The Embroidered Truth

An ongoing search for inspiration and the good life.

Perfectionism, or one reason I can’t get things done

Microsoft Office

Hello. My name is Laurel, and I am a perfectionist.

Shocking, I know.  You had no idea, right?

I found a website that lists 10 traits of the perfectionist.  Here are the ones that apply to me: all-or-nothing thinking; having a too-critical eye; having unrealistic standards; focusing on results; being depressed by unmet goals; fear of failure; procrastination; and defensiveness.

One of the problems of being identified as a “gifted child” at an early age is the expectation it generates. You are expected to astound people with the manifestations of your gifts – straight As on your report card, ovation-worthy talent show performances, readings of long passages in books supposedly too advanced for children your age. And, seeking approval, you are all too happy to oblige, until you start thinking that everything you do has to be better than the last time, because the expectations are there now.  The horrifying idea of failure is the shadow side of achievement, and can paralyze you.

Perfectionism gets in the way of my creative efforts.  Often, I pull out all the materials I need to create something, and after five minutes I get frustrated because I have not immediately seen the perfect solution (unrealistic standards); everything goes back in the box, waiting for me to have a stroke of genius (procrastination).  If it is not going to be perfect from the start, I don’t want to play (all-or-nothing thinking, focusing on results). Then I get mad at myself for not completing anything (depressed by unmet goals).

But that is not what art and creativity are about for me.  I like to make things because I enjoy the process.  If I didn’t, I would just go and buy a premade scrapbook or piece of wall art and call it a day.  When I first started scrapbooking, I was confident enough to relax and just have fun with it, and I think the pages I made reflect that.  Sure, the pages I manage to complete now look 20 times more sophisticated, but somewhere along the line I developed standards that can drain the fun out of an activity I used to love.  Similarly, I used to write pages and pages of novels.  They were awful, but I had fun doing it; it was when I started to criticize myself and shot down ideas before they were on paper that I stopped.  If I could not immediately see the end result in my mind, was it worth pursuing?

It’s hard for a perfectionist to remember that there is such a thing as the happy accident, which is only discovered by going through the artistic process.  (Recently, someone looked at a poster I had designed and said he liked the way a gradient fell on one of the fonts.  I admitted the effect was unintentional and due to an oversight, but he was right – it did look good, and I would never have thought of it.)  I have a difficult time letting go of my expectations of myself and giving myself permission to make mistakes. Oddly enough, this only seems to happen during personal creative time; at work, I just try things until I am happy with the result.  I wonder why that is? It might be because at work, I have deadlines, and personal projects can be delayed indefinitely.  (I am sensing another post focusing on deadlines coming soon…)

There is no easy answer for this one.  Perfectionism is a deeply ingrained concept for me, and the truth is I am not sure how to get around it.  Maybe part of the solution is to make the idea just to have fun, starting out with a project that is only meant to be an exercise instead of a finished piece.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

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What inspires me: Judy Blume

When I was little, what I wanted to be more than anything was a writer.  Not just any writer – a novelist.  I wanted to write fantastic stories that took readers to new worlds and gave them the same excitement I got when I opened a new book for the first time.  This desire is still a treasured goal of mine, but years of self-censorship and failed attempts have left me wondering if I have any stories to tell.  Maybe this is partly why I admire writers who know who they are and what they have to say.

It’s odd that the first writer I applaud on this blog is Judy Blume, since I have not read any of her books in years, but I recently picked up a copy of “Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned From Judy Blume,” a collection of essays about the effect her books had on various writers.

My cousin Christy recommended the book to me a while back, and I just got around to reading it (which is fitting, since she lent me “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” the first time).  It’s funny what kind of memories something like this brings back to you – where you were, what you thought about it then, what you just plain didn’t get.  When I was in elementary school, “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” was the height of the must-read list; most kids could relate to having an annoying sibling or being overlooked.  I remember being confused about the aspects of city life depicted in the book, since we lived in a small rural town and Peter lived in New York City, and rituals like walking the dog were kind of foreign.  Why wasn’t the dog running around in the back yard? I had no frame of reference for living in an apartment building.

