Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Day 328: I Blew It, I Really Did

It was my up-for-anything friend David that came up with Day 328's thing I've never done before. He's a crazy talented graphic designer and into artsy things. He suggested we take a glassblowing class.

The only thing that I knew about glass blowing at that time was that my high school friend Will had quit his job when he was in his twenties to give a serious go at making a living being a glass blower. I thought it sounded cool, but his family thought he was nuts.

"They have that here?," I asked, completely forgetting that Atlanta is a big city with a lot of creative people. Of course Atlanta has glassblowing! Of course it does!

David explained that there was a glassblowing studio near both of our neighborhoods. They teach day-long classes on the weekends and just so happened to be offering one that Saturday, Day 328.

Day 328's thing I've never done before was to blow glass. Or glass blow?

So we signed up, and after meeting for lunch at Albert's, we headed over to Janke Studios for our class. We had a little trouble finding the place. Partly because neither of us knew where we were going, and also because I had no idea what a glassblowing studio really looked like so I had no idea what to look for. Janke is tucked inside Studioplex, a relatively new industrial looking office/apartment complex in historic Old Fourth Ward.

Even after we parked the car and were walking over to what we thought was the glassblowing studio, I wasn't positive that we'd arrived at the right place. Not until we felt a punch of heat coming from an open warehouse-looking room full of ovens full of melted glass, was I sure that this was it. I instantly regretted taking this class in August, as the website suggested, as a safety precaution, wearing closed-toed shoes and long pants.

The entrance to the studio was about the size of a garage door and opened to a grassy courtyard. David and I stood next to a middle-aged man who was almost pacing he was so excited to be there. He was wearing "dad" jeans and told us his family had purchased this class for him as a Father's Day present. I could tell that he was fighting the urge to jump in there and get started.

I thought about my own Dad and all of the Father's Day gifts I'd bought him over the years. I've definitely let him down in the past, but I'm quite certain nothing would've let him down as much as a glassblowing class.

I admit, what he was watching was pretty mesmerizing. Inside the studio, which was dusty and hot, we saw an older gentleman working on a glass project. He moved quickly and purposefully heating and then shaping a blob of glass into what looked liked candlestick holders. He made it look easy, but I'd gone on enough adventures to know that when professionals make something look easy, it's usually not. I prepared myself for the worst.

I also noticed that glassblowing, at least the kind this guy was doing, was not an individual craft. While he seemed quite capable, the kind of project he was working on required another set of hands, provided by a younger gentleman. The two worked together, transferring the glassware from one long steel pipe to the next. Their movements were so smooth, it was almost as if they were doing a well-choreographed dance.
The younger guy, Alex, turned out to be our teacher. He was cool, and attractive in a, "I make things with my hands, I'm an artist," kind of way.

He gave each of a us a stack of papers stapled together that included an outline for the class, a long list of general terms and a list of class policies. The worksheets seemed like a lot to deal with for a day-long class, but I skimmed over all of them and waited for further instruction.

Alex gave us an overview of what we were going to be doing by taking us step-by-step through all of the equipment; as he was explaining it, he demonstrated himself, and ended up making one of the pieces that we would first attempt.

The guys elected that I go first, so with teacher by my side, I walked over to the furnace to gather my glass.

Gathering glass happens as you might think it does, by merely dipping a stainless steel tube called a, "blowpipe," into a furnace filled with molten glass. A few turns was all I really needed, but the heat is so intense, the very first step was not an easy one. And I thought that I was strong, but I had difficulty getting the leverage I needed to pull the pipe, now dripping with molten glass, out of the furnace. Luckily Alex never left my side and was there to pick up the slack.

Once the glass is gathered, Alex instructed us to keep the blowpipe in constant motion as we moved from one station to the next. Because, like melted caramel might fall off a Popsicle stick when held still in one place for too long, that's exactly what happens to the glass. I had to continually turn the blowpipe to keep the molten glass from falling off the end. But like walking and chewing gum at the same time, easier said than done.

