The Saga Continues . . .

I consider myself to be an optimistic person. I tend to see the glass as half-full, look on the bright side, think positive, and believe that the sun will come out tomorrow. When I took my computer’s dead hard drive to the disk recovery people, it never really occured to me that they wouldn’t be able to rescue some, if not all, of the data. So when I got the call and they said that they were unable to retrieve any information at all, I totally freaked-out.

There was one thing I wanted more than anything else on my computer, and that was the set of pictures I had taken of my mom’s “nature” art work that she created around her home as her Alzheimer’s worsened. Every time I went to visit, I had secretly taken pictures of the beautiful designs she made on table tops, chairs, pathways, dirt patches — all over the yard.

When I got off the phone and realized that all these images were gone, I lay my head on the table and sobbed. I felt like my mom had been taken from me again. I felt like this was the last little gift of artistic beauty that she was able to share with us, and I was devastated that it was gone.

My husband and son tried to console me, but it was no use. I felt stupid, careless, thoughtless. How could I not have backed-up my pictures and documents? I went into the shower and cried some more as the water washed over me. I felt heartbroken. Yet, these were just inanimate objects. Just memories. Everyone was healthy. No one had gotten hurt. The house hadn’t burned down. As I drove to the computer place, I cried some more. All my public domain scans, photos of all my old art work, the email addresses of all my students’ parents, all those bookmarks and blog spots I’d collected over the years. But it wasn’t that I’d lost email addresses or music, all of which could be replaced over time; I had allowed my computer to become the repository of my artistic endeavors for the past five years, and now there was nothing left.

I composed myself in the car before walking into the computer shop. I approached the receptionist, and she said she was sorry that they hadn’t been able to recover the data.

“Do you have a grief counselor?” I asked facetiously.

“Why, as a matter of fact we do,” she replied. Apparently all those feelings I was experiencing are very common, and they actually have a counselor (formerly a suicide-hotline volunteer) to listen to anguished customers vent their frustrations about the loss of their computer hard drives and data.

The receptionist asked me to have a seat in their waiting room — the “Museum of Bizarre Disk-asters.” All over the place were examples of miraculous data recovery missions. Here was a CPU that had been charred and melted during a house fire. “Data Recovered!” said the sign next to it. There was a lap top that had been run over by a semi-truck. “Data Recovered!” Here was a story of a woman who had been working as a juggler on a cruise ship — which sank. She rented scuba diving equipment, dived into the murky waters, and retrieved her laptop. “Data Recovered!” Autographed pictures of Sting, Barbara Mandrell, Isaac Hayes, the writers of the Simpson’s and other famous people lined the walls. They had all had their “Data Recovered!” But not little old me.

I read an article about the counselor. In an interview she said that her clients usually felt angry with themselves for not having backed-up their computers [check], confused over their feelings of sorrow about the loss of an inanimate object [check], and depressed because of the loss of information which had been the result of years of creative expression [check]. She said that losing the information often fit the definition of a traumatic event because the total loss of control involved. I could totally relate.

“May I have a tissue?” I had to ask the lady at the front desk as my weeping resumed.

Driving back home, I wondered what life lessons I could learn from this dismal experience, beyond the most obvious one about backing-up the hard drive. Maybe I trust technology too much. Maybe I rely on it more than I should. But things happen, and we make the best of it and go on. After all, tomorrow is another day.

My hard drive was replaced by Apple (thank goodness for extended warranties!!), and today I started reinstalling software, setting up my email accounts, and adding in some of my more important bookmarks. As I was going through my CD’s, I found one in a case that said – Back-Up Disk, 8/23/05. My heart started pumping as I place it in the drive. I saw the iPhotos folder. I tried not to get my hopes up as I previewed a jpeg, but there they were — all of the pictures I had taken of my mother’s nature designs! I had backed them up after all. What a miracle! What a treasure recovered! Oh what a lucky girl I am!

Sticks and Stones

Good-Bye 2006! Parting Advice

As the new year quickly descends upon us, I am here to offer a tiny bit of advice to those of you who follow along in my artful journey of life. Are you listening? Here it is: BACK UP YOUR HARD DRIVE!!

