There are several deadlines looming for juried exhibitions in the textile and contemporary art realm. I'm sure most of you are old pros at submitting -- I'm not, but since I finally have a body of work to pull from, I'm learning how best to approach the task of entering multiple shows. Here's a bit of a take away:
1. Get organized. Give yourself a large layout space and organize all the show descriptions you've been contemplating by deadline date, notification date, show dates. Place available artwork on its own sticky note. Make sure no one disturbs this. It could impact the dinner table for, like, days. Oh, except you never eat there anymore anyway because it's always covered with your crap and the island in the kitchen is way closer to the bottomless carton of whole milk in the refrigerator.
2. Allow plenty of time. Days, really. Computer glitches happen. Kids need snacks and bike rides and summertime trips to the library and then there was that last time you hung up the phone and said, "Unless you're bleeding, do NOT bother me when I'm on the phone!" Right, you need to apologize for that when they wake up. That was a lame thing to say.
3. Pay attention to notification dates so you can leapfrog rejected work immediately to another show. If you're upset about being rejected, this is because you aren't submitting enough (insert laughter here).
4. Start that digital file with all those artist statement variations (20-word count, 100-word count, 1000-character count ... ) and indicate which show you've sent which statement to. Adopt a confident stance. I suggest a Wonder Woman pose for one full minute before copyediting your statement, just one last time.
A cool hipster pose is okay, too. It gives everyone the impression that exhibiting is no big deal. Meanwhile, remember that emerging artists need to apply widely. Except there's the other advice that you shouldn't enter just any old show lest it doesn't further your career, so, actually you should be really picky.
Or some lousy dichotomy like that.
Also remember that "callouses only develop in response to irritation and consistent use," so the prickliness of rejection will eventually go away.
Bite it a little. There, did it go away?
Darn. Maybe later.
5. Read the fine print. I nearly submitted to a show once that couldn't accommodate shipped artwork. What? I live in Alaska. Here, let me just walk it to your loading bay. Wait, just let me walk it through Canada first. I also submitted an enormous piece to a show last winter, failing to notice their clearly stated size restrictions. Right. That piece didn't get in. Duh, Meissner. On the flip side, I had to phone a gallery yesterday, because upon re-reading said fine print, I discovered there were no show dates listed, just the opening reception. Duh, Show.
Did I mention that callouses only develop in response to irritation?
6. Respect the jurors by offering beautiful, professional photos sized appropriately (as per fine print, which will specify different dimensions for each exhibition submittal ... naturally). Also, don't refer to your work as "mixed media" when specifics are so much more revealing and exciting . Also, poof read, I mean, proof read. You have to stand out from 100's or 1000's of submissions, so don't screw up your chances in the first round of jurying because of a silly mistake. No pressure.
7. Photocopy your entry form and staple to the hard copy of the prospectus. In 2 months, when acceptance/rejection letters are finally sent it's likely that you will have forgotten not only what you submitted, but what you said about it, who you are, and where you live.
8. Save all your rejection letters to prove to the IRS that you aren't just sitting on your rear.
9. Do your best to just really get right in there, focus and do the hard work. Like somebody said, "Under commit and over perform."
Somebody also said that thing about "A job worth doing."
Somebody also pointed out that only disgusting people let cats sit on their table. Except that we don't eat at our table. Because I never cook anymore.
If any of this advice is appealing, or makes you feel far superior, you might want to check out the alarmingly popular post "How to box & ship a quilt (like a Swede)" or a myriad of other posts in the "How to" category of this blog. I mean, why bumble along when someone else (me) has clearly done that part for you?
"It is okay to be an outsider, a recent arrival, new on the scene -- and not just okay, but something to be thankful for ... Because being an insider can so easily mean collapsing the horizons, can so easily mean accepting the presumptions of your province."
Here in Alaska, we have a word for the newly arrived: Cheechako.
It is derived from the Chinook word chee, meaning "just now" and chako, meaning "come."
Just now, come.