“Margaret” made the biggest impression on me.  It was a glimpse into the near(ish) future, into what could be expected in junior high school.  Margaret and her friends worried about whether or not they would develop breasts (my worrying was to no avail), discussed getting their periods (this was new), crushed on boys and hid their insecurities.  At the age of nine, I did not understand the deeper issues of Margaret’s struggle to define her faith; this was my first exposure to the concept of Judaism, and Blume takes it for granted that the reader has a passing familiarity with the religion and its customs.  I did not really know anyone who was not Christian, so suddenly the world seemed a little larger.

“Just as Long as We’re Together” was published when I was ten, and for me, the draw on this one was the story of Stephanie and Rachel’s friendship and the threshold between childhood and adolescence.  One of my oldest friends had been growing apart from me for some time, and although she was nothing like either of those characters, I recognized the signs.  Like both girls in the story, I had no idea what to do about it.  As in so many of Blume’s books, there is a feeling of temporary resolution to situations like this, but you also know that the characters know it is temporary and that things will just have to play out in the future, for better or worse.

That’s what I find inspiring about Blume’s writing. She has a talent for taking characters who are ordinary kids and showing their worlds, their feelings and circumstances, and making them seem at once unique and universal, without getting very preachy.  Life is what it is. Both boys and girls can identify with her characters, no matter the location or decade.  Although I had some difficulty relating to the urban settings in some of her work, I still understood how her characters felt.  Judy Blume knows who she is, who her audience is, and what story she wants to tell.  I should be so lucky.

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What inspires me: Teresa Wentzler

Rapunzel, completed 2004

It’s probably safe to say Teresa Wentzler is my favorite cross stitch designer.  I’ve worked on her designs almost exclusively for the past 12 years – why is that?

For one thing, her designs are beautiful, and incorporate themes I like.  There’s a good cross-section of fantasy, medieval and floral designs to choose from, and the color schemes are soft and pretty.

Then there’s the challenge.  TW’s designs range from very easy (Rapunzel was mostly just straight stitching) to very complicated (Father Winter uses many different embroidery techniques – see previous post).  A nice feature of her work is that even in the easy pieces, she uses a lot of blended needle threads (using one strand of one color and one strand of another) to soften the contrasts.  Most of her pieces have a patterned border that shows off some fancy stitching, and some make heavy use of beading (Angel of Frost took a long time to finish, but it was worth it -see below).

TW is an amazing artist as well, and has blogs for both her needlework and her art.  I love watching her work in progress, and cannot wait for the Jacobean design to come out; I hope she will make the carousel horse into a design too.  I have recently begun to think I might to like to design cross stitch patterns, but looking at TW’s work makes me realize I have a very long way to go.

Stroke of Midnight, completed 2006

I’ve completed seven of her designs, and am plugging away at the eighth.  I really want to have Stroke of Midnight framed for my living room, and plan to have it done at Suwannee Valley Cross Stitch in Trenton.  I discussed this one day with one of the ladies at the shop, and told her I mainly worked on TW’s designs.  She asked me if I had ever had my finished pieces appraised for insurance purposes (I have not), and then told me the estimates for both framed and unframed pieces.  I won’t give exact numbers here, but I was floored by the prices she gave me!  It seems all that work is worth something to someone after all, even if it is only the insurance company!

Father Winter will probably be my last TW piece for a while, but I’ve discovered that I now have standards.  Working these designs has the unfortunate side effect of making a lot of other stitching patterns look unsophisticated or juvenile – the kind of hokey pieces that make people look at you funny when you say you really enjoy cross stitch – so it’s put the pressure on to find other designers with comparable skills.  I’d like to explore the work of Nora Corbett for Mirabilia, Passione Ricamo and others, and I recently got a book of Joan Elliott designs that might keep me busy for a while, but I know I will always come back home to TW.

Angel of Frost, completed June 2010

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Totally awesome things to be when you grow up

This stuff sounds like fun to me.  Do I have time to do it all?DHG Career

  • Paper Doll Artist
  • Pastry Chef
  • Astronaut
  • Makeup Color Namer
  • Miss America
  • Disney Wedding Planner
  • Staff member in the Queen’s household
  • Board Game Tester
  • Tea Room/Shop Owner
  • Smithsonian Archivist
  • Hat Model (if I get to keep them)
  • Ice Cream Flavor Tester
  • Variety Show Costumer

And my true vocation: Lady of the Manor.

What are yours?