Yes, mine is a tale of woe, a lesson hard-won through the grim reality of experience. You think it won’t happen to you, but it will. You will return to your computer after a day of joyful frolicking and will complacently sit down to send an email and discover that the friggin’ hard drive has disappeared. Disappeared without a trace! Why has this happened? It is a mystery beyond mysteries. And the why’s, should you discover them, will bring you little satisfaction because everything is gone. Gone, I say. The pictures, the music, the bookmarks, the email addresses, the logos, and letters, the web pages, the art work. All gone.

The irony is that you’ve been meaning to back-up the data. Oh yes you have. You say to yourself that this is something you MUST DO. You’ve read about it. You’ve heard about people losing everything, and you tell yourself you will back-up those important files. But then you don’t. You have considered getting an external hard drive, but $150 seems like just so much money to spend on yourself, especially during this holiday season, which is, afterall, all about giving. So you put it off. Or maybe you did back-up the data, once, a long time ago. Time has passed so quickly. Was it really two years ago that you burned all your important docs to those CD’s and DVD’s?

Take it from me– tomorrow, if not today, back-up your hard drive, or that $15o you were reluctant to spend could turn into $500 to $2500 that you have to shell-out to the mysterious data-recovery people who work in an unmarked building in an obscure part of town. They are kind and gentle souls who will sympathize with you as they kindly and gently hold your hard drive hostage and attempt to eek out remnants of sectors and partitions.

Now, you can’t say I didn’t warn you.

POSTSCRIPT: Go HERE to read what happened next.

My Mother’s Ring

This is a story about a ring. At one time, this ring was on the hand of my great aunt Julia Reed. I don’t know how it got there. Maybe it was a wedding ring. My mother gave me the name Julia for my middle name. Aunt Julia raised my mom when she was younger and her own mother couldn’t handle raising four young girls. She split them up between relatives. Sometimes my grandma (who I don’t remember at all) would sweep into town, gather up all the girls in a fit of maternal guilt, and try to take care of them for a while. But soon she’d cut out. My mom and her three older sisters would try to fend for themselves. Sometimes the neighbors helped out; sometimes they didn’t. Then the relatives would come and take the girls into their care until Grandma came and got them again. Needless to say, my mother didn’t have a very stable home life. She was out on her own at age fourteen with a fake ID working in San Francisco and living with her older sister Novelle.

My mom loved Aunt Julia. She was like the mother my mom never really had. Aunt Julia was ahead of her time. She wrote newspaper articles for the town paper in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She was married to a wonderful man and never had any children of her own. I remember when I was about eleven, she came to stay with our family a little while. She seemed old to me then, but I was young, so what did I know? She wore support hose, and sensible shoes, and her hair was in a tight bun on the top of her head. She had pink powdery cheeks and a strange southern accent. She convinced my mom to drive us to the art store, and she bought some beautiful blue glass stones and a little round mirror, and glued them on cardboard so it looked like blue mountains surrounding a crystal clear lake. She was funny and creative and loving to my mom.

When I was in college I started signing my papers with my full name. One of my professors thought that my first name was Julia and started calling me that. I tried to correct him one day after class, and he said, “I like ‘Julia’ better,” and he just kept referring to me as Julia. I didn’t really mind.

When Aunt Julia died, my mom went to Arkansas. She didn’t go to the funeral. She never, ever went to funerals. If everyone got together for a funeral, she stayed home and cleaned the kitchen and got the food ready, but she never went herself. Even when my cousin, her niece died, she refused to go to the funeral. It really pissed off her sister, Louise, but mom didn’t care. The story goes that when my mom was little, her grandfather died and they laid his body out in the parlor and put pennies over his eyes. They made all the children walk by the body to pay their respects and the sight of dead grandfather, whom she adored, freaked her out so bad that she refused to go to another funeral ever again. And as far as I know, she never did. But she did go to Arkansas to be with the rest of her family.

Well, my mom came home with Aunt Julia’s diamond ring. I guess there was a big stink among the relatives over that ring. But mom didn’t care. Julia had left it to her, and she took it and flew home. I don’t think she ever went back to Arkansas again. She wore the ring all the time.

