Category: purposes and ponderances

Chaos and Course Corrections – Getting Lost in a Chaotic Cultural Crisis

"Chaos" abstract painting social commentary by BZTAT

Bill walked up to me in my tent at the Canton First Friday Art Walk, and he reached out his hand towards me. “Are you Vicki?” he asked. I replied that I was, as I awkwardly shook his hand, a bit surprised because most people refer to me as BZ in my art circles.

“I have been looking for you,” he told me with a reserved sort of eagerness. “Didn’t you used to have a blog?”

“I still do have a blog,” I told him, “although I haven’t written in it for a long time.”

Bill proceeded to tell me that he had found my blog online at some point, and that he had read a post I had written about the Canton Arts District. He said that the post helped him understand the movement to utilize the arts to help revitalize downtowns, and it helped him understand the potential hazards of gentrification. He had wanted to meet me for a long time.

I don’t know exactly which post he was referring to – I have written a few on the topic – but the fact that it had been of such value to him startled me. I often wonder if, 1) anyone reads what I write, and, 2) if anyone cares about it if they do read it.

I used to write a lot. I don’t do it so much anymore.

It isn’t because of laziness that I stopped writing. It isn’t writer’s block either. I stopped writing on purpose.

In the past, I wrote down ideas that I wanted to share with others because I had something to say, and because I thought I had a unique perspective that could benefit others. I still have a lot to say, and my perspective is still sage in some respects. I wonder, though, does sharing my perspective benefit anyone? Hmmm.

Let’s face it. The internet has made it possible for anyone to share an opinion about anything in an instant with millions of people. Cottage industries have developed out of making internet stars of people who post images and videos of gratuitous junk. Prospering from impulsive outrageousness is big business, making intelligent reasoning seem quaint. Trolling and harassment tends to destroy any opportunity for civil dialog. Propaganda and conspiracy theories dominate our cultural landscape with a ferocity that squelches any legitimate debate.

What room is there in this chaotic ethos for an artist and writer who carefully considers her world and comes to thoughtful conclusions? Can I even come to any thoughtful conclusions when our present day culture is so tumultuous and upended?

My dearth of writing of late has been a course correction of sorts.

Previously, my art and my blogging was an intentional course of commentary on the world around me. I was marching towards understanding, and I was sharing my discoveries along the way. Something changed on that path, though. Somewhere on that journey, it became clear to me that the sort of understanding that I had been seeking was no longer a reachable goal.

All I was discovering was chaos. Nothing was understandable. The things that mattered to me previously seemed either irrelevant or insignificant, or they no longer made sense to me. When nothing made sense, writing no longer seemed apropos to me on any topic.

How does one chart an intentional course of commentary, when you can’t even find your way through the mist?

I honestly had no answer to that question. So I changed course. As I floundered in my course of seeking meaning and purpose in my life, I stopped sharing literary commentary.

My circumstance could be called a “midlife crisis” or some other function of age. I am getting older, and that does change the way you experience things. I believe this is bigger than an individual emotional upheaval, however. Our world is in crisis, not just me. My reaction to that crisis is my path, as I have always been one to reflect upon the bigger picture in my life as an artist. It is both a gift and a curse.

Could a new course correction be coming?

Bill and his daughter at Canton First Friday

Something changed in that moment that Bill walked into my art tent. The fact that he had sought me out because my words in a previous commentary had been meaningful to him – well, that shook me up. He helped me see that holding back my thoughts serves no one, especially if there are people wanting to consider them in their own life journeys.

Writing right now is painful. It does not flow. It does not conclude. Everything is up in the air and hard to grasp with a definitive statement. Is that enough reason not to do it? Or is it reason enough to summon new energy within myself to find a new course?

 I live each day of my life by my motto, “Life is an adventure!” I try to approach each new experience as something to be explored and not just endured. Some adventures are not enjoyed, but the exploration reaps benefits, nonetheless. I need to keep reminding myself of this.

Thanks for stopping by my tent, Bill. I am glad that you found me. And thanks to anyone else who has happened to have found this piece of writing. Share your own thoughts, if you wish, in the comments below.

