Well, Dip Me in Spit and Cover Me with Bird Droppings….

I have just witnessed a miracle.  After seven months spent jumping through increasingly smaller hoops accompanied by the “wah wah wah” of Charlie Brown’s teacher in the background, the journey to obtain a title for the Dodge Travco we bought last February has finally…just today…resulted in an official document delivered to my mailbox by the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles, and which is now in my hot little hands.

This seemingly ordinary event began when we purchased this awesome turquoise and white throwback, and drove it from Crossville, Tennessee to Asheville and discovered that it had no vehicle identification number.  Anywhere. On the entire vehicle.  North Carolina has turned purchasing anything with wheels  into an art form of  Draconian proportions under the best of circumstances; if you purchase a vehicle in the state, both parties must be present to have the title transfer notarized, which means, you can buy a car on Saturday, but until you can have the transfer notarized on Monday, you are out of luck.  In our case, we bought an “antique” vehicle, which means (under normal circumstances) an inspector comes to your house, checks your paperwork against the VIN number, signs off on it, and away you go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a registration, and hopefully, a brand new title.

The Travco didn’t HAVE a VIN number, so the inspector issued a new one, which means we had to get an indemnity bond from an insurer stating that they were willing to take the risk that we hadn’t stolen it and that the seller was satisfied it was no longer his.  After obtaining said documentation, we took everything to the bank to have it all notarized.  Nobody said we had to do that, but we figured, why take any chances?  I went to mail it, but there was no address, so I took it to the local Department of Motor Vehicles, figuring, after weeks of struggling trying to pull all the paperwork together that I was good to go.

The woman who runs the Department of  Motor Vehicles said Michael had to be there to sign off on it as well.

Naturally.

At the time, he was working at the river from 7 am to 7 pm  and couldn’t get to the Department of Motor Vehicles if his life depended on it. Of course, this being the rural south, there ARE ways around the problem.   I looked this woman in the face and said, “”What would you say if I told you that Michael was out in the car.  That he broke his leg and he can’t make it up the stairs?” She shot back, “Did he break his leg today?”  Without skipping a beat, I told her, “its funny you should say that, because he just broke it this morning”.  She told me would just go ahead and look up his driver’s license information, the paperwork was handed over, and off I went….

When I finally got a letter in the mail TWO MONTHS LATER, it said that the indemnity bond didn’t specify that the “body style” of the vehicle was a “housecar”.  Which is a quaint way of saying it isn’t exactly a recreational vehicle but it IS bigger than a breadbox.  Now my indemnity bond needs a rider, so I apologize profusely to my insurance agent for the trouble I have put her through, but I get the rider, I send it off and two more months pass before I decide to call the Department of Motor Vehicles to find out what is going on.  The woman who took my call said, “Oh, well, it doesn’t say on the indemnity bond rights of survivorship, but it DOES say that on the registration, and the two have to match exactly”.

Seriously?  Now my rider, needs a rider (how very “party of the first part”, “who’s on first” of you) and by the way, would it have killed you people to catch that the last time I needed a damned rider? I mean, you have been at this for five months now.  Surely someone might have noticed that particular discrepancy before.  Except that I find out that once the paperwork reaches the special titles  office it goes to ONE PERSON.  ONE person WITH a job, who WANTS to KEEP IT gets to mosey through stacks upon stacks of paperwork looking for errors so they can get a regular paycheck while the rest of us have to wait around for the damned title to show up – someday.  And no one, not even my patron saint at the DMV had ever heard of someone having to jump through so many hoops just to get a damned title in the 25 years she’s been doing her job.

But here it is, in a stack of mail, on a day when I sold the glass kilns from Michael’s studio for some decent coin, got a killer deal on business cards and t-shirts for the new RV business (website in progress!), won $10 from a scratch off lottery ticket, nabbed a room for the Occasion for the Arts Show in Williamsburg  the first weekend in October for a song, got my confirmation email from VibrantNation.com as a guest blogger, put my first short story in the mail for a writing competition that pays $1000 to the grand prize winner with a story about  a lime (of all things) and wound up on the waiting list (okay, that part kinda sucks. I’d love for some art show to just go wild and take me on the first try, but what the hell) for the American Crafts Council show in Baltimore this February.

So somebody, dip me in spit and cover me with bird droppings.  Cause this girl is on FIRE!!!

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Alice in Wonderland or how Change is the only Constant

I frequent a horoscope site by Jonathan Cainer every morning to get a fix on the day. I do this, not because I expect to meet a tall, dark, handsome stranger, but because his astrological forecasts act (for me, anyway) more as a daily affirmation; what to be aware of, what to avoid, how to look differently at a setback, or be open to an opportunity that may not seem like one at the time. If I can find a way to gracefully negotiate the day, then I will take it, in whatever form, and more often than not his horoscopes have been really useful in providing me with a place to start.