The summer before last, I was working in the garden at my parents’ home. I dug up a big patch under the kitchen window. I pulled weeds, rototilled, sifted out the big clods of dirt, turned the soil again, and raked. I was down on my hands and knees in the dirt pulling out little stones when I saw something shiny and pulled it out. It was my mom’s diamond ring– the one that had been Aunt Julia’s. My mom had lost a lot of weight, and it must have fallen off her finger while she was working in the garden. It was a miracle that the ring hadn’t been buried in the dirt forever. I showed it to my aunt Novelle who was visiting at the time. She said, “You were meant to have that ring.” We didn’t say anything to my mom about it because we didn’t want to upset her. I gave it to my dad, and he put it away for safe-keeping.

After my mom passed away, my dad came to me and said, “Before your mother died, she told me that she wanted you to have Aunt Julia’s ring.” He gave it to me on my fiftieth birthday.

When I took it to the jeweler’s to have it resized, they said that it is over seventy years old. They showed me how when you look at the center of the largest diamond, you can see a circle. At the time the ring was made, they didn’t have the technology to cut a the bottom of a diamond into a point the way they do now, so the tip underneath is flat instead of pointed. A lot of the prongs had been worn down over the years, so I had them replaced.

The other day, I picked the ring up from the jeweler’s. As I placed it on my finger, I felt so grateful that mom had given me this piece of her family’s history. Not a day goes by that I don’t look at it and think about how lucky I have been in my life.

Paper and Money

Christmas Paper Dolls

When I was eight, I wasn’t getting an allowance or any money of my own. I don’t remember even thinking that it was a possibility to ask for money to buy something. It just wasn’t within my realm of experience at that time. So you can imagine my incredible glee when, as I was walking home from school, dragging the inside of my foot along the gutter in order to kick-up the leaves, I spotted a one dollar bill. A one dollar bill! I was so excited, I scooped it up and ran the rest of the way home.

“Look Mom! Look!” I breathlessly yelled to my mother as I proudly held the crumbled bill up for her to see. She was very happy for me and told me to put it in a safe place.

From the moment I got that dollar I couldn’t stop thinking about how I was going to spend it. Maybe I could buy some Barbie clothes, or some candy. Maybe I could get a 45 record like my older friend, Gail.

The next time Mom went shopping, she took me to the variety store in the little strip mall. I walked up and down the aisle. I had never really gone shopping for myself before, and I must have taken a long time checking the inky adhesive price tags on every little thing. It soon dawned on me that most of what I had originally wanted to buy was beyond my reach financially. But then I went to the coloring book section, and there on the top shelf, spread out in all their glory, were the smooth, colorful covers of the paper doll books. I don’t remember which ones I bought, but I do know that they were only a quarter a piece, and that I ended up buying four of them — one for me, and one for each of my sisters. Mom must have paid the tax . . . or maybe there wasn’t any tax. I really don’t remember.

I do remember that when I got home to my sisters and pulled the paper dolls out of the brown kraft paper bag, I got my first memory of what it felt like to buy something for someone else and how good it felt. We played with those paper dolls for hours. And even though my youngest sister was a little too young to cut them out, I helped her, and we had a lot of fun.

Other times, I would take the old Sears catalog and cut out the pictures of girls and their fashions and try to turn them into paper dolls. I even would try and make those tabs around the edges to keep them on the “dolls.” But the paper was too floppy, and it never worked out very well. Still, I could spend hours just cutting and trimming and giving each girl a name and a family and a history.

I loved paper dolls when I was little, so when I saw some French paper doll sheets for sale at a flea market a couple of years ago, I bought them, thinking I could use them in my art. And then I found some more in some old editions of Ladies Home Journal that I had purchased. So I decided to scan them, clean them up a bit, and put them on the Public Domain Images page on my web site. Now I have about fifteen pages of Paper Dolls and other vintage paper crafts on my web site.

As I was working on these images on my computer, I kept wanting to get back to making my Gothic Fairies. It occurred to me that when I’m making these little collages I’m cutting and pasting paper dolls again, and giving them names, and families, and stories, just like I did when I was a little girl. So I guess that love for paper never went away.