I go on an artist date to the Lacis Museum

I’ve had quite the textile day. Got up and made mini-pouches to wrap Christmas gifts, then started a new eye pillow travel case for the shop. After lunch I went for my weekly artist date: an afternoon jaunt to Berkeley to check out some antiques shops and the Lacis Museum (which, I have learned, is pronounced like “laceys”). The antiques shop I went into was crammed full of lovely and reasonably-priced items, and the proprietor was extremely warm and friendly — if quite quirky, just this side of nutty (but then, Berkeley is full of such people). From her I bought a charming, tiny square Italian mosaic brooch from the 1920s (photo is a little bigger than life-size):

She said these were made in Italy for the English market and she’d brought this one over from England when she came to the US. She pinned it on my lapel and stood back, beaming: “Oh! It’s been waiting to be worn for 30 — no, let’s see — 39 years!” I didn’t get to explore the shop much because they were reorganizing or constructing or something, but I’d like to go back sometime and see what else they have. How can I not love a place that has antique Asian rugs, 1960s rhinestone-studded cat-eye glasses, and framed daguerrotypes all over the walls?

Lacis was also chock-full of fascinations, but it had a odd ambience. I had thought the retail shop and the museum would be separate spaces, but they were not, and I feel their coexistence is a slightly uneasy balance. The staff seemed to be busy doing curatorial/organizational things — very museumlike — which was nice because they left me alone, but in such an overwhelmingly jam-packed space I kind of wanted some hand-holding. We don’t all know the difference between bobbin, knitted, crocheted, and tatted lace, you know! (Or, for that matter, the difference between Cluny, Valenciennes, and so on and so forth.) Having the exhibits spread out among the retail items did make me more eager to buy (I can haz this beautiful stuff?!), but this also made the exhibit excessively hard to follow, since I was constantly distracted by retail items… and since all the exhibits had “don’t touch” and “this is delicate; be careful!” signage all over them, I felt a little anxious about the whole space. Nevertheless, I bought 10 yards of the cheapest kinds of lace (the store manager taught me to tell machine-made from handmade! the three below right were made by hand), 5 yards of rattail cord for my omiyage pouches, and 2 embroidery hoops…

and I got to see a lot of incredible lace and embroidery. I was so grateful I’d done some practice with Stitch School earlier this week, because I was able to recognize some of the embroidery stitches, and be properly awed by what I was seeing! (Large-scale peonies filled with French knots? Gads!!) After I got home I spent some more time with Stitch School and my new embroidery hoop… very satisfying. 🙂

After Lacis, I spent an hour and a half at Crixa with my notebook, some delectable ginger cake, and cranberry-apple tea. I know my artist date worked to get the creative juices flowing because I wrote five pages, partly about my recurring quandary of too much breadth. I know my brain works in a breadth-y way and not in a spiky way (see linked entry for an explanation), and since breadth perfectly suits my nature, I’m happy with this… I think in the grand scheme it’s probably more handy, satisfying, and rich to know as much as I do about as many things as I do. But every now and then I just feel kind of sorry. Being involved in as many fields as I am, I see so many other people excelling at their crafts, and sometimes it’s hard to know that those pinnacles will never be mine to reach. I was thinking about this after Lacis because of all the handmade lace and exquisite embroidery I saw there, and all the other textile arts that I am not even ever going to have the time to try (hat-making! knitting!), let alone get good at. I’m not being pessimistic; there just isn’t enough time to become an expert at all the things I dabble in. Look, I made a list:

  • graphic novels: writing, illustrating, layouts, reading to familiarize myself with the form and others’ work
  • family history: researching the general history (US & China), oral history, digitizing photos, novelizing my family’s story, drawing historical and individual likenesses
  • prose fiction: researching, plotting, character development, prose, revision
  • Etsy: I’ve already written an entry on all the things I do for the shop!
  • crafting: sewing, embroidery, garment construction (someday I hope), jewelry making (a new development for this Christmas), alterations, journals/book arts, decoupage, paper crafts, greeting cards
  • yoga & meditation
  • gardening
  • cooking & baking (vegetarian, healthy, ethnic/regional)

See? It’s no wonder I often feel like I’m going insane, with so many pursuits and interests! It’s a wonder I’ve even gotten as far in all of them as I have. And I’m not being modest when I say I never will become an expert in any of these. Even if I publish many books, even if I make a living off my Etsy shop, even if start canning my own vegetables, I just don’t think I have a spiky-person mentality. I’m more interested in exploration, imagination, and finding connections than in taking any one thing to its furthest extent. This was a big reason I eventually left grad school; I don’t have the kind of intellectual curiosity and interest in experimentation that truly spiky people do. When I’ve gotten what I want out of something, I’m satisfied; I don’t ask probing questions, I don’t push the boundaries. When I was a kid — in fact, even now — I never was the one who asked, “Why?” Frankly, most of the time, I don’t care why; I just want to play and see what I can make and how I can express myself. I’m the classic Jill of all trades, mistress of none. When I write books someday, I expect they will be clearly written and my ideas communicated precisely, but I will not be using language in a new way; I’m not going to be a Virginia Woolf or a James Joyce or even a Margaret Atwood. My books may change your life, but they will not rock the literary world, and of this I am fairly sure. I expect to continue crafting all my life, and I will make things that are beautiful and interesting and unique, but I doubt I will end up in a museum.

I’m reading over what I’ve just written and it sounds petty and petulant. Perhaps I just aim too high, and am consequently dissatisfied for no reason. After all, I concluded a couple of years ago that there is, when you get to the essence of things, no real difference between being an artist whose art helps pay the bills, and being an artist who’s an international household name. There’s no shame in being that guy playing small local gigs and selling CDs on a tiny indie label, as opposed to being on the covers of magazines. As long as the love and the dedication are there — and a decent living, one way or another — then the art is what’s important, and it doesn’t matter how rich or famous one gets. So what if I’m just a dilettante? It takes a certain kind of talent to be able to do as many things as I do, and that talent is a gift. It doesn’t matter if I’ll never be able to embroider in hair’s-width silk threads. It’s okay to just be me.

And that’s how the day has been.