EarWings

This earring design has been quite the hit this summer. From opera divas to pony farm ladies to professors, women around the world are buying up these earrings just as fast as I can make them. Check out my Instagram page to see the latest available EarWings!

Each pair of “EarWings”, as I call them, are completely handmade. I patina the copper wings after they have been hand cut, filed, textured, and formed into the wing using different chemicals. The result of each pair are unique and are fixed with a clear acrylic to keep from further oxidation. They are then attached to Sterling silver (.925) ear hooks.

IMG_3423There’s a large size (about 3″/8cm long wings as pictured above) and a medium size (pictured here) which are half as big as the large wings. You can order them in copper without a patina too and also in brass. Without a patina they take on a natural oxidation over time and will look more antique naturally.

You can order them directly from me or in my Etsy shop.

Happy

“How can I be happy?”

 

Happy is an emotion.

An emotion is something you feel.

Feelings come from within your heart and soul,

not from something outside.

 

When we are born, we are naturally happy.

We can smile when we feel good.

And when we are uncomfortable, we cry.

As babies, we are too little to change the situation ourselves, so we depend on others to feed us when we are hungry, change our diapers when we are soiled, and care for us when we are unwell.

 

As we grow, we experience life and learn to care for ourselves.

Life gives us contrast and experience.

Some experiences we learn and love.

Some we learn don’t feel so good…

 

But not all experiences that don’t feel so good are bad.

It is up to us to decide and at different times in our life the feeling of an experience can change. It is the contrast that helps us to taste and discover what feels good or feels bad.

Contrast can expand our awareness of how we can feel different emotions through different experiences.

 

When we are grown, we can take care of ourselves and it is our responsibility to stay in situations that feel good or change when we feel bad.

Our experiences shape our beliefs and they are not always the same for every person.

 

Society.

Society is made up of our parents, teachers, friends, and community.

Society tries to teach us what they believe is good and bad.

As a whole, most societies are well-meaning and want everyone to be happy.

They have strong beliefs about what is good or bad, right or wrong, and what should make people happy.

They create rules and punishments in order to control people from doing bad things to others or ourselves.

 

This is where things get complicated, because on a personal level not everything that society believes is bad is bad to you. Your belief about something is then misaligned to what you are taught, and this creates confusion which makes you feel uncomfortable.

 

Being uncomfortable as a baby makes us cry, but society teaches us that crying as we grow up is bad and we must control our emotions and tough it out.

Not everyone learns that they have the option to do something to change a situation so that they are happy, they learn instead to hide their emotions and tolerate being uncomfortable.

They stay uncomfortable for so long sometimes that they forget how to be happy. Misery becomes their comfort zone.

They then depend on others to create their happiness instead of finding ways to create it for themselves.

 

For some, happiness becomes an illusion, a mystery, or an impossibility. They’ve learned a false belief that they are somehow unworthy of being happy as a natural state of being.

If they do find themselves in a state of happiness for an extended period of time, they may begin to expect that misery is just around the corner and they start looking for every reason to validate their anxiety instead of staying grateful for the continued state of their happiness.

 

Anxiety.

Anxiety is fear. Anxiety is worry. Anxiety is expecting the worst to happen. Anxiety is a false belief. Anxiety is negative thought.

Anxiety is the opposite of faith.

Anxiety is a sickness of the uncontrolled mind. It is powerful, just as powerful as faith.

 

Faith.

Faith is love. Faith is hope. Faith is certainty. Faith is pure, positive thought.

 

Thought creates things.

Anxiety creates sickness in the body. Anxiety creates hell.

Faith can heal the body. Faith creates miracles.

 

We can’t control all the experiences we will have in life, but we can control our reaction to them. We can decide what to focus on within an experience.

If what we focus on is something positive, we can feel good and happy.

If we choose something negative, we can feel bad and miserable.

The decision is ours. No one else controls our thoughts.

 

We have the power to choose to be happy or take action on something to change a situation so that we align to the outcome of the happiness that we seek.

 

So, the answer to “How can I be happy?” is “I choose it.”

