fair price.  Like any other business.   You may be surprised to know we have to pay for licensing and fees.  Taxes and insurance.  Booth space and show fees.  And this is before we calculate the cost of the supplies we use.  It doesn't matter if you walk away with a piece of my work or not.  I still have expenses to pay and bills to settle. 

It's fun... but it is still work:   Several times a day, someone will walk into my booth and take down a soft sculpture.  It's obvious that they like what they see and then comes the inevitable question:  "How much is it?"   My heart always skips a beat before I answer.  Because sometimes,  they will not like the answer I give them.

"$100 for THIS?!!!"  They yelp.  And they slap it back onto the shelf.  As I calmly explain that this particular piece took me a painstaking 12 hours to finish, it seems to fall on deaf ears.   Perhaps I could best explain it to them in this way

"Image going to work.  Your boss calls you into his office and sits you down.  He is wearing a broad grin.  'Congratulations!' he says.  ' My superiors and I have discussed your work and have decided that we are so happy with your performance that we have decided to give you an advancement.   From now on, you are taking a PAY CUT.   You will now work for $1 dollar an hour...  maybe $2.  Isn't that wonderful news?  But, it gets better!   We have decided that you will now fully support this company out of your own pocket!  You and you alone are now responsible for all business expenses.  You will pay for all supplies, taxes, fees and payroll.  All expenses, both big and small are now in your capable hands!   Ummmm.... excuse me.  Why are you balled up into a fetal position and sobbing?  You have earned this promotion!  We are thrilled with you!"   

Ok.  I have never said that, but it frequently plays out in my daydreams.

There is a fine line between offers and insults.   I find it difficult to watch some of these "flea market hunter" type shows.  The stars wheel, deal, beg and plead, trying to get the best deal possible.  I cringe every time I see this.  When you bargain with an artist, you are not merely trying to get a deal on an object, you are putting a price on someone's work.  In effect, you are deciding if someone is the difference between a skilled artisan or a sweat shop laborer.  It's hard not to be offended when someone grabs some of my newest work and 'generously' offers me 25% of my asking price.  (It's actually happened!)  No matter how fair I am with my pricing, there is always someone hoping to "pull a fast one on me".  So, now a secret.  Many, if not most, artists are now pricing their work higher simply because it gives us wiggle room when someone tries to chew down our price.  So, maybe you aren't getting away with a deal after all.

The Tax-Man commeth... and good luck stopping him.    Yep.  Death and taxes are inevitable.  To us as well.  So, it doesn't pay to get all huffy when we add that percentage to your purchase.   You see, almost all shows require us to have a reseller's number on file.  The Tax Man knows we are there and is going to demand his fair share.  As artists, we have 2 choices:  we can consult our city sales tax schedule for the correct percentage OR we can add the tax to our asking price and round that figure up to the next dollar and "not" charge you tax.  (See how that works?).  Either way, the customer is footing the bill.  But, it's amazing that some people think that any purchase at a craft show, market or festival is somehow immune to the Tax Man's grasp.  It's not.  So please be gracious and understanding, as neither you or I have control over this fact of life.  And please... don't wink at me and whisper conspiratorially "But I don't pay sales tax."  Because you must... and a twitchy eyelid doesn't stop it.

Small businesses do not operate like large retailers.  Ooohhh... and here is where some people, especially negligent parents, hate me.  Large stores buy in bulk.  And, they understand that, somewhere in that shipment of 5,000 mass produced teddy bears, some will meet a painful (albeit loving) end.   A sudden dismemberment perhaps.  Or a candy-covered hug by a quick child.  A large box retailer knows that there will be losses and damage, and these often end up in a clearance bin... or worse, the back-room incinerator.  But, hey!  It's a couple or three teddies out of THOUSANDS.  We artists don't get that luxury.  A damaged piece not only means lost revenue... it's also time lovingly spent that I can never get back.  So, I do have to (regretfully) charge you for damage done.  Don't hate on me because it's nothing personal.  But when you have  a "one-of-a-kind" piece, there aren't thousands of identical copies to offset a loss.  So parents:  suck it up, apologize, pay for the piece and chalk it up to a lesson learned.  Then use it for potential blackmail to your kid when they are parents themselves.

Thank you for the vent, my dear readers.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Karma Sends a Party Invitation

I am a firm believer of Karma.  I know it exists, because I see it in action every Saturday.  My beautiful "adopted" sister Patty is my best example.  Every show, I see her put together a special item or two that she has made. At random, she will give it to a passer-by.  Perhaps its a small purse to a little girl.  A wheelchair bag for a disabled person.  Or, my very favorite, a patriotic bag to a young man celebrating his recent graduation into the USMC.  She NEVER expects anything in return.  She once told me that it is because she made a conscious decision to be a blessing to this earth.

And I agree.  I once risked being fired at a hair salon because I gave away a haircut to a customer the day before her husband's funeral.  My coworkers chastised me, saying that if they wanted, they could report me and have me dismissed.  Because, after all, I had "stolen" from the salon by not charging for that quick trim.  I was adamant.  Here was a woman, in grief, from her husband's unexpected death.  It only took a few minutes of my time to do a kindness.  Where was the harm?  I expected nothing, except for maybe a few points in my Karma score.

Last month, I jumped at the chance to make one more deposit in my Karma Account.  On a sweltering day at the Pasadena Swap Meet, a woman and her daughter came into our booth.  They were admiring my necktie halter vests when the woman began to tear up, telling us that she couldn't help but think of her beloved father's ties hanging in his closet, after his recent passing.  I knew what I had to do.  I got up and chose a pretty, delicate pendant and enclosed it in her hand.  I told her that I felt she needed something positive to hold, and this was my gift to her.  And I meant it.  I wasn't looking for a sale.  Her grief was genuine and I had a chance to reach out and give a kindness.  I would have done this for anyone.  It's simply the right thing to do.

That woman was Nancee Borgnine.  And her father was Ernest Borgnine.

I will be the first to confess, I am not a person to be starstruck.  My average work day spans 10 to 12 hours and I don't watch a lot of TV.  Or maybe it was the 100+ degree heat. But I didn't think of the celebrity status.  All I understood is, here was a woman who loved her father very much, and now he was gone.

And, let's give Nancee her due.  She could tell this was an honest gift, from one daughter to another.  She is a very astute lady and she saw that there was no ulterior motive. I simply wanted to do something good.  Something right.   I just wanted to "be a blessing", as Patty says.   And at that moment, Karma decided my account was full enough and that Nancee could make a withdrawal in my name.  In the form of a party invitation to participate in an Emmy's swag party.

We had a mere 5 weeks to prepare.  Five weeks to order a new camera, find something to wear and sew my ass off.   And let me tell you, those 5 weeks went faster than a bowl of M&Ms in a room of premenstrual women.

It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I knew we needed to absorb and enjoy every moment.   My husband, my son Nicholas and I, in our bright green security bracelets, got to smile and speak to celebrities that we otherwise would have never met.  And I got the phenomenal thrill of watching celebrities giggle and laugh at my creations. It was fabulous.

So, never be afraid to be a blessing.  Or do a kindness.  Because Karma may decide to send you a party invitation.

By FAR my favorite photo.  The grandsons of Ernest Borgnine play with their new Zombie Hand Puppets.  The face of the little guy in the back says it all.