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Remembering Alfonso Levy

Dr. Alfonso Levy

Dr. Levy at the "Messiah" performance at St. James, December 2006

There are headlines a writer hopes she never has to write; this is one of those for me.  It’s silly, of course – everyone’s time comes, eventually – but it’s nice to dream while we still have the luxury to do so.

The Lake City community lost a dear friend this weekend with the passing of Dr. Alfonso Levy, former school principal, comedian and musician extraordinaire, a man I called “the Boss.”  Nearly everyone who lived there for any amount of time, and especially those of us who grew up there, have a story to share about something funny he said or how he influenced a music career.  Everyone loved him, and he loved them too.

I was eight years old when I joined the Summers Elementary chorus, and we were warned right off the bat about Dr. Levy and the Christmas concert.  Each year, the various schools in Lake City gathered to perform a holiday concert, and at the end of the evening, the school choruses and the audience would be led in the singing of “O Come All Ye Faithful” by Dr. Levy.  This was the highlight of the evening, and an event in itself.  We were cautioned to watch Dr. Levy like a hawk, because he had a habit of doing silly things like cutting the song off mid-phrase and then telling a joke, or holding notes extra long or not at all, and we’d better not embarrass Summers by singing an unintentional solo. (We were kind of afraid to sing at all after that.)  It all proved to be true, and my memories of those years are of Dr. Levy dressed in his ever-present Santa hat (later with a ball on the end that glowed different colors).

Dr. Levy also recorded some music for me when I entered the school talent show in the fourth grade, singing “I Just Called to Say I Love You” (dressed as Barbie from Barbie and the Rockers, thank you very much, due to my talented mom – and no, I will not post pictures).  He had an electronic keyboard that made much more realistic sounds than a piano ever could have, and I remember having a good time recording it at his house one day.

Fast forward several years.  I did not sing in a chorus after the 8th grade; Norman Choice, our highly respected high school choir director, was killed in a car accident when I was a freshman, so I chose to focus more on academics during school and took to performing musical theatre as an extracurricular.  College and my sports information internship edged music further out of my life until I moved back to Lake City in 2001.  Around the same time and by some miracle, Dr. Levy had agreed to direct the choir at St. James Episcopal Church, the church I was born into and still attend.

My father had to drag me to the first rehearsal (and probably a few after that).  School choruses and musical productions had given me a healthy horror of group music rehearsals, because often the other singers were there to do everything but learn songs and a lot of time was wasted. I also was not keen on the idea of the St. James choir – at that time it mainly consisted of my dad and one or two ladies  – but I went because I liked Dr. Levy, and he is why I kept going.  His instinct for music direction was impeccable, finding the emotion in each piece and playing to the strengths we had, even teaching us something about music in the process.  The choir grew, and the church grew, and soon our little group was being compared to the “Sister Act” choir.  We performed some simple songs and some difficult ones, some well-known and some new ones; we performed three or four years’ worth of Handel’s “Messiah” with the help of some friends in the community, all because of Dr. Levy.

I found my own voice again, the one that should have been trained years earlier.  He pushed me to attempt vocals I was sure I could not perform, Bach and Handel and Verdi, and to test the limits of my range (the upper is now around a high E).  He forced me to rely on my sight-reading abilities more often. We fussed and argued when he didn’t remember the changes he made to a piece of music, but I always knew he was pleased with my performance by the look in his eyes.

I have remembered many things about him over the past few days: how he insisted that “The Star-Spangled Banner” was every American’s national anthem, and showed us his ring with the first notes engraved on it; how he gave a ride to some supposed Hurricane Katrina refugees, who held him up and stole that same ring, and how our choir collected money and had a new one made that he was so proud of; the way he laughed at his Christmas present of an animatronic Elmo that sang “Shout” and danced (a choir in-joke); the game he and my mother played every Sunday, when he would play a Baptist hymn instrumental during the early part of Communion, and my mother guessed it almost every time.

We will miss his energy, his laugh, and his sheer delight in living.  The St. James choir is still singing, and the people of Lake City are going on with their lives, but we cannot replace what we have lost in Dr. Levy.  We can only hope to make him proud of us.

“This child here” will miss you, Boss.

