Status Reports & Other Ramblings / disability

hiddur mitzvah and getting out of your own way

Before I was an artist, I was a musician. I got my first guitar when I was 12, and started playing professionally when I was 14. I was very good.

Music was the first thing I lost to the brain tumor. In hindsight, I can tell you exactly when the tumor began encroaching on my brain; it was the year I stopped being able to learn new songs. The horrible thing about a brain tumor located in the part of your brain that affects short-term memory, though, is that you don't remember what you've forgotten. It was a long slow slide downhill from there, and by the time I found out about the tumor nearly a decade later, it had been years since I'd last picked up a guitar. 

About a year after the surgery, I started to get music back. My cantor asked me to join the synagogue choir, and I did, although the first few rehearsals felt like I was struggling to understand a language I knew I was supposed to be able to speak fluently. I kept singing anyway, determined to get that part of myself back.

I sang the first Rosh Hashanah service this year with a near-blinding migraine. Hardly anyone realized that, because I am also very good at hiding pain, and very good at performing. The thing about the High Holy Days, though, is that you're supposed to make yourself vulnerable, and be present. I was so far into the show must go on that I might as well have been chanting the telephone book, not the most emotional liturgy in Judaism.

The next morning I asked my cantor for advice on getting out of the show must go on and into a place of being emotionally present. She reminded me of the concept of hiddur mitzvot, the beautification of the mitzvot; that the choir was not there to perform but rather to bring beauty to the act of self-reflection and prayer. And then she told me, in more or less as many words, to get out of my own way and just sing.

And I went into the sanctuary, and took my place in the choir, and wrapped myself in my tallit, and I sang. 

When you are make art for a living, you spend a lot of time not actually making art, and when you live with chronic pain, you spend a lot of time trying to ignore your body. The challenge, for me, is to balance the mundane and the sacred; the show must go on, yes, and packages must be shipped and emails must be answered and supplies must be ordered, but when it comes time to sit down and pick up pliers and wire, I have to be willing to get out of my own way.

I am the most mindful of this when I'm working on something meant to be more than just ornamentation - intent pendants, kippot and mezuzot cases, memorial jewelry. But more and more, I'm noticing that my best work happens when I stop worrying about the details of design and technique and just let my hands be an instrument for the work that needs to be done. 

Hiddur mitzvot and tikkun olam feel like very similar obligations to me. The work of being an artist is in many ways inherently part of the work of healing the world; it is our job to get out of the way and bring beauty into the world with the work of our hands.

By now, I've made well over 10,000 pieces of jewelry. At my busiest, in 2007 and 2008, I was easily making 50 to 100 pieces every week. I'm never quite sure what to think of that; on one hand, it's an incredibly impressive body of work, but on the other hand, how many of those pieces were made as mindfully as I would like? Many, certainly, but not all.

The past few years have been a time of intense upheaval and transition and change in my life,  with my work being one of the few constants. I've been thinking a lot lately about what I want to focus on as I move forward with rebuilding both my life and my business, and the answer I kept finding is get out of your own way and do what you love. I've been reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and I really like the concept of mindfully picking up each of your possessions and asking yourself if it is something that brings you joy, and choosing to let go of anything that doesn't bring you joy anymore. 

One of the things I do every year after the holiday orders are all shipped is spend a week or so putting my studio to rights; by the end of December I'm usually working in a sea of chaos, and starting the year by organizing everything and rearranging the studio is a good mental reset. I plan to tackle that project a little differently this year: in addition to putting everything back where it goes, I'm going to sort through all of my supply cases and pick up the beads and stones and ask myself if they are still bringing me joy. I know I have a lot of beads that I've hung onto long after I stopped being excited about them, or because I used them in a design that was very popular five years ago and I might need them again if someone asks me to make something similar, or because they're perfectly good beads that I really should use even though I never seem to be able to make them into anything I like.

All of those beads are going to get dumped straight into a destash container that I'll parcel out into $5 and $10 grab bags (which I've done before, and they always sell out in a matter of hours) and I'm going to take the money from that and go bead shopping in New York for the first time in... two years, I think? with the intention of only buying things I truly love. I want to start the year not just with an organized studio, but with materials that bring me joy every time I pick them up. 

I still have my first guitar. It's unplayable now, with cracks in the wood and joins no longer glued together and a bowed neck. But it has a place of honor in my living room, because it will always bring me joy. I can't imagine getting rid of it.

But it's long past time to send the things that no longer bring me joy off to find new homes, so that I can get out of my own way and just sing. 

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how to win at parenting while gimpy

1. Buy the $35 lightweight convertible stick/handheld vacuum you've been meaning to get for a while anyway because using the big vacuum on the stairs always ends with a visit to the chiropractor.

2. While paying for it, casually remark to whiny child that you're not sure if he's quite responsible enough to be able to use the Very Special New Vacuum.