Think Gold Rush, think feverish wagon slog through waist-deep snow, think soaked cotton clothing, think new Pipeline hires and frozen metal zippers exploding off winter coats. Think unpreparedness. Think amazingly stupid ideas that turn out okay, or even great. Think trying to eat a PowerBar from your pack at -10 degrees and dislocating your jaw. Think cold, wet feet. Think masted ships trapped, then crushed in pack ice. Think bushwhacking through pushki and baring red angry scars on arms and legs for years afterwards. Think unsecured kayaks floating away in the middle of the night. Think unaware awe. Think, "Look -- a Mama moose and baby -- let's get closer!" Think, "If I spray myself with bear spray, it will repel bears!" Think rubber boots with high heels. Think Greenhorn. Think Tenderfoot. Think lost and needs rescuing.
Think lost and prefers it that way.
My husband and I left a robust coastal city of 2 million and came to Alaska in 2000. I'd worked in the fashion industry for 12 years (wait, I think I had a pair of rubber boots with heels ... what happened to those?) and sought major change, my husband found a job in Anchorage (but I thought you said you sent resumes to Seattle and San Francisco ...). My memory of arriving here that November after driving 2,195 miles, is of sitting at a stoplight in silence, staring at a plastic palm tree deflating in a snowy car lot, my new mittens filthy from changing a tire next to a dumpster behind a Chinese restaurant, two howling cats on the bench seat between us and the sinking weight of knowing, clearly, we'd just made an enormous mistake.
But I also remember the first time I heard a raven's Kla-wock! from a street lamp above: a dropping, dripping sound, like water hitting the bottom of an empty barrel. A sound that still has me snap my head around until I can find that glossy black body.
And I remember filling my lungs and thinking, Oh, this is what it means to take a deep breath. This is what it means to look up and see something enormous -- a horizon, a sky, a raven -- something beckoning instead of crushing.
When do you stop being a Cheechako?
When bald eagles stop taking your breath away?
When you finally have the right gear for every weather condition? (Rain jackets -- drizzle, downpour, mud or going out to dinner in sleet? -- snow boots, rubber boots, hats, gloves, vests, puffy jacket, sappy-work-in-the-yard jacket, wool coat, wool coat, wool coat. Down. Synthetic. Lightweight cotton-why-did-I-buy-this-useless jacket, rain pants, rain bibs, snow pants, ski pants, wool socks, wool socks, wool socks. Then multiply for every member of the family).
When even the most familiar landscape stops divulging its secrets?
When the palette of emergent seasons stops blowing your mind?
I'd argue that it's the inner Cheechako that drives us. All stupid mistakes and blind luck and a willingness to experience and see what should be met with awe -- no matter how simple and small or enormous and insurmountable. When was the last time you were in awe?
What have you dragged through the slush lately? Where have you gone in your creative work where you really had no business going, were completely unprepared for and were lucky you emerged on the other side merely wringing out your socks, tummy rumbling?
It's deeper than risk taking -- it's naivety. And it's not merely asking "what if?" -- it's the work produced from the mindset of, "I am going to make this happen/do this thing/make this real/go to this place."
I don't think it matters where you live. You probably have your own word for Cheechako, your own set of stories surrounding the arrival of bumbling newcomers, but when was the last time you let yourself be one?
Stand in front of your work and say this: Just now, come.
Dig up the will to climb it.
Hold some awe.
Wander after stupid ideas that might turn out okay. Maybe even great.
I say this to myself, not just to you: quit hesitating, quit collapsing your horizons, because if there's one thing you can be an expert at it's the blundering arrival of not knowing.
If you, too, have accounts of blundering arrival, your own versions of Cheechako stories, I'd love to hear them. They always make me feel better (oh, and that bit above about the kayaks floating away? Mine. Same with the second-degree burns from crashing through photosensitive cow parsnip).
See, don't you feel better now, too?
For more posts on Alaska, check out: "What we found, 2," "The traveling eye 8: Fool's gold," or "Drive. A love story."
"The forces that shape the natural world — gravity, erosion, material fatigue and subsequent fracture, the smoothing pulse of fluid — are also found within the realm of the body. Veins course through rock, creating weakness but extreme beauty, and our bodies are similarly imperfect, yet perfect. I am mesmerized by that which topples our sense of strength, widens our fissures and defies our ability to heal — it’s real that something terrifyingly small could leave nothing left in one's world but stone."
In 1987, one month after my 16th birthday, a baby disappeared down a well.
