A Quick Note on Birthdays

My birthday is this week and that used to be a good thing.

 But now I am an “adult” and I have been subtly informed that it is no longer socially acceptable to be happy about that.. 

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Growing up, my mom always made a big deal of our birthdays. No matter how rotten we had been or how deep the tension was when we were teenagers, my mom celebrated. I would wake up to my mom at my bedside saying “Wake up Nanny….it’s your birthday!”. There were always two cards…a funny one and a sentimental one. Then presents, a special breakfast and anything you wanted for dinner. My mom is an amazing cook so my birthday always meant fried chicken, mashed potatoes, biscuits, green beans, followed by chocolate pie. That was just the family birthday. My parents would also throw us a birthday party right up to the age when we decided it wasn’t cool to have a birthday party at home anymore. Anytime someone in my family had a birthday we banded together and made it great. 

 

 

When I lived in New Orleans, my birthday was a big deal. It always fell around Mardi Gras so there was always a party and/or parade to attend. The people of New Orleans love to celebrate and will take any excuse to do so. The tradition was, the first person to see you on your birthday would pin a dollar bill to your chest, give you a kiss, and wish you happy birthday. Throughout the day strangers and friends alike would pin dollars to you and wish you happy birthday. When your birthday is around Mardi Gras time there are many new strangers to meet and they are all happy to have one more thing to celebrate. It was great! …And not because I got dollars on my birthday. Every year on my birthday I would make new friends. Every other day of the year there was an opportunity to make a new friend for the low, low price of one dollar. The best was when you encountered a couple of other people who shared your birthday and your people came together with their people and we could all celebrate together. I can’t count the many great nights I had out celebrating the birth of someone I just met. It was my favorite thing about New Orleans. We celebrated ourselves and each other at every opportunity. ****

 

Nearly fourteen years ago I moved to New York. Now, instead of having a Mardi Gras birthday, I have a birthday in the coldest, most depressing month of the year. Every year I would still have a little get together at a bar or at home, but it never felt great. I knew that nobody really wanted to go out in the snow for a birthday. Not to say that I don’t have great friends. I do. They went out in the snow to come to my birthday party. But over the years so many people have said to me, “I don’t celebrate my birthday anymore.” or “I don’t want to think about it.” or my favorite one, stated with a judgemental sneer, “Who actually celebrates their birthday after 30?”. Apparently it is considered immodest and tacky to tell people it’s your birthday, or so I’ve been told. 

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Finally, this year I gave in and decided to go along with the crowd, ignoring my birthday, deciding to work that day and do nothing of note. Though I stated to everyone “I’m just not feeling it this year” that was only half true. The truth is I was dealing with a fairly rough bout of depression and that just made it easy to feel awful about celebrating myself, especially in a place where that just isn’t done. 

Now I am both mad and depressed.. 

The more I think about it the more indignant I feel. 

I have had a gun held to my head. 

I have escaped a terrible car accident miraculously unscathed. 

And more.

And countless other near misses I will never even realize. 

I AM STILL HERE AND I AM REALLY FUCKING HAPPY ABOUT THAT!!!

YOU ARE STILL HERE AND I AM REALLY FUCKING HAPPY ABOUT THAT TOO!!!

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Despite the depression, despite the anxiety…at the end of the day I am really happy that I am still here.

So I am declaring right now that there is NO SHAME in taking one day out of the year to say, “Hey, I made it another year and that is SO FUCKING GREAT!”. 

You deserve to be celebrated!

And if people don’t want to celebrate with you, 

CALL ME!

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 I will always want to celebrate with you. You write to me and tell me when your birthday is and I will remember you that day and tell you “Happy Birthday! I am so glad to know you!” when that day comes. 

Give yourself a birthday present and know you deserve it. 

I am making myself pajamas with little pink castles on them for my birthday.

Maybe I’ll even spoil myself with a second pair with unicorns puking up rainbows on them because birthdays and pajamas are just that great! 

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I am 47 years old and that is amazing! I have 47 years of memories, wisdom, and experience to share and enjoy. 

I am in good health, I am loved, and I am not ashamed of that number or of shouting from the rooftops 

“IT’S MY BIRTHDAY Y’ALL!!!”

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My birthday playlist-Hope it makes you smile on yours!
https://open.spotify.com/playlist/0XBIAS06JoRYTj7lscFseL?si=cxBZ4s3SQJinYKXlnlaORw

*****I recently discovered that the money-pinning tradition comes from a Nigerian tradition.Many, many NOLA traditions come from West African roots due to the slave trade that unfortunately once thrived there. Check out this great piece by Oonkas Boonkas on FB  https://www.facebook.com/OonkasBoonkas/posts/the-cajun-tradition-of-pinning-money-onto-the-birthday-boy-or-girl-is-the-most-p/10152321751568172/

 

Introduction

“They’re All Going To Laugh At You!”

As I sit here editing this for the tenth time, I keep having flashes of Piper Laurie in “Carrie” frantically warning me, “They’re all going to laugh at you!!” The whole point of this blog, this year-long project, is to push myself through the anxiety, depression, and self-doubt that have stood in the way of my artistic ambitions since I picked up my first crayon. For days I have struggled with my inner critic….writing, rewriting, deleting, starting over, crying, cursing, stress eating, giving up, starting again. Adding a small chorus to the voice of self-doubt are a couple of detractors, perhaps dealing with inner struggles of their own. Of the twenty-six people I have reached out to about this project, sixteen responded enthusiastically with notes of support.  Two responded laconically and somewhat dismissively. No word, yet, from the last eight. 

16 For, 2 Against.
Guess who’s winning?

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If you are reading this now, the “For”s took the lead just long enough for me to hit the publish button.