La zingarina (The Gypsy Girl)

Since opening my new studio I’ve been working long hours finalizing lots of little details for the shop, writing, promoting, designing, practicing my craft of making jewelry again, and hoping for someone to come in to purchase something so I can pay my rent and other bills. At the same time I’m also doing a lot of this simply for my passion of being creative and to help others without expectation of being paid, like when I give computer lessons to my friends in need while helping them set up their own websites to promote their services so they can also get some more work.

Since living in Italy I’ve lived a very frugal life, in spite of the traveling I’ve done while here. If you follow me on Facebook and think I’m living quite the life while you’re stuck at home with too many bills in a big house with your 2.5 kids going to private school and driving an SUV to go for a long weekend to Barcelona, please realize that those few days I did in July were my only real days off since Christmas when I had family visiting and got to travel with them (and they footed that bill). The reality is that I have a very tight budget, I get paid once a year at my university job that I started last year, and everything else I do to pay bills is because of my freelance work or my travel business which is more seasonal.

I was fortunate last year to have some help from a family member or else I’d be out on the street figuring out how to hustle anything I could do legally to survive and stay afloat while still teaching with a 1.5 hr commute one-way to teach a 2-hr class. Fortunately this year’s contract and schedule starting on Monday will be better, but I still won’t see a paycheck until late January or February.

So when I see able-bodied immigrants (strong young men) who stand outside the supermarkets with a cup begging for money or the poor women begging in the streets while they teach their children how to do the same, I’m a mix of emotions because I strongly feel that if it were me in that situation I’d do whatever I could to work vs. beg.

I’m privileged, I know. I have a choice and if shit got really bad I could go back to the USA. I would never be considered an immigrant by some who would say I’m an ex-pat because of my status. Yet, like them, I came here looking for a different life, although one could argue they were looking for a better life.

Regardless of status, there’s another group of the less-fortunate who live amongst us here in Italy. This other group, usually immigrants, are referred to as gypsies. In America, to be a “gypsy” almost has a romantic quality to it – carefree, nomadic, sort of wild, and adventurous. Here in Italy, to be a gypsy (zingaro/a) has a derogatory connotation. Many here I know of are from Romania, they blend in fairly well unlike the African immigrants selling knock-off handbags on the sidewalk, and the Romanian gypsies are known often as thieves. I’ve seen them shoplifting in the street markets and had my somewhat new iPhone pickpocketed by one when I was still living in Rome. How do I know who it was? Well, I had a custom case on it with my logo and they tracked me down online and attempted to steal my identity so they could break into the phone to unlock it.

Fortunately I’m not completely stupid and was able to not only secure that from happening, but also learn exactly who it was and I reported my findings to the police. They told me not to say anything publicly about his identity so they could do the investigation that never happened. It really pissed me off and I try not to think about it because I work hard to have money to buy nice things for myself to last a really long time. Not to mention I feared for a while that someone could have been watching me where I lived in attempts to gain more info about me. So one could say that my lack of faith in the police here is unfortunately jaded and I certainly don’t have much trust in the gypsies.

La zingarina

So this morning, around 11am, while I’m working at the studio a young gypsy girl came in to sell me a lighter. “Sorry, I don’t smoke.” I insisted I wasn’t going to give her money for the cigarette lighters she was trying to sell to raise a little money. If it were something I wanted and needed AND had plenty of money to give, then sure I might have bought one. I’m sorry for those who are more compassionate than me, but this kind of activity when you’re a shop owner rather than someone walking in the street only teaches her to come back to beg again and again if I were to give her the money. My dog has learned this trick from every restaurant that gives her food here.

I almost had her back out of the door before she noticed some of the shiny jewelry I’ve made in the display case. “Ooh, how much are those?” pointing to the dangling Sterling silver earrings with coral and pearls. “75,” I answered. She reaches into her pocket to pull out some money. For a split second I thought this was just great, she’s got tons of money to spend on jewelry while panhandling cigarette lighters. Then I saw what she offered – a handful of change not even worth 3 euro.

“No, it’s 75 euro, not cents. That’s not enough.” She could barely count it and thrust her hand out to me. I repeated, “These earrings are real Sterling silver. They cost 75 EURO, not cents.”

Undeterred she started looking around better at what is in the studio shop. She saw some other little earrings, not in silver, and are made by my friend who was not there. These she could touch easily when they weren’t locked behind the glass door. “How much are these?”