The second step in a glass project after gathering the glass in the furnace is coloring the glass. Before even starting, we sifted through bags and bags of shaved glass to chose the right color and then we'd dump the appropriate amount onto a table. After walking from the furnace, we'd pause for a minute or so to let the glass cool slightly, and then we'd walk over to the table with the colored glass and lay the blob in the shards of glass, smashing the color to our creation, we had to turn around and put the stick into an oven to heat it, and melt the color in.

Once reheated, we sat on a bench, still turning the stick in front of us, we'd take giant steel tweezers and pull the melted glass away from the blowpipe to form petals like a flower. At least that's what was supposed to happen. I simply couldn't work fast enough. I learned quickly that time is of the essence when it comes to to working with glass.

That's because glass cools quickly and its consistency becomes less like caramel, more like thick tar. And since I don't work well under pressure when it comes to artistic projects, I was a nervous wreck. Within seconds, shaping the petals with the steel tweezers was like a full-on upper body work out and it did not end well. My flower ended up looking like a crippled hand that got stuck in a paper shredder.

Super Dad and David followed me on making flowers, and I think both were surprised that it wasn't my girly lack of strength that made the tweezer work difficult. The glass was seemingly hard for them to shape as well.

The next project we worked on was a paperweight. I made plenty of paperweights in elementary school art class with clay, but this was going to be a serious, high-end paperweight. I was already thinking about who I was going to give it to. Definitely the person in my life who does a lot of paper work next to open windows.

A paperweight is actually two projects in one. We dipped our sticks in the melted glass, chose a color, reheated and sat at the work bench, just as we'd done with the flower. Only this time, instead of pulling the glass to form petals, Alex let us be creative and told us to do whatever we wanted. We could pull the glass, poke holes in the glass, make indentations or twist the glass. This was a little bit more free form, because whatever we did here was going to create the optical illusion inside the paperweight. Once we were done adding all of the visual effects, we returned to the furnace for more glass, covering the free form blob with another layer of clear glass that we helped smooth into a nice, round, smooth dome.

This project got a little tricky at the end because in order to give the paperweight a flat bottom that makes it functional, we had to use diamond shears, or oversized steel scissors to create an indentation at the base. Like pulling cooled glass with tweezers, a physically exhausting task. I did it though, and once completed, Alex took a hammer-like tool and knocked the paperweight off of the stick to continue cooling.

Though I have absolutely no use for a paperweight, this was probably the project that I am most proud of, just because it looks cool.

There were a few nicks and minor burns here and there, but we made it to the end of class without any serious injuries. And we were mighty impressed with our flowers and paperweights, but couldn't ignore the fact that we hadn't yet blown any glass. We'd melted a lot of glass, shaped a lot of glass and created a couple glass items that I knew had absolutely no purpose and would simply clutter my house.

The final challenge was to make a tumbler that would require us to, for the first time, actually blow air through the blowpipe into the melted glass to hollow it out and created the "cup."

If reading the words, "blowing into a long stick," make you chuckle a little bit, then congratulations on having a dirty mind like David's and mine.

We could hardly contain ourselves when our middle-aged super excited dad classmate literally asked a dozen questions all including the word, "blow," and all completely relevant, yet dirty-sounding.

So we just put our mouth on the end of the blowpipe?

Yes, that is correct.

On the tip?

That's right.

And then we just blow?


How long should we blow for?

As long as it takes.

And we need to hold the stick while we are blowing?


I was dying.

I realize there is really no easy way to talk about glass blowing without saying, "blow," but I couldn't help but be embarrassed. I soon found out that hearing my dorky classmate say "blow," at least a dozen times would be the least of my worries, because "just blowing" glass was not "just" anything. Glassblowing is hard work. It felt impossible. I was blowing all of the air in my lungs out, but nothing seemed to be happening.

There was a moment when I thought, thanks to the heat, that I might pass out right there on the cement. My face turned a million shades of red and my cheeks began to shake as I looked at Alex, a pleading look of desperation in my eyes.

I have never been so relieved to hear him say, "That's enough," in my life, this time indicating that I could stop blowing.

After I was done, I walked the now hollowed glass back to the oven for more heat, and then just like I saw him do with the older gentleman at the beginning of class, we transferred the glass from one blowpipe to the other so that I could work with the opened end.

