Didn’t Finish / Finished

Part One:

Generally, when I start a page in my sketchbook, I finish it – at least in some form. There are a couple through the years that I have walked away from – one in particular was homework for France Belleville-Van Stone Sketchbook Skool lesson in which we were supposed to deliberately draw cars which might drive away mid-sketch. There’s another page of studies of eyes that I’m adding to bit by bit as the urge to draw an eye strikes me (a less regular occurrence than I expected). But two weeks ago, I started a sketch and ran into such, well, MASSIVE issues that I couldn’t bring myself to continue much less finish it. It was bothering me so badly, I avoided drawing at all. I didn’t even touch my sketchbook for a week because I was so challenged by the mess I’d made.

Here’s a snapshot to give you an idea of the massive problem:

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It just kept getting bigger

Mhmm. That’s a six page spread. Everything started out alright with a drawing of the negative spaces of the roofline of one of Tbilisi’s iconic buildings, but as usual, I didn’t really plan out the composition of the page and I let the size of my drawing get totally out of hand. It was so bad that I hadn’t even reached the really interesting part of the roofline before I ran off the page. I ran across the street to an art store and bought a block of drawing paper, matched up a sheet and kept going, figuring I’d tape it in as a fold-out page later. And then the same thing happened. And happened again. And again. And really, even again but at that point I threw in the towel. I went home, washi-taped everything up, tucked the pages in my sketchbook and began the whole avoidance process.

Part Two:

I’ve sort of been dreading this week’s Sketchbook Skool lesson with Juliana Coles. No offense – she seemed like a lovely person and talented artist but I’ve seen work like this before and I’ve even read a bunch of books on creating art journals like hers but I just didn’t get it. It seemed so forced and kind of woo-woo and reaaaaaally personal to me. Nope. Not my thing. I figured I’d watch the videos and give the homework a skip. I’ve got enough to do with making new sketches, why would I ever go back and alter the old ones? And yeesh! I worked hard on those sketches and I don’t want to mess them all up painting over them and sticking stuff on top. Nope. Not for me.

Part Three:

Somewhere in the middle of her demonstration it occurred to me that I did in fact have a sketch that I really hated. A sketch that I was so frustrated by that it was haunting me and keeping me from even touching the book it was in. The wheels started to turn and the ideas of what to I could do and what materials I could use started coming before I could even get to the end of the lesson. I persevered, watched Koosje’s homework video too and then grabbed my book and went off to my desk. (But I still wasn’t going to do that journalling thing. That’s just embarrassing).

Part Four:

I dug out a bunch of rarely-used materials, spread out the pages and thought, Oh what the heck? and grabbed a grey watercolor pencil and started writing. It turns out Juliana’s method of choosing a short prompt and playing with it really can start a flood of thoughts that definitely help to direct the rest of the exercise- which was a good thing considering I had six pages to fill.

 

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Tiny snip of the embarrassing writing

Then it was time for paints. I used some really bright acrylics that have been lying around for years and added some gesso to tone things down or highlight as the mood struck.I made a huge mess; I had a grand time.

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It took all day to get the paint off my hands

Like Koosje, I really am a Throw-Outer. I’m known among my friends and colleagues for my special throw-outing superpowers. But I do love to save National Geographic magazines and cut them up to add end papers to my sketchbooks. I grabbed a stack knowing I needed some words (I don’t have any stamps of any kind) but not knowing what else I was looking for. I found a bunch of words that seemed to go along with what I’d been writing and one piece of a photo that I just liked for no particular reason. I collaged them in, feeling that I’d add some weight with black ink afterwards. Some paint got on my brayer and I really liked that accidental effect. I like to use my Parallel pens to Twingle things and I thought adding some messy arrows and circles would work but before I knew it, I was adding ink scratchings everywhere.