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What inspires me: the Totally Committed Actor

David Suchet as Poirot

Television and the movies are full of good actors (and some not so good).  But once in a while, an actor turns in a performance that is especially notable for the degree to which he commits to the character.  The TCA (Totally Committed Actor) knows every facet of her character’s personality, physical appearance, reactions to situations, and line delivery.

I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what it is about an actor that makes that kind of magic happen.  Certainly, a part of it is talent, and part of it is attention to the acting craft, but I do wonder how much the way the character is written feeds into it.  Good material is essential, unless you’re Lucille Ball and can carry a show on sheer force of personality.  Carroll O’Connor was a wonderful actor, but let’s face it, Archie Bunker’s material was a large part of the success of All in the Family.

Here are some of my favorite TCAs and their characters:

  • David Suchet as Hercule Poirot.  Suchet is a genius, and brings Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective to life in a way no one else has.  Every accent and mannerism is perfect, and even Poirot’s faults (when they dare to show) are endearing.
  • Jim Parsons as Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory).  There really aren’t words, are there?  Parsons works this role down to the teeth.  He knows Sheldon’s reactions instinctively, and it never disappoints.  One of my favorite scenes is the one in which Sheldon gets drunk before making a big speech. Bazinga!
  • James Roday as Shawn Spencer and Dule Hill as Burton Guster (Psych).  I will admit to having a huge crush on Roday, but these two are a weekly highlight when the show is in season.  They have a rapport that makes it easy to believe they’ve been friends all their lives.  Here’s a clip of some of their antics. Bonus points for any time Dule gets to tap dance.  The supporting cast is very good too, especially Timothy Omundson as Detective Lassiter.
  • Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean).  This is kind of a given, a textbook example of total commitment.  Plus, Depp looks like he’s having the time of his life (alas, no clips for this).  We should all be so lucky as to get a role like that in our lifetime.
  • Brent Spiner as Data (Star Trek: The Next Generation).  Ah, Data.  The yellow contacts, the quizzical expressions, the occasional scenes where the writers took pity on Spiner and let him loose in a Holodeck Shakespeare or comedy club scene (or my favorite scene, Data’s ode to his cat).  Spiner was incredible in a role that dictated how much weight he could put on, suntan he could gain, or gray he could find in his hair.
  • Kurtwood Smith as Red Forman, Mila Kunis as Jackie Burkhart and Ashton Kutcher as Michael Kelso (That 70’s Show).  This was one of those rare shows where very talented actors made up a fantastic ensemble, but were able to distinguish their performances without detracting from the overall effect.  These are the standouts to me, with honorable mentions to Danny Masterson (Hyde) and Debra Jo Rupp (Kitty).  Smith’s Red Forman is one of my favorite characters; to some, it might seem one-note to be crabby all the time, but I think Red just knew who he was.  Kutcher’s line delivery is amazing, and Kunis brought shallow to a new level.
  • Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester (Glee).  Also a given.  The material is great, but what would the part be without Lynch’s angular physical presence or glowering looks?
  • Alicia Silverstone as Cher Horowitz (Clueless).  Bet you didn’t see this one coming.  I love Silverstone’s take on spoiled rich girl Cher, because although she is shallow and an expert whiner, she also has some heart, and the character does not grate or become a complete caricature the way it might have.

The commitment to the role and the acting craft in these performances truly inspires me, and I often look for things I can learn or take away to make my own performances better.  It’s a lot to aspire to and live up to, but if we don’t keep learning, how can we continue creating?

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Discipline: the mind-body connection

courtesy MS Office

Discipline is a nasty word.  I’m not good at it, and I’ve never liked things I’m not good at.  Lately, however, it seems discipline is becoming necessary in a few aspects of my life, and I have to think they all might be tied together somehow.

We’ve all been taught there is a connection between the mind and the body – that to be strong in one, you have to be strong in both. I certainly feel the effects of mental and physical inertia.  It’s so easy just to curl up on the sofa and watch a movie or read a book (usually at the same time) instead of getting up and creating something, exactly the same way as it’s easier to go home and take a nap at the end of the day instead of stopping at the gym and working out.