The opening is only about the size of a quarter, however, so with great finesse, I had to reheat the cup and then using the tweezers, slowly make the hole larger while constantly turning the cup. I thought I would destroy the glass, but I actually did it, and did it quite well. My tumbler is more of a juice glass, but the fact that I can drink out of it is quite remarkable if you ask me.

If I've bored or confused you with all of these terms and instructions on how to blow glass, then you understand how truly difficult this craft really is. And I'm sorry that I don't even have super cool pictures to show you what it looked like because of the whole lost my camera in New York thing. Trust me, I'm more disgusted by it than you are.

As suspected, my two sad flowers and paperweights are collecting dust on a book shelf in my living room, but the glass will make another appearance on the blog, so just wait for that.

This class was a pretty cool and interesting way to spend a Saturday afternoon, but I think I'm going to leave the real glassblowing to the professionals.

I do know that my days of scoffing at high prices for hand blown glass are definitely over. I know the blood, sweat and elbow grease to create the intricate, colorful pieces and trust me, they are worth every penny.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Day 327: Furry I'm Not a Fandom

More than 300 days into Project 29 to 30, and I'd started to notice that blog friends eager to suggest things for me to write about usually fall into one of three categories:

a. The Supporter: "I'm so proud of the journey you are taking and I want to be a part of it. Let's do something new together. And, of course, tag me in the blog."

b. The Teacher: "I know how to do this thing you've never done before. Let me teach you so you can then tag me in the blog."

c. The Wicked Puppeteer: "I support what you're doing, and I get a kick out of reading it, but I really want to make you look like an idiot doing something you've never done before, so I'm going to suggest the most bizarre thing I can think of so that everyone will laugh at you and you can tag me in the blog."

Day 327's challenge, courtesy of my old colleague Jason, falls under category "c."

Jason emailed me several months before Day 327 and confessed he'd wasted a couple of hours at work reading Project 29 to 30. His remarks were music to my ears and I thanked him profusely. During our email exchange, he included a list of things I should try before the year was over.
Among his suggestions:

Open a lemonade stand (Um, awesome, but used to rock plenty of these in my youth.)

Proofread a dissertation (Yikes, no thank you.)

Dress up in a mascot uniform. (Brilliant. Freaking brilliant.)

Only when? Where? How? Under what logical context could that ever happen?

"If you can help make that happen, I'm totally in," was all that I could think of to say, certain that Jason's response wouldn't involve him telling me that since I'd left the office where he and I used to work together, the department had created a mascot, "Scoop," that comes out periodically to do community outreach for kids.

And, he continued, there was an event the following day that was in need of a friend.

Hold. The. Phone.

The next few emails incited a roller coaster of emotions.

First I was high thinking about dressing up like a mascot.

Then I was low, certain that it would never happen.

Then I was high again that Jason had the very mascot uniform I needed.

Then I was low because the event he'd suggested conflicted with my job and there was no way I could arrange it on such short notice.

And then I was high, because, Jason told me that dates needing "Scoop" appearances come around often. In fact, there is one in August at the Atlanta Pubic Library.

Day 327's thing I've never done before was to dress up like a mascot; a furry, as they are known in other circles.

In order to pull this off, I had to reschedule some things at work so that I could come in later. This appearance was right in the middle of the day. If you've been around since the beginning of Project 29 to 30, you know this is not the first time I've rearranged my work schedule for a blog activity. I'd also done so to go speed Dating in the Dark and play Bingo at the Knights of Columbus. This latest example, dressing up in a dog costume, had me laughing, and desperately wanting to reassess my social life.

There isn't a whole lot of skill involved in dressing up like a mascot, yet for some reason, when the day came for me to actually do it, I was nervous. There had to be more to it than slipping my feet and hands into over sized gloves and feet, right? But what? It's not a sporting event; there would be no need for any flips or tricks. Jason assured me when I saw him that the number one rule of any mascot is that there is absolutely no talking. And then I understood why there was reason to be nervous. Talking happens to be what I do best!