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Done except for being washi-taped to my sketchbook

Part Five:

And just like that, it was done and it answered a question that I’ve had for decades when looking at art like this: “How do you know when it is done?” In this case it seems that you just know, but I’ll let you know because it turns out that this lesson that I wanted nothing to do with was probably my favorite of this session and I’m sure I’ll be trying this technique again very soon.

 

 

 

 

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Processing 

A quick flip through my old sketchbooks shows that often quite some time passes between me being exposed to a new idea or technique before I start using it. Some excuses reasons include:

1. Real life. I have a full time job that doesn’t like to remain constrained between 9am and 6pm. While I may try to keep in the art habit by doodling something during a meeting or while mulling over a challenge at my desk, it’s unlikely that I’m never going to whip out a sketchbook and a bunch of materials and get creating during the day.

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Did I accidentally doodle Rhianna?!

 

2. Running. Drawing is one thing that makes me happy, but I also love running half marathons. That mileage takes a good chunk of free time to prepare for and nope, you just can’t run and draw. It’s not really lost time though, and I believe both hobbies feed off of one another. Drawing makes me more observant; running gives me time to think and dream. I like to think those daydreams inspire new approaches in later drawings.

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Nope, didn’t draw even one thing in all those miles!

3. Reading. Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about good novel. I read all sorts of non-fiction practically all day long, and that’s important to me too, but there has to be a novel in there somewhere or I just get grumpy. I’m not precisely sure why, but I think it is the way reading lets you fall into another world and another mind and gain a new perspective on the world, while also shutting out the noise of this world for a while. Regardless of the reason, I’m sure you agree that drawing and reading cannot happen at the same time.

4. Perfectionism. I don’t think of myself as that big of a perfectionist. I’ve never been that great with the details and I’m a big believer in That’s Close Enough. And yet, it is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that I’d better not start something new or challenging until I have enough time to dedicate to it. This line of thinking is a big surprise because I tend to be so open-ended about projects that other people create. In fact I used to drive my fellow librarians crazy with my kids’ craft programs: “How will they know what their *alien mask / pig / space ship / diorama* is supposed to look like if you don’t show them how to make it?!” “They’ll know because it will be like what they had in their own heads.” I have no idea why I struggle to apply this philosophy to my own work.

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#mymonkeyisacreativemonkey

4. Not-ready-yet. This is my favorite reason. The objective of SBS is not to be a formal drawing course – IT IS NOT! Instead, it uses other artists techniques to give you a jolt out of any ruts you might be in. For a complete novice, this is invaluable because it is very easy to get caught up in trying to precisely recreate what you see. I agree there is a value in that level of technical skill, but it is discouraging and, frankly, boring for me. Nevertheless, most lessons use a technique that seems so unfamiliar that I can’t figure out how I’d ever incorporate into my drawing – it is so much simpler to just carry on with the familiar. However, across the past two years of SBS courses, I’ve noticed that eventually there will come a day when inspiration strikes and I’ll be consumed by needing to try something I learned about months ago. I do believe that learning takes time and true learning requires assimilation into what is already second nature. Maybe more importantly, though, I think the time that passes decreases the sense that I need to recreate the exact lesson. Instead the technique becomes more an organic part of what I was already doing.

Here are some new techniques that I’ve noticed popping up in my sketchbook recently:

1. Cars 

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Thank you, France Belleville-Van Stone!

 

2. Tintin 

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Thank you, Jean Christophe Defline!

3. Infographics 


4. Captioned portraits 

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Thank you, Jonathan Twingley and Sabine Wisman!

5. And still my favorite – Big Heads

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Thank you, Lapin!


Drawing Big Heads

Our kids have been visiting for the holidays but it is almost time for them to return to home and jobs and university. I’ve been enjoying sketching partly for the reminder after they are gone and partly because there is something wonderful about really observing them now that they are grown up.