Her mother wasn't much older than I was -- only 18 -- and while babysitting 6 other children in Midland, Texas, she'd run inside the house to answer the telephone and left them all playing outside. My youngest sister was almost 2 then; the baby who'd slipped through the 8-inch mouth of a well, Jessica McClure, was 18 months. My dad was a water well driller, as was my grandfather and my uncle. We lived in a dusty desert landscape, probably not unlike West Texas. My parents always dropped everything to answer a business phone that rang in our home, whether at 6 am or noon or 8 pm. I was the neighborhood babysitter. The odd parallels weren't lost on me then, and they aren't now.
For days, we watched rescue efforts broadcast from Midland, and the whole time I imagined my littlest sister's legs forced into the splits 22 feet down a narrow casing, a shelf of crumbling rust and alkali the only thing preventing her from sliding into the soft water 45 feet below. I saw myself leaning over the hole, calling her name while neighbors and strangers descended on our own scrub-filled Nevada yard, women hauling shovels and rope, men wondering where to park a useless backhoe. Could I have done much more than stumble over the generator cables powering floodlights and camera equipment and heaters pumping warm air into the hole? I could envision my dad standing backlit in the night, wearing his blue well-drilling uniform and cap, solving this problem with the expertise of decades of drilling for water. At 16, I could see all this. And I'm sure I judged that teenaged mother for losing her child down a hole barely 2 fists wide because she'd turned her back to answer a stupid telephone.
Nearly 30 years later, I play out this last part the most, because now I have children. I have someone, not just the idea of someone, behind me when I turn my back.
And I do turn it. Every mother does. At some point.
Sometimes nothing happens. Sometimes something does.
My family followed the news for the 58 hours it took for mining engineers, firefighters, paramedics, drillers, jackhammer operators, police and other support to finally reach the baby -- the efforts of at least 50 people. I wanted to believe my dad would've been the one to know what to do if he'd stood there in that dusty Texas backyard -- pointing, gesturing, stern and focused above the chaos -- but there in our living room some 1,400 miles away, staring at the television screen with elbows on knees, he didn't have the solution. His rig, an Ingersol-Rand, drilled 6- or 8-inch diameter holes, not wide enough for tools to bring more than mud and water out of the ground. The process wasn't fast enough either -- holes took days or weeks to drill. There would be no rescue with the equipment he had at hand.
If one of his wells never produced water, even I knew he couldn't just leave a hole in the ground like the one the baby fell into. It was illegal in Nevada; anything could contaminate ground water if it seeped far enough. He'd nervously phoned a radio station during this time, gave a local perspective on the dangers of illegal wells, offered to fill and cap them for free, no questions asked. One improperly abandoned well he knew of -- a rusted casing jutting from the ground -- was just a block away from a school bus stop. But no property owners ever contacted him for his help.
Once, after watching an episode of Dallas, I told my dad I hoped he'd strike oil so we could be rich. He had the wrong rig, he'd explained, and besides, the oil would belong to the property owner. Nothing seemed fair about that. Finders keepers. I couldn't picture the differences between oil rigs and water well-drilling rigs then, but I knew what a drill bit was -- it looked like a snake head -- and I knew they were expensive to replace if the hole caved in or if they snapped off at 600 feet.
The mining engineers tried to reach Jessica with a rat hole drill -- used for boring 36- or 48-inch-diameter column holes -- breaking huge drill bits worth thousands of dollars on the prehistoric strata. In the end, they cut through bedrock with high-pressure water, worrying the whole time it might shoot through a small fissure and cut the baby by accident. They finished tunneling to her with pneumatic jack hammers. She sang in the darkness, cried to let rescuers know she was still breathing and gave everyone a reason to think she'd died when she napped for 6 hours.
In interviews, fifteen years after the event, she claimed she didn't remember a thing. But my parents and I still do, and 2 of my 3 sisters who were old enough also remember fragments and shadowy images -- a baby in a hole like Dad drilled, flashes of a young crying mom who blamed herself and that name: Baby Jessica.
None of us had ever had the word "Baby" put in front of our names. It hinted at a fragility that tried hard not to exist in our home. Still, the event in Midland took the ordinariness of our daily lives, the things we knew intimately -- an insistent telephone, holes in the ground, babies, moms and dads and children, the dust and mud of work -- and twisted them all into something strange and deadly and utterly comprehensible to a well-drilling family.*
* * *
Watching the following news clip, now as a mother, touched something far deeper than it did when I was a teenager. Does anyone else remember where you were -- who you were -- when this happened? I wrote about this in 2003 and 2004, thinking I had it all emotionally tidied up in a piece that explored the relationship I had with my father then. Revisiting this scene now, places me on very different ground.