Okay, so….here it is…

So, first of all, thank you for taking the time to read this. This project  resulted after my creative career took me through a few long, weird, often nausea-inducing, roller coaster years and one year of recovery. Many lessons were learned and many, MANY mistakes were made. My goal here is to open up about some of the highs and lows creative people face in trying to make a living without selling their soul. Part story-telling, part self-help, part how-to, part celebration of success, part lamentation of failure, I hope that people will feel encouraged and supported by this space. 

The Backstory (Condensed Version)

Just over a year ago I closed my tailoring shop in Gowanus. Many people assumed that I couldn’t keep it going due to poor sales, rent hikes, or whatever else drives stores out of business. The truth was, business was good and the landlord was wonderful. I wasn’t good. I was exhausted, my mental and physical health were suffering, and I was absolutely miserable. I worked constantly. When I wasn’t working, I was stressing about work. I had absolutely no time for self care or relationships and I was no longer enjoying my work. My tailoring skills became a burden and my time was spent on alterations of other people’s designs.  All I ever wanted was to make beautiful things and now I wasn’t even doing that. I wasn’t making anything. I felt angry all the time and incredibly isolated and unsupported because I was so deeply depressed and anxious I couldn’t see my network around me. When I did take the time to create something I allowed self doubt and insecurity to guide it straight to the trash. For a long time I felt that there was no way out, that this was my lot in life. One day in November of last year, I was having a particularly rough panic attack when a clear, calm voice in my head said, “Just close the doors and walk away.” For the first time, that thought brought me immense comfort instead increased panic. No one was making me do this. I could just go do something else. 

When I sat my husband down to discuss it, I expected there to be an actual discussion. Instead, he instantly agreed. My unhappiness was just as hard on him, if not harder, and it was time for a change. Neither of us had any idea what would come next, but we agreed this was the next step. 

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So on December 15, 2018 I joyfully closed the doors for the last time. 

Good Riddance. 

Oh Crap, Now What?

With the doors closed, I tried not to panic. I knew I had zero regrets about shutting it down, but didn’t know what to do next. I was so tired and beat down I couldn’t begin to focus on a new plan. I decided to give myself time to recover. 

I still had to pay the bills but there were less bills to pay without the shop.  So I rented a small, private studio and worked with clients but on a more limited basis. I kept up with many of my regular clients, but because my overhead was so much lower, the pressure was lower. I was able to give the appropriate time and attention to each client and do the work without feeling rushed. That began to bring back my sense of accomplishment and pride in my work. 

I began to make time for self care (with occasional self pity) and I focused on therapy and on trying to give myself a reprieve from constant self-critique. 

In March 2019 I went to Denver to train to become a repair technician for Melco embroidery machines. Taking on something technical was a whole different ball game and I find it very challenging. Learning a completely new job skill, unrelated to any that I knew, was daunting and pretty humbling, but as I get better at it, I am getting a sense of the artistry of machine repair and enjoy it a little more all the time.

 I picked up knitting again and become quite accomplished (imho) in the past year. I took on a complicated shawl pattern that I was sure was too difficult for me and would take me years to complete. I finished it in 3 months. I am incredibly proud of it and it is one of the few things that I make an effort to show off. 

I worked on repairing and rebuilding important friendships and cultivating new ones. I realized that I had spent so much time spinning in my own head that I had not been a good listener or a supportive friend to anyone in a long time. I was grateful for the friends who were still there so I tried to focus on the needs of the people close to me instead of my own storm of dread. I have tried to really listen and actively look for little ways to let people know they mattered. I didn’t always succeed, but I feel much closer to the friends in my life right now and have made new friends along the way. 

As the year progressed, I felt like I was making baby steps towards a more productive and happy life with greater focus. I even started hand-making holiday gifts for all the people who are very close to me and was able to complete the goal in time for Christmas. (Check out the gallery for pics!). It was an emotionally charged and wonderful feeling when the desire and the drive to make beautiful things began to reemerge. More so when I completed a project and could stand back and feel pride in what I had accomplished. The reward is unending when I see how much it means to them. 

This year has been difficult at times. As always, self-doubt and depression are lurking around every corner but I get a little better at overcoming them every day. 

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I Got This!….right?

I chose to name this space “Look What Amanda Made” because, depending on my headspace at any given time, those words can induce profound self doubt, embarrassment, and painful insecurity or enormous pride and that “Ready for my close up, Mr. DeMille!” sassiness that comes from knowing you are a star. Even as I write about overcoming crippling self-doubt that bitch is sitting right next to me, whispering in my ear, “This sucks. Why would anyone want to read this crap?” For now, I am holding it off and, if you are reading this, I held it off long enough to hit “publish” before I went back to agonizing. 

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The Plan

My goal here is to create a space for reflection and inspiration. Also, to spend 2020 rebuilding using my own blueprints instead of ones  imposed on me. I intend to share my successes, my failures, and the lessons learned along the way. I encourage you to join in. I plan to start with two posts each month; one dedicated to self care and inspiration, and one to the thing(s) I am learning and making. I would love to include what you are making too!  That is just the idea now, though, and I intend to let it grow freely as we go. 

This space is dedicated to all the artists, makers, creators, and designers who struggle every day to keep their head above the abyss, overcome the mental unrest, to quiet the inner critic. I welcome you all to share your stories, your thoughts, and your accomplishments here but please respect that this is a WELCOMING SUPPORTIVE AND SAFE SPACE. We are all subject to a world full of critics who are on a mission to drain our creative blood so no need to bring it here, too.

 Be Kind. Be Supportive. Be Supported. 

Make Beautiful Things. 

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