An unexpected ending

In my last post, Creative Summer 2018, I was excited to declare myself for the first time as a full-time artist for the summer. What really happened led to an unexpected ending.

It was maybe a week or two into my summer of being creative and enjoying my new schedule while trying to find the right balance of managing my tour operation, do promotions, study, write, draw, etc. when I got a call from a colleague who needed some freelance help again. I helped her out last summer during her maternity time and with two little ones now running around she needed help again managing her work during the busy season of tourism.

It’s hard for me to say no to work I can do that pays when you don’t have that much coming in from your own efforts. I said yes to the work and said we’d give it a try, hoping I’d manage my schedule well enough so that I could still devote time as planned to practicing and producing artwork. Although it wasn’t overly difficult work, it does demand constant attention and being quick with responses. Since moving to my new apartment in the spring I’ve dealt with a very unstable internet connection that I still can’t get to work easily (it’s not under my account nor control).

Also, my apartment is much smaller than the last which made setting up my studio space quite a challenge that was not comfortable to work in at all. There are some features of the apartment that I like better, but overall I see this place as being only a temporary move at a time when I needed it and it fits my current budget better. My teaching contract last year was very small and didn’t pay me until the end of the school year, but it helped me to overcome a big challenge in my immigration conversion and renewal process I’ve been trying to do for the past 4 years. It was worth the change from the private language school lessons that paid monthly but was also barely a livable wage.

By the end of July I learned that I won the bigger contract for the next school year which I had applied for. Finally!!! I can not only afford my basic costs of living without taking on every single odd job I can find, but I could even think about moving into something bigger and more comfortable. I have my heart set on wanting to purchase a home with some sort of rental potential like I’ve done on AirBnB before and not spend money on rent for a property that will never be my own. I found something with land in an ideal location that needed renovating. Although a small space, I thought perhaps it could have worked as my new studio and I could expand from there.

I made an appointment to see the land and the part of the building being sold. It was rustic. The room (just one) had an amazing view of the sea on the Amalfi Coast and technically didn’t seem in that bad of shape. However, it could only be a studio and the bathroom was “antique” – meaning it was barely a closet with a seat that had a hole in it and it was outside the apartment door sort of like an outhouse. The thing that excited me most there was the land already contained the fruit trees like I want, is in a dream location to me, and it even has a little waterfall and stream that originate from the natural springs in the area. Now I know exactly where I want to buy property for the long term. I thought I could start here with just the studio and find a nearby property later where I could live. The real estate agent suggested that I could meet with their financial advisor to see what I might qualify for, so I made an appointment for the next week.

Upon meeting with this advisor, I learned that my contract type, even for Italians, is pretty much impossible to obtain a home loan. I don’t qualify. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years of running into obstacles and people telling me I can’t do something, it is not to accept defeat and go away, but to instead ask “how” it can be possible to achieve what it is that I want. His advice was to rent a space for my studio for at least a year and show enough income aside from my teaching contact which will demonstrate that I can afford a mortgage on my own merits from my freelance work.

Without hesitation I asked the real estate agent working with me what he had that would work for me. He had a couple of places in mind and both are locations near my current apartment, but the first one I always thought was a cute shop and the rent they were asking for was cheaper. It had just listed 10 days before. Both spaces needed some work to create a functional set-up, but the one I liked needed more work to deal with a mold problem which is chronic in many of the old buildings in this area.

I already researched how to deal with the mold a bit from the issues of my last apartment (one of the reasons of my needing to move so quickly) and I thought if I will do it the right way, then this investment will be worth the effort for a location in the village’s historic center. I negotiated the rent offer to compensate for some of the money I needed to spend to fix it properly and it was accepted.

What happened next was a flurry of excitement for me. I was on a mission and worked nearly non-stop for the next month and half doing most of the physical labor myself until my opening night just over a week ago. I ran into many challenges and have learned a lot more about life in Italy including how to open a business. Of course, I did most of it wrong and my accountant was quick to point that out, but I’m not letting that deter me. I’ve already started and what I need to do now is just correct what I can and keep moving forward.

It’s the end of my summer and my studio is open. With a huge sigh of relief that I completed the majority of the restoration work, I have less than two weeks left to be a full-time artist until I start teaching again. Each day that I go to the new studio I have a smile on my face and the strangest sense of peace in my heart that I’m not sure I’ve ever felt before. It’s weird.