The impulse behind the Vein Series begins to inch closer to a deeper emotional truth about the fragility and strength of stone, of life. These memories are a small part of that larger picture.
*Edited excerpts from the 2004 essay "Lifeline," part of my MFA thesis.
Images are of quartz-veined beach rock in Prince William Sound, Alaska.
The Alaskan drive from Anchorage to Homer is 221 miles. The trip takes 4 1/2 - 5 hours, depending on summer road construction or winter weather conditions. We don't often make this drive, but we've made it twice this month. The week before the July 4th weekend, my husband and I hired a babysitter for 13 hours, drove to Homer, dismantled my show at the Bunnell Street Arts Center (Brian gave us a C+ for our rushed packing job), said hello to a dear friend, checked out another friend's paintings at the Pratt Museum, then drove back to Anchorage. Somewhere in there we had lunch. And ice cream. And a couple of conversations that weren't interrupted with the song of, "Hey Mom, I'm hun-gry..."
Brian didn't have to come with me; he took a day off work. So instrumental in the show's installation, I'd like to think he joined me for the take down so he could feel that full circle, experience that immense high and crashing collapse that punctuates the end of barreling momentum.
But really, he was along because of the drive.
The worst car accident I ever experienced happened near Centralia, Washington, after driving about this distance -- around 225 miles -- from Vancouver, British Columbia towards Reno, Nevada. I was 19, almost 20, and didn't realize how distance driving exhausts me, no matter how much bad coffee, no matter how full the bladder, no matter how loud the speakers blare the Psychedelic Furs.
I fall asleep.
In 1991, I rolled a Bronco II 4 times across I-5 and landed upright in oncoming traffic. The man who I would someday marry had taken me to the place where we would someday live and I nearly killed him on the way home.
This is the history, this punctuation mark, within our relationship.
And in the 24 years since the Accident, as I've read more about concussions and the PTSD associated with even mild brain trauma, I now understand why I cried almost everyday for a year afterward, why the sound of a siren would send me into hysterics, why I still hesitate at the door when I'm just running up to the store for milk. Why every scenario plays itself out, for every drive. And I wonder, too, if this is why I sometimes have a hard time remembering the stir of numbers and names and conversations and information in my brain. Why I have to write everything down. I don't know any of this for sure because I've been the person I am now longer than the person I was before the Accident, but it seems worth contemplating. At some point this spring, we calculated, I'd been married for half my life. Brian's half-way point is coming soon. We are shaped by one another.
This is what I do know and always remember: the way we describe our relationship is "lucky." Lucky to have found each other so young. Lucky be compatible. Just ... lucky.
Brian is the most patient person I know. The visible scars from that accident are all his: a split along his right elbow and a round depression on his forearm from when his arm flew out the window. He was the one left shoeless, who had to hire a taxi to drive to a far-off wrecking yard to salvage the last of our things from the vehicle he'd later describe as "round." He phoned my dad from the hospital. He slept in a plastic chair next to my bed. He wrapped our exploded belongings in cardboard after storing them behind a bush at the hospital for the night. He found a travel agent who not only booked our flights home, but picked us up at the hospital in her black El Camino to drive us to the bus that would haul us north to the Seattle airport. The Bronco II that I wrecked was, of course, his.
It could have been so, so much worse. I never forget that last part.
At 20, Brian was already the definition of capable. A fixer. Driven in a way that inspires, intimidates and awes me, even after 22 years of marriage and despite the invisible scars that partially define this person he's married to. He is still stitching me together, correcting my math, shoring my memories, weathering my emotions.
We shared the driving this time (there have been road trips when he's been saddled with it all). I insisted he keep talking when it was my turn to drive -- Keep me awake. Keep the music coming. I did make him pump gas, pretending I wanted to take a picture of him with the archaic set up at Cooper Landing, when really I was flustered and paralyzed by the outdated signage, the hard metal edges, the slow click of numbers.
He laughed at me, swung the metal lever, and said, "Don't you remember these pumps? Don't you remember how we'd just run in and pay for 5 buck's-worth? How that was enough gas to get us anywhere?"
Yes. Yes I do.
It is a history worth remembering.
Artist in Anchorage, Alaska, sometimes blogging about the collision of history, family & art, with the understanding that none exists without the other.