27 April 2010

Half life

I live a double life. Half of me is resident crumb-sweeper and bedtime storyteller of our family of four, while the other half is mentally miles away dreaming up projects, threading the needle of a story, and compulsively suggesting to Amazon that Penguin make The Poisoner's Handbook available on the Kindle until it is. I'm a junk food addict who has convinced herself to eat healthily. I'm a recovering over-achiever who can be extremely lazy. I'm what Figen Çakır calls people like us, a 'double agent': half of the time defending Turkey when I'm in the US, half the time longing for all things Americana when I'm here.

My last post is about being a hybrid of two-or-more things.  I wonder while burning sage to clear out negative energy in my house if I've left some parts of my life deliberately hidden to savor and protect them. Kept the dualities and unlikely opposites tucked away. Can all this business about duality and different aspects of one self start to be a drain on the senses? Enter the half-life. According to the Oxford American Dictionary, a half-life is the time taken for the radioactivity of a specific isotope to fall to half its original value. I'm interested in how science, creativity, and domesticity intersect in this respect. If I were to equate it to being a work-at-home mom while living abroad, have I been quietly urging myself along to be half-living in several realms at the same time?

Yanking myself from one realm to the other has become second nature, but I'm starting to slow down, to make the transitions smoother. My daughter is nearly two, and she has taken reign over my computer, navigating keys effortlessly to fast-forward through two hours of Sesame Street in four minutes. While she pages away, I work on a cross-stitch of frolicking bunnies. Some days this all seems more surreal than is healthy. She now eats at the counter with me, scooping up cream cheese with crackers from the tub while I think 'this is not a good long-term habit' and munch along with her. This simple act of eating makes me think of my mother. She supposedly liked bread with butter and cream cheese, and lately I've sorely been wishing I knew more about her than that and she read Ingrid Bergman: My Story and canned all sorts of fruits and vegetables. But invention and imagination are wonderful devices in filling in the gaps, and creating a legacy of eating crackers and cream cheese with my daughter at the counter might be one microscopic way to stay present in all these contrasting realms.

14 April 2010


From 2002-2004, whenever I went into my studio to paint, I read books. I started nearly each and every day with an hour or more of reading and note-taking, checking for new books in our tiny but well-stocked art library. My MFA in Painting thesis had more poetry than painting in it with 'titles as tenets as they related to various ideas and influences' (directly excerpted title). I was hot for Emily Dickinson, James Merrill, and appendixes. I included two, and the second appendix had endnotes for the endnotes.

Appendix II mentioned:

XII. Dutch coffee, which sometimes I miss to distraction
XIV. The color pink
XVII. Deep discounts

And a list of all the vehicles I had driven until 2004.

While I read and wrote, I smelled oil paint in our studios because we had poor ventilation. My professor listened to Eminem while peeling backing off of sticky vinyl to apply to her metal canvases. I did make paintings, big explosive ones that had volcanos, nuclear bombs, and sexy squiggles that I called map symbols. Later, I switched to paper because my work seemed better-suited to the hand-drawn and immediate, magnetized by words.

How does a hybrid of two-or-more comparable things: reader/note-taker, painter/writer, mother/expat, traveler/homebody, for example, allow something previously undiscovered to emerge?

The alchemical mixture of science lab-slash-library in my studio allowed for process-oriented discovery, and six years later the language of color and paint continues to transform.

07 April 2010

On resurfacing

Or: on having a sensitivity-challenged sensory system while traveling abroad with two children and one unabashedly devoted husband and father to said-children, now back home to the tune of jet lag and the search for foods easy-to-obtain in the US but missing from most grocery-store shelves in Turkey: bagels, Philadelphia cream cheese, unsweetened peanut butter, breakfast bars, avocados, fruit snacks, organic yogurt, fiber-enriched Froot Loops, muenster cheese.

The most I can muster this week is the following three very important thoughts:

1. Creativity these days, when it happens, feels like grin-and-bear it, oh god, get it over with, like I'd rather be alone with my epilator for hours.
2. A cup of coffee while working does not count as a real cup of coffee unless it accompanies the reading of a book or some other enjoyable activity not requiring mental activity.
3. Installing updates is a pleasant way to procrastinate.

This is what I did do while on a beach for 10 days: I napped, wrote something twice, had really good mojitos, read about 30 pages of a book I carried across the ocean, used SPF like a good girl but still came back with a tan, and felt my bones, my body, everything relax for the first time in months months months.

Can a break from creativity, the mother-of-all pursuits that makes my life run, be necessary to refuel?