Last week I marked my 45th birthday and I discovered something neat. I actually really like me.
I have always found birthdays slightly stressy. On the one hand, all the birthday greetings and love from friends and family are wonderful. They remind me how blessed I am. I have been whisked away on surprise trips, had birthday parties and I usually treat myself to an extra long massage session. I mean, pretty blessed, right?!
But then there is that niggly feeling, that “still not good enough” gremlin. Still not married. Still not thin. Ungrateful for what I have. And, somehow the “middle of the decade” birthdays seem worse. Somehow, 35 felt closer to 40 than 30. Time slipping away into another year of failure. And, 45 has brought 50 into view for the first time.
So, while I love celebrating my birthday and being reminded of all the great things about my life and especially all the wonderful people in my life, I find myself unconsciously bracing myself for the emotional blow of “not good enough”.
When that didn’t fall this year I was left a little like a stranger in a strange land. It was a new place, a new landscape. I felt my shoulders gradually begin to loosen from their tenseness of the anticipated blow and I realized – I am so okay with where I’m at this year. Life is full of wonderful things which I am ever grateful for. And, yes, it still has the struggles that I still keep chipping away at. That’s what exploring is. Enjoying the journey, the view and the scenery while facing the unknown and doing my best to change directions when I need to, with honesty, gentleness, compassion and fierce loyalty to myself and my path.
On the day of my birthday I took myself off to the glass studio for some creative time. And, I made myself a heart. This was only my second try at making this kind of pendant and I absolutely love how it turned out. I’ve been working on pieces for other people over the past while but I decided on my birthday I would make something just for me.
Only later did it occur to me that I had made myself a heart. A manifestation of love for myself.
Self-love is a pretty awesome gift at any age.
I’m taking a glass blowing class and, wow, am I bad at it.
While sitting at the torch making beads, I have been sneaking peaks at the glass blowing in the hot shop thinking “if I don’t take advantage of this opportunity to try, I am always going to regret it”. I finally mustered my nerve and signed up for a class.
It’s been five weeks and, no surprises, I am loving it. A dance with the fire of creation itself.
But … it’s really hard. And, intense. And, nerve-wracking. And, frustrating.
The teachers are awesome and encouraging. It’s a hard skill to learn. They keep telling us how it takes years to get good. Being me, I want to be good at it now. Like, right now.
I was reminded by my sister of this great quote by Ira Glass (ha, ha) about the taste gap in creating art.
Nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish somebody had told this to me — is that all of us who do creative work … we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good, OK? It’s not that great. It’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste — the thing that got you into the game — your taste is still killer, and your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you, you know what I mean?
A lot of people never get past that phase. A lot of people at that point, they quit. And the thing I would just like say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of years where they had really good taste and they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be — they knew it fell short, it didn’t have the special thing that we wanted it to have.
And the thing I would say to you is everybody goes through that. And for you to go through it, if you’re going through it right now, if you’re just getting out of that phase — you gotta know it’s totally normal.
And the most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work — do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week, or every month, you know you’re going to finish one story. Because it’s only by actually going through a volume of work that you are actually going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions. It takes a while, it’s gonna take you a while — it’s normal to take a while. And you just have to fight your way through that, okay?
And so I am fighting my way through it. My pieces are wonky. And wobbly. And uneven. And not what I hope they will look like. Certainly not what the demo piece looks like!
But I still love them. In all their wonkyness and beautiful colours. They are trying to be good.
And that’s good enough.
So I have this growing pile of glass beads that I’ve made that I call “reject” beads.
My teacher calls them “learning” beads.
You can easily see the difference between me and her.
We have a very small Christmas tree at work. Desk sized. Which had one garland and a bow for decoration.
It was looking, uh, a little sad. And not so festive.
So I took my “learning” beads and attached them to some earring hooks. Turns out, they are the perfect size for the tiny Christmas tree ornaments.
Rejects or learning beads, they have found their destiny.
They may not be perfect but they are perfect for this.
My first try at glass blowing. Made with a lot of skill and experience from the real glass artists and a lot of excitement and enthusiasm from me, the growing artist.
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Things I’ve learned from making hollow beads –
- Don’t panic. Even when things are wobbly and out of control and look like they’re about to fall apart just stay calm. Take deep breaths, work slowly and with love and it’ll be okay.
- When two sides start from far apart, it takes a lot of time and effort to get them to meet in the middle. At first, it looks impossible. But, when they do, it’s a wonderful thing.
- When you give something a bit of space, you allow the light in and it will shine.
- When you ignore the important parts, they cool and crack and fall to pieces. Sometimes, they can be fixed. Sometimes, they can’t.
- Even when things don’t go the way you planned, they can still turn out beautiful.
- There is no failure, just learning. So keep trying.
It was a sunny but windy day when we visited York Minster, one of the largest cathedrals in Northern Europe.
The current Gothic-style cathedral was built starting in 1230. But, you can still see the foundations of the older, Norman-style church underneath the building. Well, unless the lower part was closed for renovations like on the day we visited. Somewhere on that west portico are some tiny little carvings of a Klingon and a Ferengi, put there by modern stonemasons in a personal touch, just as their 13th century forecarvers would have done.
In the English Civil War the city was besieged and fell to the forces of Cromwell in 1644, but Thomas Fairfax (who was a York man) prevented much damage to the cathedral. The organ base and casing is from 1832 although the organ mechanics are only from 1903 (only!!).
On 9 July 1984, a fire believed to have been caused by a lightning strike destroyed the roof in the south transept, and around £2.5 million was spent on repairs. Restoration work was completed in 1988, and included new roof bosses (the bits where the beams join) to designs from children via a competition organised by BBC Television’s Blue Peter programme (a kid’s show). This boss has some children looking into a well with a rabbit. I think it is taken from one of the beatitudes. At least I think that’s what our guide said. The rose window was also under restoration and the workers were making a lot of noise.
The Five Sisters window in the north transept made of five lancets, each 16 metres (52 ft) high and glazed with grey glass, rather than narrative scenes or symbolic motifs that are usually seen in medieval stained glass windows. Til I learned this, I thought it was just really dirty.
A view of the south transept ceiling and my good friend and traveling companion, Cat. To avoid having to give everyone complimentary neck massages on the way out, there was a mirror placed so you could look up while looking down. Beautiful church and beautiful friend in one shot.
Behind the high altar is the Great East Window which tells the story of Genesis and is the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in the world. Which would have been amazing to see but it’s currently undergoing a massive conservation project. Instead, it was covered by the largest expanse of painted plastic in the world. Below the Great East Window currently sits The Orb, a stainless steel dome containing five of the conserved panels from the window, one of which is changed each month. We did get to see the Orb and thus to see some of the stained glass panels from the Great East Window up close.
A picture of before the restoration of the panel showing St. John being told by an angel to write to the seven churches of Asia.
And the actual glass panel post-restoration. I never really realized how the glass was painted until I saw it up close. New epoxies have allowed the glaziers to remove many of the lead lines which were holding pieces of glass together. This makes for a clearer picture.
The Chapter House (this one built starting in 1260) is my favourite part of a Cathedral (if I’m allowed to play favourites). The Chapter House is where the priests met each morning to hear a chapter read. They are usually round, which makes for a great space and really funky acoustics. Each priest has his own chair round the outside and you can whisper and still hear all round the circle. No gossiping for the priests!! The ceilings are always amazing, as are the floor tiles. I think I’d rather hang out in the cozy Chapter House than the big drafty Cathedral!
My trusty red walking shoes in the Chapter House. An eight-pointed sword star and blue X marks my spot.