A few days ago, the forecast said I was living the life of Alice, that my world was magical, and I had a childlike view of the world…

To put it bluntly….bollocks to that one, Jonathan…

On the way home from Florida, I discovered that the job I hate, but which is holding us together for the moment, will be ending in 60 days. I didn’t find this out through any of my supervisors. I found it out from the people I work with. There has still been no word from any of the people who actually know what is going on with my job, that anything has changed. Working for this company is difficult on a number of levels, and while they have absolutely NO obligation to check with anyone but the legal team and their accountants before making a move, it does seem everything about this place is designed to stick a fork in the souls of the people who make it possible for them to buy Lear Jets, a start-up tech company, and a new brewery.

Our finances are at the breaking point most of the time anyway, so losing a job, even one I despise, wasn’t the news I had hoped for on the way home, and it CERTAINLY bore no resemblance to Alice in Wonderland.

Or did it?

As chance (or serendipity) would have it, Tim Burton’s version of Alice in Wonderland was on TV the night I read this horoscope, and I realized, my life IS like hers. Everything about that story has to do with change. With being bigger than everyone else in the room. Or being much, MUCH smaller. With thinking you are one place, when really, you are someplace else. With being at the mercy of a crazy Queen, or an absent minded rabbit, or an enchanting but wildly unbalanced hat maker. Being resourceful, and scared, and clever, and in the end, stronger than you ever imagined you could be.

Like Alice, I am learning to go with the flow. I may not have a job in 60 days, but I have the promise of an awesome new career ahead, one that will allow us to travel, and let Michael use his considerable skills to fix things, and allow me to write, and create art. School is turning out to be one of the best choices we have made in a long time. It showed us what we could do together, as a team, to take control of our lives again, and head down the road to a bright new future. I am sure there will be lots of changes along the way, but, there will also be adventure, and new faces to go along with it.  And really, what could be better than that?  I mean, Michael is learning about propane gas today.  That HAS to come in handy for SOMETHING.  Right?   The Cheshire Cat never had THAT…

A Less Than Auspicious Start

Michael is a whitewater raft guide in the summer. A little over a week ago, just as we were closing in on the final preparations for RV School, he fell backward, head first, off the top of one of the school buses the raft company uses to ferry passengers to and from the river. He lost consciousness for three minutes, and despite protests to the contrary, was taken to the hospital by ambulance, and after some x-rays and a CT scan, was pronounced well enough to go home.

The doctor told him he couldn’t drive or do any work for at least a week, so we decided to rent a tow dolly and haul his car (a Geo Tracker) down here with my truck. I LOVE to drive but I HATE hauling anything, and now I not only have a man who can barely get in and out of the truck on his own, I have three dogs, a truck full of supplies AND a Geo Tracker to worry about, but, you gotta do what you gotta do…

After an overnight stay in Brunswick, GA, we got to Largo at close to 2:00 pm on Saturday. He wanted to go the “scenic route” down Highway 19, which was not only NOT scenic, there were stoplights every two feet. The apartment we rented is pretty basic and not in the best neighborhood, bearing in mind that despite what you may think about what Florida looks like, most of the places I have been all look like they were built thirty five years ago, with a staple gun and some lumber that somebody’s cousin had rotting in the backyard. What is cool about this place, is that the woman we are renting from has lived here all her life. Her brothers live on either side of us, her stepdaughter lives in the front apartment and her parents live right around the corner. So it feels safe and comfortable and at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.

On Sunday, we went to an RV place called Lazy Days in Seffner, FL because we wanted to look at a toy hauler/RV they had there. This place is 127 ACRES….the repair shop has 276 bays, they have a wood shop on the premises (to build custom cabinets), among other things. They have an exclusive RV park for rigs over $300,000, plus the normal campground for the blue collar crowd. They have three restaurants (all free) and a Starbucks (also free), plus, if your RV needs to be serviced, they have RV’s you can stay in while yours is being fixed.

On Monday, the first day of class, we drove up to the RV Training Center, and wondered what we had just gotten ourselves into. It’s located behind a used car dealership and there isn’t anything fancy about any of it. There are no service bays, the the “shop” is in a fabricated building, the equipment is in a semi truck….and yet….this all seems right. Its not impressive in the least, but fixing RV”s the in field probably won’t be impressive either. Considering that Lazy Days charges $125 an hour for service, and Camping World charges $119 (they pay techs a whopping $18 an hour, so we will be going into business for ourselves PRONTO because independent RV techs make up to $85 an hour)

After six or seven trips to the grocery store to get him set up (it took that many because I have three dogs I can’t leave in the truck for very long in this kind of heat) I’ve finally got him set up and will head back home tomorrow to hold down the fort at home. I will say this about the last few days though. I have spent the last three years wondering what I could have done differently in my life. I’ve questioned my choices, from why I thought a Liberal Arts degree was the way to go, to why I decided to become an artist in the first place. Because I have so many wealthy friends who don’t even seem to know there IS a recession, I’ve felt that MY economic situation was something I brought on myself. It was something I could have avoided had I made “better” choices. After all, I went to college with these people and THEY aren’t struggling from paycheck to paycheck. If they were smart enough to avoid this, why wasn’t I?