But, I considered, taking on the role of, "Scoop, the News Hound," would guarantee that I'd be the center of attention in room full of children for at least 20 minutes, so there was that.

Only this wasn't the kind of attention I was necessarily seeking.

Center of attention telling an awesome joke and nailing the punchline = good

Center of attention dressed up like a dog that is dressed up like a television journalist = bad

When I showed up at Jason's office, he introduced me to Kimberly, who would be driving us over to the Atlanta Public Library and leading the presentation. She was sweet and energetic, exactly what this kind of job requires. We drove over to the library, and gave the venue a once-over, figuring out where we were supposed to take ourselves and the costume.

We were careful not to let anyone see us carrying the trunk, certain that the only thing that could possibly freak a kid out more than an over sized dog acting like a reporter is seeing that dog suit stuffed in a trunk carried by two sweaty 20-somethings.

We hurried back to a room where Kimberly explained how the event was going to go down. She would do her presentation and then she would announce that she was going to go get her friend. And then she'd come back and escort me out to the children.

"I'll be with you," she said with a smile, "The entire time."

I took a deep breath.

"Sounds good," I said. If she's leading me, and I can do this. As long as she's escorting me, I'd be all set.

I quickly realized that there were other obstacles standing in the way of my success.

First of all, the average temperature inside the Scoop uniform is 150 degrees. Luckily, Jason prepared me for the heat and told me to dress appropriately. I did, wearing running shorts and a tank top and no makeup. It didn't matter. I could've been stark naked and still would've sweated profusely.

Second of all, Scoop sees the world through the mesh that covers his mouth. Therefore, Scoop hardly sees anything at all. Kimberly offering to be my escort wasn't her being nice to me because I was new at it; it's absolutely necessary to have a leader.

When it was show time, Kimberly came back to the room, where I was contemplating life's big questions like what jeans I should wear to meet my friends later that night.

"Are you ready?," she asked me.

I nodded, forgetting that I was wearing an over-sized dog head. My neck nearly snapped, and the Scoop head shook all around.


And then she put her index finger over her mouth elementary school teacher style reminding me that I wasn't supposed to talk as she led me through the door.

We had to walk in between shelves of books in order to greet the children. I was like a giant drunk toddler learning how to walk for the first time. Scoop's feet are huge and only with great effort was I able to move forward, and even when I did, I was all over the place. She'd tell me to go right and I went left. She'd say, "Watch out for that," as I was running into it. I was, simply, a complete disaster.

Everything that a mascot does has to be large and overly animated. Every wave, every thumbs-up would have be bigger than a normal human's. Whereas Steph might wave at someone by bending at the elbow and moving her hand left and right a few inches, Scoop waves by lifting his shoulder and Miss America style waving in big sweeping motions. So far the only big motion I'd managed was picking up my foot and trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to put it in front of me.

When I got to the kids, after a walk that felt like it lasted half an hour (but probably only lasted five minutes), their reaction was underwhelming.

I was expecting, and hoping for, a complete freak out a la Mickey Mouse at Disney World. I wanted kids to squeal with delight, cower in fear, or take off running towards me to tackle me. But there was none of that.

If they thought that Scoop was cool, they weren't letting me know it. These children were controlled, polite, timid even, each asking for permission from their teacher before approaching me to hug, or high-five or take a picture.

The tricky thing again became my ability to see them. Or not see them, as was the case here. Once out of my direct sight, I was unable to tell what the kids were doing or where they were standing, if they were making faces at me or flipping me the bird. I expected that some of them might try and run behind me, kick me in the back, or try and pull on Scoop's tail. But if that was happening, I was completely unaware. Happily unaware, actually.

I'd hold out my arm to envelop the children in a side hug for a picture, and I'd tap, or rub, their backs in a motherly fashion. About 15 kids in, it occurred to me that because I couldn't see anything out of my peripheral vision, there was a good chance that I wasn't rubbing their backs as I had intended, but perhaps some less appropriate part of their body.

"I could've been rubbing their fronts for all I know!,” I later revealed to Jason and some others, “Or worse! Their privates! DSS [Department of Social Services] probably thinks I'm a child molester!"