3. Refuse to take the Very Special New Vacuum out of its box for 24 hours because child continued to whine all the way home. Wistfully lament the fact that you had really been looking forward to using the Very Special New Vacuum.

4. The following day, after child has spent several consecutive hours not whining, allow child to finally unpack vacuum. Express lingering reservations regarding child's ability to be trusted with the Very Special New Vacuum. 

5. Allow child to persuade you into taking a chance on him. Enjoy sitting on a catfur-free sofa while explaining the finer points of vacuuming under furniture.

6. When child finishes vacuuming everything he can find, praise him lavishly for being so responsible with the Very Special New Vacuum. Reward him by allowing him to dust the bookshelves.

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Unexpected delays

Around 8pm Wednesday night a blinding migraine hit out of nowhere and completely knocked me out until about 3pm today. I'm very cautiously and slowly back at work now, but I'm running behind on shipping as a result. I hope to be back on track by the end of the weekend, and I'm really sorry for the delays this has caused - thank you for your patience and understanding.
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The divorce papers are being finalized by my lawyer as I type this. It's over. 

Instead of trying to run a business in one or two days a week plus whatever tiny bits of time I can steal out of nights and weekends, I can go back to spending a solid 30-40 hours a week in the studio and get enough sleep and give my son my undivided attention in the evenings and on weekends... and right now, that sounds like the most amazing thing in the world.  

I can take all of the time and energy and emotion that I've been forced to divert into the divorce process for the past year and transmute that into making art and getting it into your hands. I can have my life back. It's over.


  • Coupon code SAVETHEEVERYTHING takes 25% off anything in the "currently available" category! Which is basically every one-of-a-kind item that I have for sale right now sold out in approximately 3 hours on Tuesday but I have managed to restock it a tiny bit tonight.

  • Neckvines are 50% off which I think means you can't afford NOT to get one. Or three.

  • Every single order this week gets a signed advance copy of Unwritten Stories #2, which is going to be awesome. Depending on how you want to look at it, it's either one long and obstinate poem that can't make up its mind about the shape it wants to take or approximately twenty intertwined micropoems... about astrophysics, technology, creativity, magic, and space travel. I've been writing it since last July.

  • Sign up for the Earring Club and get a special bonus second pair of earrings in your first shipment! They'll be a one-of-a-kind design created just for this sale/party and will never be available for purchase. Not even if you make sad puppy eyes at me. (New and returning subscribers only.) What will they look like? Even I don't know that yet.

  • As soon as I get current orders and subscriptions shipped (so realistically, early next week) there will be a special Name-Your-Price Instant Gratification day! If you don't know what that is, it's super cool and I haven't done one in a while: you get to tell me what you want me to make and how much you can afford to spend on it, then I do the wirebending thing and if you like the result you can buy it! Also it happens more or less in real time and sometimes there's a webcam. 

  • Possibly more to come in the next day or so as I think up new ways to tempt you.


(For anyone who wants to know details and/or is wondering why I'm running such a drastic sale right now: what isn't over yet is the financial mess. I'm getting to keep my beautiful and beloved house but I owe the city a year of unpaid property taxes by May 15th, I owe the IRS an as-of-yet-unknown sum of money by April 15th, and I owe my amazing lawyer considerably less than I feared I would but still rather a lot of money. As things stand right now, if I pay all three of those bills today I'd probably still have about enough money for the mortgage and groceries next month, but I'd really rather not find out if my math is that good.) 

EDIT April 12th or 13th I have no idea anymore: I heard you like status updates so here's a status update in your status update BRB GOING TO BED FOR THREE HOURS? But basically, my lawyer is paid, my property taxes are mostly covered, I'll worry about the IRS tomorrow, and I love all of you. 

Please, please, PLEASE tell everybody you know about the sale. Post it on Facebook! Tweet about it! Tumblr it! Do whatever new thing the cool kids are doing these days! Seriously, signal-boosting something like this helps me at least as much as making a purchase. I mean that, because it's true.

 Additional backstory for those of you who don't already know: I'm going through a nasty and unexpected divorce that has dragged on for almost a year, drastically affecting my chronic health issues and my ability to work. I had already sidelined Wyrding Studios a few years ago to focus on being the primary parent and homemaker, so when my former spouse abruptly left me after 14 years of marriage, it put me in the utterly terrifying position of relying on a struggling and almost obsolete small business as my only source of income for myself, my four-year-old son, two rescue cats, and two rescue dogs.

That was last May. In June, I announced what had happened and threw all of my available energy into work. It's been a long, uphill road, but I'm now confident that I can bring Wyrding Studios back to the thriving business that it was before I let it be pushed aside. In the past year, I've completely overhauled and updated the website, launched several new projects that I'm utterly thrilled about, and focused on making the best possible art that I could in what limited time I had available. Just wait until you see what I can do when I actually have enough time to do everything I want to be doing.

It's going to be awesome, and I can't wait to share it with you.

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