Amber M.

"We all have heard the saying, which is true as well as witty,

That the camel was a horse that was designed by a committee."

(Allan Sherman, "Peter and the Commissar")

My committee. I've got some names in mind...Mom? Her biggest and really only crime was making me her mirror, and projecting her dreams onto me, instead of allowing me to find my own. My sister, Susan? Nah..she was just being an older sister; it was her job to torment the younger. Uncle Bob? Good golly, I've got an entire other page dedicated to Apple Bob. He terrorized us with his brilliance, influencing my family in ways I'm only now appreciating, all the way back to my mom's childhood...My dad? The spiritual thrillseeker? He valued creativity over the workaday; wanted to write and be published someday. He told me bedtime stories then went upstairs to write them down; he brought Dave into the house; the stories were illustrated and creativity blossomed in all directions. 

Mom's influence will never leave, of course; and one of the PeoplePleaser people I try hard to please is her. I'm still afraid to write anything critical about her that she might read, because I don't want to hurt her feelings. Of course. But over the years, I've gradually stepped further away from being the mirror of *her* identity and created a mirror of my own. If I hear myself thinking in old patterns, as if Mom still had control over my choices, I just tear a yard of quilting cotton into fat quarters, and in my mind's eye I see her wince and frown: "Aaugh! Cut it, don't tear it! You lose half an inch tearing it that way!! Cut it!!" And I smile: ONLY half an inch? You should see how much I lose if I try to *cut* it straight. Shrug: "It's the best way I've found to do it, Mom. Love you."

It's not just Mom chairing the PeoplePleasing Department of me: I want EVERYONE to approve of what I've made. I genuinely cannot understand how anyone can look at a piece of beautifully dyed cloth and not get utterly lost in how the colors broke, how the dyes made Rorschach patterns all over. It makes me so excited; why aren't you as blissed out as I am?!

Hmm...Still thinking...I could make an amalgam of all the elementary school teachers who stomped me flat, call it Mrs. Crumpotbottom or something. Other kids were awful, too: what about Ann Wysocki, who tried to steal my solo in junior high chorus and nearly succeeded? Yeah, she's there, sandwiched in among the other girls who chased me into the bathroom to torment me (kinda like that scene in "Carrie" but different). Then there was that awful swim coach. Ooh, I hated him. "COME ON, MILLER! You're worthless and weak!" An expression that's made it into the joke portion of my brain, though I can still hear him shouting it. That dude was sadistic. Heck, I didn't even want to be ON the swim team. I wanted to be a mermaid.

I can no longer name the art teachers who did their part to stomp me flat but whom I was desperate to impress. I've made a stick figure in my head, and put on it the face of a Watercolor class teacher of recent acquaintance. She made the beginners in the class come to her desk, when she could clearly see the impossibility of *this* beginner weaving the wheelchair through all those tall tables. Another art class abandoned in tears.

I could go on, but I think it would be disingenuous of me. I've forgiven them, for the most part. (Except Miss Wysocki and the Marquis de Swim, grrr.) All those sarcastic voices and blank disinterested faces grow hazier with every successful piece of cloth I turn out. They re-emerge at times of low esteem and dim hope, but I've by and large got them corralled. Except for one.

My harshest critic -- the most heinous and horrid member of my Committee, the one who stands behind a 1000 watt torture-bulb and spews vitriol at whatever I do, the most unforgivable and unforgiving presence in the sensory deprivation chamber where I can hear nothing but its haranguing, see nothing but its cold unyielding condemnation, the snarky bitch who only grudgingly admits something *might* be sort of pretty but don't get cocky, kid -- is Amber. Oh I am a hateful critic. HATEFUL. Here we are at the third week, the 4th writing opportunity for this class: my introductory bio was a week late and weeks 1 and 2 were hard; I nearly didn't make it. Tearing hair, self-flagellation, roaring at my own uselessness, pacing in tight circles muttering moldy curses. "I'M DOING IT WRONG I'M DOING IT WRONG I'LL NEVER GET IT RIGHT OH WHAT'S THE USE." Well. Week 3 just asks me to write; an activity I know I can do well, so there's very little pressure to "perform" (that word should be in circus poster font, with a small brass band nearby squawking Sousa.) This is the first written assignment that hasn't had me screaming about my own worthlessness. Yet.

Paradoxically, I have been engaging in avoidance behavior even here: I wrote a bunch of stuff (the "shitty first draft") right after the assignment was posted, then spent the rest of the week in the studio doing necessary but kind of boring color testing. Avoiding the work designed to teach me how to stop avoiding the work I'm not avoiding at the moment because I'm avoiding *this* work.


I should point out that a couple of henchmen accompany Amber the Tyrant of the Board: Major Depression and Colonel Chronic Pain. (I might also throw in General Malaise, but I think that's pushing the metaphor.)

The Major keeps my self-esteem low, points out the uselessness of making things no one's ever going to see, let alone BUY, and really what sort of person wants this stuff anyhow. Major Depression keeps me walking along the edge of an abyss, where there be monsters; periodically one of the monsters grabs me and pulls me down, and it's a while and a struggle to pull myself back up. Depression makes the abyss inevitable, non-negotiable: where there is Depression, there is Pit. The making of art keeps me sane; occupied; keeps the monsters distracted. Put a price tag on it at the Craft Show? Hell, I'd do it for free, and it's not like it's Professionally Done and whatnot, so I really should only charge people for the materials used. That'd be great. That'd be enough (humble head dip). 

Except: Why doesn't anyone value my art?! Oh man, the monsters are right! I *am* worthless and weak! Start the climb back up to the edge. Sigh.

The Colonel is no joke either. Pain is the Boss, a Video Game Boss, by which I mean Pain is the toughest, meanest Monster I have to defeat in order to clear this level. It cuts me absolutely no slack. I work around it, I work through it, I work past it, I cater to its demands to SIT DOWN GODDAMMIT, and sometimes I just let it procrastinate for me, so I don't have to think of an excuse to avoid joy. Other days I am legitimately flattened -- cold wet days are the worst, when even breathing becomes difficult and all I can really do is lie around like third base. Whimpering. Pain constantly reminds me there's a Degenerative thing going on, and there's a reason they used that word, and not something like Sparkly. "Dearie, don't forget what Degenerative means: the more you use it the faster you'll lose it, so go right ahead and push past it, go ahead and ignore it ... for now ... You. Will. Pay."

And this feeds right back into Major Depression, who takes over and reminds me that if I had any real courage and/or commitment to my art, I'd be down there, pain or no, and boy what a wuss to stay here under the blankets wheezing.

I hear atonal circus music that a Mis'ry-Go-Round? I don't think I like what the horses look like. They all have humps. And don't get me started on those stupid cows.