Luckily I didn't receive any angry phone calls, so Scoop kept it clean this time. My entire time with the kids was actually quite short, which was unfortunate, because once I was standing stationary, I really enjoyed throwing high fives and thumbs up to the kids. I may go down in history as the worst mascot ever, leaving my feet firmly planted on the floor and possibly inappropriately touching people, but I enjoyed knowing that I was the main attraction while still being blissfully unaware of what was going on around me. Perhaps I could turn 30 in the same fashion?

After everyone gave Scoop a hug, I headed back to the private room to take the suit off, and Day 327's new thing was over.

I've heard, since my experience, that there are individuals truly dedicated to dressing up like mascots and participating in something called the furry fandom. There is even a weekend convention in Atlanta called Furry Weekend.

I'm not here to judge these people (aka freaks), but I can think of nothing that I'd like to do less than dress up in a costume and hang out with others dressed in costume for a day, sweating my face off and making loud gestures and not talking.

I am actually less coordinated and more awkward in this suit than I am in real life. And that's tough to do.

But hey, furries, if that's your thing, rock on. And if anyone needs a costume, I know someone.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Day 326: Garden Freak Show

I left the hospital on Day 325 feeling overwhelmed with joy for Trish and her beautiful new family. I realize it's hard to feel anything but love for an adorable newborn and brand spanking new parents, but I was also prepared for Will's arrival to remind me of how far I haven't come in reaching the milestones I thought I'd reach by the time I turned 30 years old. But surprisingly, I felt none of that usual anxiety. I was ridiculously happy. Giddy, even.

Maybe it was the trip to Greece that had left me feeling relaxed, content, and void of any anxiety whatsoever, maybe I'd really come a long way in my 29th year, but on Day 325, I just felt happy. I felt grateful; both for Trish's life, and for mine. We're really great friends who have arrived at two completely different places in our lives, but for the first time I can remember, I didn't feel nervous that I wasn't where she was. My life hasn't exactly panned out the way I thought it would, but I'll have what Trish has eventually. Or I won't. But either way, it's all going to be okay. Everything is going to turn out exactly the way it's supposed to.

Yes, that was the feeling on Day 325.

And then, on Day 326, I freaked.

To tell you the truth, I'm not sure why. I know I, like most people, am physically and emotionally capable of working myself up over the minutest thing, but that's not what happened here. I was at work, innocently planning out the next few months when I realized that a mere six weekends remained until I turned the big 3-0. I started thinking about all of the specific things I still needed to do before my birthday (drive a stick shift, dye my hair, finish the blog) and all of the more abstract, less attainable things I also needed to accomplish (fall in love, get married, make $1 million, start a family). And within minutes, real, raw emotion started pouring out of me. Suddenly I became overwhelmed with worry and fear. I felt like I couldn't catch my breath, like someone was sitting on my chest.

On Day 326, the overwhelming thought of turning 30, and completing the goal that I set out to accomplish almost a year prior, became almost too much for me to bear.

I felt tears prick my eyes and I jumped up from my desk, determined not to cry at work (or at least not let anyone see me do it.) I ran to my friend Emily's desk, out of most people's sight.

"I just got really scared to turn 30," I squeaked out.

I realized how strange and ridiculous those words sounded as they were coming out of my mouth, and I almost laughed as I said them. I followed with, "It's so stupid."

And it was incredibly stupid.

I mean, what's there to be scared about? I knew that not a whole lot was really going to change on September 27th, the day of my 30th birthday. Life wasn't going to end. I wasn't going to drop dead. I wasn't going to look different, and much to my mother's dismay, act any differently when I turned 30. I planned on being the same immature, free-spirit that I was at 29.

Telling people that I'm 30, now that's something to get worked up about, and I knew when I had to do it for the first time, it would sting a little bit. But actually waking up on September 27th would likely be painless. I knew I could handle it. Why all the fuss? Why the drama?

The simple answer is, I don't know. Just like I want oatmeal one day for breakfast and scrambled eggs the next, how I feel about my life and where I am and what I have accomplished and haven't accomplished changes each day without any rhyme or reason. I try my best to be positive and level-headed, but the truth of the matter is, my uncertainty gets the best of me sometimes, and while I appear to others to have it together most of the time, on the inside, I'm a big old mess.