Perhaps your thoughts might trigger a new direction for my adventurous journey.

Life is an Adventure!

BZTAT

HAPPY NEW YEAR! I have a new cat!

CALICO CAT kitten digital pet portrait by Artist BZTAT
Digital pet portrait of Ellie by Artist BZTAT

If you follow me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, you no doubt have noticed that I recently rescued a small kitten. I have posted several photos and videos of her, so it would be hard not to notice.

The kitten entered my life on Small Business Saturday (11/25/17), which turned into a complicated mess of a day for me. I awakened that day to the realization that I had forgotten to lock my back door before bed, and the wind had blown it open. When I did a cat check, all in my furry brood were still inside – except for Who (yes, my cat’s name is Who). The great outdoors had beckoned, and my incorrigible Maine Coon had answered the call.

Who’s disappearance completely disrupted my plan of spending the biggest shopping day of the year for small businesses at my studio in the Canton Arts District. I had planned to meet customers and do painting demos. Instead, I spent the day looking for Who under bushes, in crawl spaces, in the field across the way, etc. I even cased out a large groundhog hole, thinking he may have crawled in there. It was all for naught. There was no Who in sight.

As evening approached and a cold chill came on, I began to feel desperate. I knew Who could not survive on the city streets in the cold. I called a friend who had live traps and decided to try to entice him in.

Soon after I set the first trap, it snapped. I threw a covering over the trap to calm the beast inside. When I pulled back the covering, though, it was not Who inside. A small calico kitten, instead, was thrashing about inside the trap. 

She looked to be about 3-4 months old – too young to release back to the streets on her own, really, but possibly over the age for successful socialization with humans. What was I to do with her?

CALICO CAT kitten
Ellie Cat

As I contemplated what to do, my neighbor knocked on my window and pointed at my door. When I opened the door, Who casually sauntered in as if nothing had happened. Upon reflection, it was almost like he had known this kitten needed help and had staged the rescue himself.

A friend agreed to let the kitten stay in her garage, and later, her enclosed porch, while we decided what to do with her. We put her in a large dog crate so that we could assess her socialization potential. First impressions were rough. She snarled and hissed and smacked at us viciously through the crate. We feared that she may have passed the age where she would be accepting of human contact.

I have been here before, though, with cats. Mia Meow, too, had been resistant to humans at first.  

I remembered a quote from one of my most favorite movies of all time – Contact. In the movie, a father had given his precocious daughter a ham radio, and he had encouraged her to take small steps towards achieving her goal of reaching people around the world. “Small moves, Ellie. Small moves.” he said. As she grew older, the words “Small moves, Ellie. Small moves,” became a prophetic refrain as she struggled to let things evolve in her life instead of forcing them to be.

Taking small moves with a cat, such as letting her sniff your hand and explore your scent; slow blinking to reduce her sense of threat; and putting food in your hand for her to overcome barriers; helps her to realize humans are OK. Eventually, the kitten started rubbing her cheeks on my hand and she allowed me to pet her. Then she agreed to sit in my lap and kneaded her paws as if making biscuits. It took time, and many small moves. But the kitten is now quite comfortable with me and my friend, and she seems to enjoy human “contact”.

As friends have followed her progress on social media, the big question everyone seems to want an answer for is, “Are you going to keep her?”

CALICO CAT kitten
Ellie with Dr. Amanda

I have held off answering that question for a number of reasons. First of all, as a self employed artist, finances are not predictable, and I wasn’t sure that I could afford taking on a new cat. There are lots of expenses to taking on a new pet, and I was still paying off bills from Brewskie’s care from his final days. Second, I wasn’t sure my heart was ready for a new cat after losing Brew.

Friends helped me cover her veterinary expenses, though, for which I am eternally grateful. And after putting so much effort into socializing her, the kitten found a spot for herself in my still aching heart.

So yes. I AM KEEPING HER. 

CALICO CAT kitten
Ellie on my lap as I write this post.

I have named the kitten Ellie after the character in the film Contact, Eleanor Arroway. I am grateful to have her here to remind me that I need to take small steps and let things evolve in my own life.