I’ll be honest though, I used up all of my paycheck from last year’s teaching contract to pay for the renovation work, deposit, etc. without realizing that I wouldn’t be able to even get a simple personal loan to reimburse what I was spending until my next payment for my next contract (3x what I am asking to borrow), but again, because of the contract type and the fact that I’m not Italian, no bank or lending company here will touch me. This is one of the things my accountant scolded me for, but it doesn’t matter now and what’s done is done. This means I have to work even harder to survive and be successful.

Sometimes, I think when you over-analyze the “how” before you take action, you get stuck in the impossibility of the situation. Making “mistakes” can actually be a blessing if you don’t beat yourself up about it and just keep moving forward. I’m far from being perfect, but I’m determined to not let anything stop me nor anyone tell me I can’t achieve my dreams.

Creative Summer 2018

It’s been a dream of mine for a long time to be a full-time artist. However, like many creatives, my life didn’t exactly follow that path. I got stuck in the trap of thinking that I was supposed to have a real job and that a real job didn’t include being an artist or just any job it took to pay the bills as I perfected my craft on the side so that I could one day be a full-time artist.

After changing careers several times and doing lots of personal development work to finally accept who I am is exactly what I’ve always wanted to be – a creative that didn’t belong behind a desk in a 9-5 office environment. I’ve also learned to accept that a “real job” is performed in many different ways by many different people from all walks of life.

So whoever that voice is in your head that is feeding you the false belief that you need to have a “real job”, they need to be told that anything you do that is legal and ethical to your own values qualifies as a real job if it can support you and pay the bills. Even if you have to wait tables at night or scrub toilets in someone’s house during the day, it doesn’t really matter what the job is as long as it’s honest (IMO) and it serves a purpose in society.

The most important thing is that you never quit pursuing your passion and your art. For too long I held onto this dream, collected all the tools and materials, but then never allowed myself to fully dive in. I’d do little projects here and there, but never committed to a regular schedule to develop my talents. This summer I’m finally doing it.

Although I’ve already filled up my freelance palette with gigs alongside my travel business that’s mostly active in the summer, I’m still committed to producing a collection of jewelry for sale and learning/improving skills in other areas I’ve dabbled in just a bit, namely ceramics and painting.

So why am I even bothering to post about this here? Well, it comes down to accountability. I often tell myself I’m going to do a lot of things, but it becomes more concrete once you start telling a whole bunch of people what you are doing instead of what you wish you could do. Now I need to show results or I’ll look like an ass to anyone who could be considering me for something important that is on the horizon.

An example of a good start

I’ve already been participating in some ceramics lessons from various local ceramicists in the area. One group lesson from a few weeks ago was lead by a master of my village and the topic was on the traditional Vietri ceramics style – a naive depiction of daily life in an Italian village by the sea. The colors are typically bright and the style is intended to evoke feelings of happiness. Besides scenes of the daily life of village people, local landscapes, or colorful fruit, many animals, both real and mythological, are also found on the traditional ceramics here.

IMG_9524On this day with Maestro Raimondi, he sketched for me in pencil a mermaid scene (at my request) on my plate which I then chose to paint with only 3 colors as I wanted a monotone sort of look using only two shades of blue and a green. Since then I’ve painted a local landscape from a photo I took, a donkey in the style of an important immigrant Polish artist in Vietri from the 1930s, Irene Kowaliska, and I’m working on another traditional motif of intersecting fish that was first inspired from a trip to Tunisia by another important German immigrant artist around the same time of Kowaliska, Richard Doelker.

I’m enjoying learning about the traditions here in the village where I chose to live so that I’d always be surrounded by creative things to inspire me. I’m ready to purchase my own materials to practice and produce more of the Vietri ceramics as I’m still trying to get a hang of the differences in the colors you see vs. what is the outcome after firing.

I’m also imagining many ways to infuse these influences into my own medium of metalsmithing and enameling, which no longer is a tradition that is seen here, but I’ve heard was practiced at one time.

If you’re interested in seeing what I have produced for sale, visit SM-Gallery.com where I showcase my work for sale or past completed works. (Note: I’ve overhauled this site recently and I’m either taking new photos, looking for old ones, or am in the process of completing some projects so I have something to show.)