I got through the rest of Day 326 taking advice from one of the first bosses I ever had who said, "You gotta fake it till you make it." I put on a courageous, happy face and told myself that I was fine and that turning 30 is fine. People do it everyday, and I had to find a way to do it gracefully (and by "gracefully," I mean without crying at work.) A few deep breaths and a couple of walks around the office and I started to believe it.

Still, I needed a diversion. Emily had plans that night, so I called in for backup and emailed Melanie and Bug to see if they could do either of the two things that I usually use to help quell my anxiety: have a drink or exercise. Actually I went the exercise route first, asking if they wanted to take a walk through the Atlanta Botanical Gardens.

Bug was out, but Melanie was up for whatever. She pointed out that Thursday nights feature, "Cocktails in the Garden" at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, making them, "not really suited for working out."

"What's your goal?," Melanie asked me. Did I want to exercise? (Yes. Exercise is always a good thing.) Or do you want to drink? (Sure. Definitely. Always.)

My only goal was to rid myself of my sky-high anxiety and forget, if only for an evening, that I was six weeks from turning 30. So we headed to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens for Cocktails in the Garden, Day 326's thing I've never done before.

Atlanta's Botanical Gardens are adjacent to Piedmont Park downtown. We arrived right as the sun was going down, which was unfortunate, because we were able to see very little of the actual gardens before it got dark.

There were cocktails though, and that was my biggest concern anyway. Better than that, they were featuring specialty cocktails made with Sweet Tea flavored vodka, arguably the greatest thing to come out of South Carolina besides yours truly and Hootie & the Blowfish. The bartender was a bit heavy handed, which I also liked. We paid for our drinks and he sent us on our way.

Thanks to the darkness (and the whole camera/pictures fiasco), I can't tell you much about specific plants and flowers that we saw. The Botanical Gardens are certainly lit for nighttime, and there is an air of whimsy about the that I liked. There were pathways leading all around the grounds and it felt a little Alice in Wonderland to me since I had no idea where I was going or what was coming next.

We started our tour on a Canopy Walk 600-feet above the gardens that led us to a tunnel with mosaic art on the walls; we eventually arrived at a cascading fountain with big lit up palm trees. We purchased another beverage and then wandered through some of the gardens' greenhouses. As we moved in and out of rows of orchids that reminded me of Yaya and Greece, I could feel myself starting to relax.

Melanie and I took a seat on a bench in a gazebo overlooking the gardens with a glorious view of the Atlanta skyline in the background. We sipped our drinks, caught up on each other's lives and gossiped for at least an hour. I know I sound cliché when I say two liquor drinks and a walk through some gardens is all it takes to soothe my nervous energy, but in this case, both were a huge help. I felt so much better. Peaceful, even.

Isn't that what gardens are for? To bring people beauty and peace?

Sitting under the lights of Atlanta tucked away in the flowers of the gazebo, I felt small. And my impending birthday felt terribly inconsequential. The world will keep turning; flowers will die and bloom again. And all I can do is soak it all up, one day at a time. There are far bigger problems and triumphs going on around me. I knew that when the actual birthday came, I’d never be able to predict how I'd feel about it – I could cry, I could laugh, I’d probably do both.

But I would survive it.

And as long as there are flowers and sweet tea vodka, everything was going to be okay.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

You Thought I Quit Didn't You?

Don't count me out just yet my friends.

No, for real, 2011 has been a crazy year so far that included a 3-week work trip in New York City where I managed to lose my camera and a memory card with all of my blog pictures. My New York friends tell me losing things in a cab makes me a true New Yorker, but the idea that all of my memories for the remaining weeks of this project are now gone makes me physically sick. I have been inconsolable, acting like a small child about the whole thing. I must soldier on, though, and I'll try, with the help of friends, piece together some visual aides to go along with my words on how the rest of the year went.

This project will get done. I'm back on track with more adventures of my 29th year to tell you about.

I will finish Project 29 to 30.

Keep the faith.

Don't lose hope.