But as the Walrus said, the time has come.  I saw a number on the scale last weekend I had never seen before, and it was the last straw.  I set a goal, worked out a time frame, and broke the plan into these steps:

  • Show up.  Half my battle with the gym is just getting there.  Once I am there, I do what I set out to do.
  • Ask for help.  I talked to my fitness counselor about renewing my login for VitaBot, Gainesville Health & Fitness’s online monitoring program.  It measures my daily meal plans for nutritional value and calorie count, and will also track goal weight, body fat percentage, and whatever else you want.
  • Use the right tools.  The VitaBot program quickly showed me I needed a multivitamin.  I also started tracking my daily water intake to make sure I got at least 64 ounces, and have been attempting to get 7 hours of sleep each night. (Maybe it should be 8, but my night owl tendency just can’t handle this.)
  • Take it one day at a time.  I usually start a project, including gym attendance, at full tilt, which inevitably means I burn out within a few weeks.  This time, for the first few weeks I am just going to work on burning off a few pounds with cardio so I can see some results before I start back in with weight training.  (I do understand the importance of replacing fat with muscle, which is why this phase won’t last longer than 3-4 weeks.  I just need some reassurance that my efforts are paying off before I confuse that issue with muscle weight gain.  I cleared it with my counselor.)

These steps also can apply to creativity.  Showing up is the first part of the creative process.  Asking for help translates to sharing work and ideas with others, which is why this blog was created.  The right tools make all the difference, whether you’re a painter, cook or dancer.  And I don’t know about you, but my work has to happen one day at a time; sometimes good ideas just need some time to percolate.

Hopefully, being disciplined physically will lead to more mental energy and creative productivity! Stay tuned…

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What inspires me: Anna Griffin

I can always use a little mid-week inspiration. Can’t you?  I will try to make a weekly feature out of highlighting something in the “stuff I like/think is pretty/wish I thought of first” category.

First up is Anna Griffin, because she is awesome and because I recently received the shipment of scrapbook supplies I ordered from her semiannual sale.  Anna is based in Atlanta and does a lot more than scrapbooks – she designs invitations and cards, as well as gorgeous quilt fabric I am certain I could do my best to ruin.  Her taste usually runs right alongside mine, which means heavy toward Victorian florals in pastels and jewel tones.  Oh, Anna, how I love thee.

Layout using AG products

Anna’s look is almost always elegant and classic, with a Southern charm to it.  I am hoping to attack my new instant scrapbook this week (cheating, possibly, but oh well). Here’s a pic of all the goodies:

Fresh Floral Kit

The question is, what photos to put in it?  The pages are gorgeous but kind of busy, so I am thinking of taking some of my photos of individual family members and printing them in black and white or sepia tones so as not to compete too much with all the colors.

As usual, Awesome Anna from Atlanta does not disappoint.  Thanks for the inspiration!

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Welcome!

Welcome to The Embroidered Truth!  I hope to use this blog to help me (and maybe you) in the search for inspiration, creativity and happiness, along with the occasional opportunity to sound off on something that’s been on my mind.

I’ve always liked to pursue a variety of creative interests: writing, cooking, music, acting, dancing, drawing, graphic design, needlework (hence the blog name), and most recently, quilting.

Father Winter (in progress)

Here are some of my projects in progress:

  • A cross-stitch piece titled “Father Winter,” designed by Teresa Wentzler.  I am about halfway through this one (here is a pic of a completed one).
  • A nine-patch floral quilt top with sashing; this one is giving me fits right now.
  • A portfolio of hand-lettering samples.
  • A hand-drawn Christmas card.
  • About 10-15 scrapbook layouts in varying stages of completion.
  • Dare I mention the outline and two pages of notes for a novel?

A completed scrapbook layout

Lately, however, I’ve found it hard to actually apply myself to any of it.  Sometimes it seems like the idea of creating art becomes so overwhelming, it saps any enthusiasm I have for a project before I even begin, so I don’t begin.  The challenge here is to reverse this trend by finding new ways to get inspired and holding myself accountable each week.  Discipline and inspiration are two areas I really want to explore, because I think they hold the keys for me in many areas of my life.

I once saw a short book by Julia Cameron filled with cartoons of excuses not to make art (“Tell yourself you can’t afford art supplies, and buy five expensive cappuccinos while you discuss this with friends”; “Rather than make art, read about art”).  My main roadblock is that I want it to be perfect from the beginning.

So let’s hear it: what are the excuses that keep you from being creative?

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