This morning, I went for a walk on the beach, bought myself some breakfast at a dive bar in Treasure Island, and let the dogs play at a park near the apartment. I felt this odd combination of intense sorrow and emotional release. I have worked harder in the last three years than I have ever worked in my life. I compromised my soul and turned my back on a talent I think is enviable just to find a way to survive this economy. I forgot what it felt like to be “human”: to take a walk, to have no place in particular to be, to write, when I felt like it, and sleep, if I needed to. I’m not complaining. Most of my life I have been lucky enough to do whatever I wanted to, within reason. I am lucky, even now, because Michael and I set a goal at the beginning of spring, and together we moved heaven and hell to make it happen.

I still don’t know if this is the right thing to be doing. Only time will tell if it is or not. But its good to be on a path again, headed forward, seizing the day….

I Was Expecting Something Different, And it Wasn’t This (Or How Some of Us Have Learned to Grow Up More Organically Than Others)

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine sent me a picture from the “vacation wine cellar” of someone we both went to college with.  He’s the CEO of a huge corporation headquartered in London, and while he has worked damned hard to get where he’s at, I looked at that picture and  thought….a vacation wine cellar?  Seriously?   I think I am in deep clover when I can afford a ten dollar bottle of wine these days, and if I had to guess, I would say that my entire house isn’t worth the contents of that wine cellar alone.  And the sad part is – well, sad as far as I am concerned – is that, when I was a college student, it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be stinking  rich (and probably quite famous for being stinking rich as well) by the time I was 30, but at 52, I am living proof that if you want to hear the sound of God’s laughter, tell him your plans….

I will be the first to admit that I have been less than gracious about the chasm between what I was going to be when I grew up and what actually happened once I eventually got there, and while it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that I am not the only one in this sinking ship, I do know someone who seems to handle the curveballs with more dignity than I may ever possess.

I heard about Whitney Peckman before I ever met her.  She is a gourd artist and painter – my “competition” – well, (at the time)  in my mind, anyway.  We are alike in many ways; outspoken, gregarious, engaging, funny.  The difference is that if  Whitney and I were steaming headlong toward our goals and suddenly found ourselves at the entrance to a maze, I would have this tiny little Denise flailing around inside my head screaming “This isn’t fair.  I was almost where I wanted to be, damn it. Why did this have to happen NOW” while Whitney would laugh, make some smartassed comment, toss in a quote from Nietzsche just to prove she’s smarter (and more philosophical) than I am (no stretch there, really) and wade on in.

At 69 years old, she’s still one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever known and I told her, not long ago, that whenever I see her, I get this image of her as 20 year old college student, striding across campus looking all sleek and bohemian, unaware that every quarterback, professor, janitor and campus security guard in sight has turned to look at her.  I also said I bet not one of them had the slightest idea what to do with her and she laughed and said, yep that was pretty much the case.

Whitney wanted to be a writer, but after leaving college to raise her family, she embarked on a career as a tapestry artist, and in true Whitney fashion, that meant shearing the sheep, dying and spinning the wool, and following ancient traditions and patterns to create elaborate tapestries full of color and texture, words she uses frequently, and with great passion, as the inspiration for everything she does.

When the bottom fell out of the art market (as it has a tendency to do), she traveled to Central Southeast Asia with her husband, Syed, to buy artwork to sell in a small shop in Washington State, but after a few years that lost its appeal as well, so Whitney and Syed decided to reinvent themselves and their art, and that’s when they applied to an art show in Arizona, where I first met them six years ago.

The art world, or at least, the kind of art world Whitney and I inhabit, not only makes for  a dreadful business model, it can be murder on your ego.   You create a product you care so deeply about  inside that even you don’t understand it yourself  sometimes,  then turn all control of that product over to a panel of jurors who decide if you are good enough to exhibit in  an art show that holds absolutely no guarantee of financial return of any kind.

I take the rejections (both artistically and financially) rather personally, but Whitney says, “One of the things that happens as you work your way through doing art for a living – living an artistic life –  is that one thing builds on another, until you develop your own artistic voice.  Always floundering, always dabbling, always looking – means I eventually found a voice that is mine”.

I wanted to write about Whitney today, because while I have struggled and wrestled and flung myself at obstacles most of my life thinking, if I could just do what I wanted to do then life would be what I wanted it to be, I have always admired her ability to weather the storms of an art career with such grace, and quite frankly, I wanted to know how she did it.   She seems to have grown into who she is organically, while I have gone there kicking and screaming.  I AM slowly getting there, even to the point of being able to admit that the fact that I did not wind up stinking rich at 30 (and famous for being stinking rich) was probably a good thing.  It irks the hell out of me to say that, but its true.

Whitney said to me, just before our interview drew to a close, “If you focus on creating instead of making money, there IS a downside, and it isn’t easy.  But every day presents a chance to get into the studio, to create something beautiful, to learn something new, and that’s how I want to spend my breathing time”.  I don’t want to be Whitney when I grow up because she’s already so damned good at it, but I DO want to be more like her.  I want my growth to be more organic and let life, whatever it may be, unfold before me, “allowing it to be what it is”.

To learn more about Whitney’s incredible art, check out her website and her blog.