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Of the many challenging and inspiring Sketchbook Skool lessons and instructors, Lapin’s Big Heads in SBS Stretching really struck a chord with me. Just by suggesting that we begin a portrait with the eyes, he helped me to capture the faces of the people I love. I admit the sitting very close and staring intently part probably limits this technique to people who know me pretty well, and my likenesses improve if the subjects will actually hold still (I’m talking about you, Husband and Son).

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Coincidentally, I discovered that I –  like Lapin – enjoy using paper with a grid pattern. I love it for writing and notetaking, but never drew on it until my father gave me one of his old only partly used Pentalic Traveller’s journals with gridded paper this past summer. I loved the way the pattern added some depth to my drawings but once it was full, I went back to using plain paper sketchbooks. However, one of my New Year’s Resolutions (don’t judge, I still love making resolutions and I figure that at least for a few months I’ll be doing the good things I always dreamed of!) is to use up the loads of stuff I already have – including my, oh, TWENTY SIX (!!!) new or partly used notebooks. I am currently using an old Moleskine 5×8 journal with gridded paper and I am totally hooked on the interplay of grid and drawing. And in a further coincidence, Lapin and I also share the dilemma of how to find more of our now discontinued notebooks; this one is so nice to use because it predates the big Moleskine Paper Switch.

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If you haven’t happened to come across Lapin’s work yet, you can find him on Instagram @lapinbarcelona or check out his blog at les-calepins-de-lapin.blogspot.com

Never Saw That Coming

It all started because my parents are visiting Tbilisi. My father is a painter and I respect his artistic opinion and always want his feedback on my sketchbooks. Unfortunately, I can never spare the weight in my luggage when I go home to visit, so I could not wait to show the lot of them as soon as my parents arrived. I’ve gotten much less shy about sharing my work, and I’ve flipped through my sketchbooks so many times that I thought I’d gotten very familiar with the pages that worked and the pages that didn’t. I was surprised when my mother most loved the ones that I thought were failures and pleased when she asked to visit the places where I had drawn so she could see what I had seen.

And so this afternoon we ended up at Prospero’s Bookstore (because of this drawing):


We settled in with our tea and our carrot muffins at a table next to a gentleman who was busy working away on his laptop. Being American, we had many things to talk about and none of it quietly. I pulled out my sketchbook – it’s so hard to find time on the days that I have to work, I can’t miss an opportunity on a day of leave – and began sketching the adorable little plant on the table. Mr. Laptop kept glancing our way, I could only think peevishly since we were the only patrons talking while everyone else was being industrious. Eventually, we started to make moves toward leaving. My dad stopped to check out a book about Gustav Klimt and called my mother over. Just then Mr. Laptop got up as if he were heading to the coffee bar, but instead he stopped by my table, nodded to the sketchbook I was just closing and asked, “Is that a travelogue?”

I did a quick flip through the pages and said, “Well, no. I live in Tbilisi so I am not travelling. But this is my fourth sketchbook of the year and each one has many sketches of the places I’ve visited this year.”

He responded, “I wish I had your talent.”

Whoa.

Let’s parse that statement, shall we?

First of all, I was sure he was annoyed with us, but really he was just sneaking peaks at my sketchbook.

Secondly,this is what I drew:


What I see is a loss of perspective on the planter, the fact that I can NEVER remember to not draw the entire planter before drawing the plant, and a shadow that I’m having a hard time connecting to the object. What he saw was something he recognized.

“But it’s not talent,” I insisted. “A year and a half ago, I could not do this.”

“But how can you now?” he asked.

“I read this book that made the case that everyone starts off knowing how to draw, but many of us lose confidence as we get older. The author (that’s you, Danny Gregory) said we just need to keep practicing and we can all be artists again.”

He wasn’t having it. He said he couldn’t draw that picture of the gear shift of our rental car:


“But neither could I, 18 months ago!”I swore. “I just started and kept trying. And it changed everything. It makes me see everything differently. It makes me so observational – I notice the color of the leaves, the shadows on the ground, the skyline, the way someone is sitting, a pile of oranges in a basket on a counter.”