She is now living in my home, although she is still being kept separate from the other cats. The process of introduction will be a series of small moves as well, as she acclimates to being a part of a family of fabulous felines. Stay tuned to see how the story evolves.

Life is an Adventure!

BZTAT

Shaking it off like a stunned squirrel.

Whimsical Squirrel wildlife contemporary painting by BZTAT
“Squirrel” Painting by BZTAT

Around my home, there are a number of trees that are a playground for a family of squirrels. These squirrels are amazingly busy little acrobats, scampering up and down the trees and jumping from limb to limb all day long. 

One day, as I was coming out my back door, one of the smaller squirrels fell from a high branch right in front of me. The poor thing lay motionless in the dirt, blinking but not moving. I gasped, frightened that it would not get back up. Selfishly, I thought, “I don’t want to watch it die.” It felt wrong to leave it there all alone, though.

So I stood still and I watched it for a moment.

Slowly, the squirrel started to move its head. Its belly heaved with heavy breathing. Then the legs moved a little, and the creature lifted itself up. It walked slowly over to the trunk of the tree it had fallen from. It jumped onto the trunk. Then it hopped up to a branch.

On the branch, the squirrel “shook it off”, checking itself to make sure its body was still working. Then, the squirrel scampered back up to the higher branches, chasing after another furry acrobat.

Squirrels work and play without a net below to catch them when they fall. When they fall and get the stuffings knocked out of them, it is not certain that they will recover. Thank God this one did. When squirrels get back up, the reality of knowing that they could fall again doesn’t seem to stop them. They go right back to doing what they were doing before they fell.

I feel a bit like that squirrel right now. I feel a bit stunned, and I feel like I have had the stuffings knocked out of me. I am on the branch trying to “shake it off”, and I am checking to see if I am in working order.

Once I get my bearings, will I go back to doing what I was doing before the fall? That’s what squirrels do, but is it what people do?  Hmm.

Losing my furry pal Brewskie Butt has really knocked the stuffings out of me. I lost a companion, and a muse. It was a relationship that was unique, and I can’t replicate it with my other cats, even though I love them very much. There was just something special between Brew and me.

Maybe its because I shared the uniqueness of that relationship with people around the world in the early days of social media. Maybe its because the creativity that he inspired in me took me to places I never though were possible. Maybe its because he awakened an entrepreneurial spirit in me, and together, we went on an amazing creative journey that defined me as an artist.

Or maybe its just that I miss his silly self and his furry body next to me.

It occurs to me that the span of Brewskie’s life covered the time frame that launched my career as an professional artist. He came to me towards the end of my career as a mental health counselor, and he has been with me the whole time that I have explored my creativity in a professional realm. He was with me when it was all fresh and new and adventurous, and his character gave me great material for exploring the creative realms of social media. He made marketing my business fun, because it was all about telling our story.

Now I am left with this creative enterprise that he helped me build, and I confess, I am not exactly sure where to take it from here. Unlike the squirrel, it is not so clear a path to find the higher branches of my tree to go back to doing what I was doing before the fall. How do I do this without my Brew?

Social media is not so much the frontier that it once was when it was all new and Brewskie was delighting people throughout cyberspace with his silly antics. I have established myself as an artist, so forging that path has become a bit routine as well. The business side of entrepreneurship is a struggle for me. I still love painting as a professional artist, and I still enjoy connecting with people through social media. I do miss exploring new frontiers, though. 

Brewskie and I scampered about the interwebs like my squirrels scamper about through the trees around my home. The internet was our playground. We did it without a care in the world, and without a net, until it just wasn’t the same tree anymore. 

Now he’s gone, and I am stunned, and I am trying to “shake it off”.

We follow patterns in life. My pattern is to pick myself up after setbacks, and ultimately find new adventures to explore. Sometimes I retrace old steps, and sometimes I embark on new travels. I am sure that my pattern will re-emerge once I shake this off. A new adventure will come my way, and my artistic enterprise will find new heights.

For now, though, I think I will just sit on this branch for awhile and reflect on the last one.

What a grand adventure we had together, Brewskie and me.

Life is an Adventure!

BZTAT

The painting above is for sale – learn more here.