He looked intrigued by that but he also “couldn’t draw that portrait”:


“Well, that is my favorite sketch I’ve ever drawn, but it took me a while to learn how. My first sketches are embarrassing, but I got better with practice. You just need to get a piece of paper and a pen”.

Skepticism.

“No, really.  You just need to start simply – paper and pen. You’ll hate it, but then you’ll try again and you’ll get better. It’s not talent, really.”

“But I only have time when I come here.”

“Then you’d better come here more often!”

He looked like maybe he would.

How I Got Over Fear of the Blank Page and Started Using My Sketchbooks 

For years, Fear of the Blank Page meant that while I carried a notebook of some sort with me everywhere I went, I never used any of them. My beautiful little books must require only beautiful and auspicious creations, it seemed. What was I going to capture in the few moments I was sitting still that would be worthy? Worse, if someone happened to pick up my book, what could I have created that wouldn’t raise a questioning eyebrow?

I wish I could say that I ended this dilemma by giving up caring what other people would think. Alas, that is also not in my nature. Instead, here are the things that helped me get past my reluctance and get busy drawing.

The Great Unloved

1. On a trip into London, I made a pilgrimage to Foyle’s Bookshop (honestly, if you ever witness me walking past a bookstore, assume my body has been taken over by aliens) found Danny Gregory’s book, The Creative Licence. (Actually, it might be more accurate to say, I found Danny Gregory. I suspect it does not matter which book or blog post is your introduction, the man has to be the single most influential force in creating new sketchers. Check out his blog, Everyday Matters, and see if you can resist!) This particular book assumes you want to draw but haven’t since childhood, that you are shy to begin, and that you are unsure you have anything worthy to sketch in the first place. It goes on through nearly 200 pages of advice and encouragement, illustrated by Danny and his sketching friends. It took me years to read and absorb and is still the book I return to over and over again for inspiration and assurance.

2. I joined Sketchbook Skool (SBS). A year and a half ago, I was fiddling around looking for online drawing classes when I found a link for SBS and it sounded so great, I signed up that second though Klass (it’s a little high-concept that way) didn’t start until April. And even though I was still working a bazillion hours and getting ready to move to one place and then another. And even though my internet connection in Armenia was so slow, it took an entire day to view each 7-10 minute video. I caught up a little when I went back to Buffalo in May, but I was typically bad at keeping up with the homework assignments. The program uses a masterclass style with one sketchbook artist giving a week’s worth of lessons and homework assignments. To be honest, I found it inspiring but overwhelming in the beginning. I was such a beginner, I was basically always frustrated by how poor my drawings seemed compared those of the many talented students and instructors. Imagine my delight when they announced that the lessons would be available to students in perpetuity! This turned out to be of the greatest benefit to me and I’ve signed up for each successive semester, following the videos and doing assignments as I am able or as the spirit moves me. I can (and do) jump back and forth and I find that revisiting older lessons as I grow more confident and capable allows me to glean more each time. But, as helpful and inspiring as the actual lessons are, perhaps the greatest benefit of SBS is that it has created a community of amateur sketchers (and some professionals too) who share their efforts and encourage and inspire each other to grow and improve. Seeing all the ways that people have approached the same assignment has quite literally changed the way I see the world.

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3. I took Koosje Koene’s Awesome Art Journaling class. Though it was short and simple, I took it right in the middle of moving chaos (avoidance, anyone?) and I fear I didn’t take away as much as Koosje put into it. Still, Koosje (the other half of the creative team behind SBS; check out her website – it’s also full of usefulness) is so positive and so supportive to beginners (and ALWAYS responds to emails sent to her by students – I am in awe), I can look back in my sketchbooks and see that this class is the one that pushed me into making drawing a nearly every day habit. And that habit is one that works like meditation for me. It allows me to slow down and has encouraged me to closely observe and notice the details and peculiarities of wherever I am. Though I still take too many photos when I travel, I have begun pulling my sketchbook out and trying to record the moment I am in, and those drawings take me right back to everything I was experiencing in a way my snapshots never seem to.

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I am sure there are people who took up drawing without needing books or online classes or communities but I don’t think I would have made the leap without Danny and Koosje’s help. Along the way I’ve begun to believe that I can create my own vision of a moment and that getting it “perfect” is not the point – in fact, sometimes getting it “finished” is often beside the point as well. Just as I was about to publish this post, I received an email from the guys at SBS that shared a quote that captures my thoughts precisely: “Practice any art… no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.” – Kurt Vonnegut

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An Illustrated Walk Through My Neighborhood

It was a crazy week month two months (more on that later) and I finally had a quiet weekend at home. Alone (more on that later, too). I promised myself that I was going to take a walk down to Prospero’s Bookstore and buy myself a new book. For absolutely no good reason except I wanted to take the walk and I wanted a different book than the ones on my shelf. It is about a two mile walk (maybe less) through a really interesting neighborhood and I just couldn’t stop taking photos.

IMG_0408My electric blue puffer jacket goes with EVERYTHING, Baby!

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It is extremely easy to eat well in Tbilisi.

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Be careful – these are Frah-Gee-Ley!

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Looking at this never gets old.

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Neither does this.

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I am here to tell you that there is nothing like a pile of pink sequined sheep holding wallets and sweaters on their backs to make me think, “Hey, I should buy my husband some expensive Italian clothes!”

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This is some powerful makeup they are selling in M A C.

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These little bronze statues are all over the place downtown. I love them.

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HEAVEN!!!

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Little statues everywhere.

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Leaves were everywhere. It was extremely windy today and I think the leaf-sweeping ladies might get Sundays off. Monday is going to stink for them.

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I should probably look up who this guy is; I really like his regal posture.

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And his lion fountain.

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This lady is always here, right next to the McDonalds. Don’t be tempted to buy her an ice-cream cone. Once, I saw a girl do that; she does. Not. Like. Ice-cream. Maybe because it was freezing and rainy that day; I don’t know.

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Everything looks more romantical by moonlight streetlight.

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I really love these old grapevines growing up the side of apartment buildings. Sometimes they are as big around as trees.

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And I love these old cars. Unless I am behind them on the way to work; then I really don’t like them at all. (I need my friend Alijon to tell me which is older: the car or me?)

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I do not know who Samo is, but this is absolutely no kind of way to share the news!

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Everybody’s door is better looking than your door dreams of being. (Do not even ask me about my door. It has to fend off the zombie apocalypse. It has no time to get pretty).

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Hey! I kind of like this one.

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And it comes in different colors. With some of the world’s craziest headbands. (How to decide)?

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I wish Mark was here. This is a great place to stop on the way home and share a beer and a bowl of peanuts. Not the same alone, alas.

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Seeing the Ferris Wheel never ceases to make me smile, either.

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Now, now! Even a fur isn’t going to keep you warm if you don’t do your part!

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Late night cheese run, anyone?

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I love these alleys.

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And these courtyards.

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They had me up ’til the deer-antlered woman.

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Slept through your alarm? No problem! Just throw Benetton’s super-trendy new jacket over your nightie and you are ready for a day in the office.

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Have you found yourself with only one tire on your car? This shop in our perehod can set you up.

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At long last, SUPPER!

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And lunch!

And because I know the suspense is killing you, this is what I bought.

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I’ll let you guess which one is already impossible to put down.

New Job, First Week

One of the big upsides to the whole Whoa, We’re Going to Georgia Incident of 2014 was that a job I’d only dreamed of opened up just as I found out. Chances like this don’t happen twice in an overseas tour so I went into high gear researching the position description and polishing my CV and making sure it matched every point (oh, Daily Muse, it was a textbook example if I say so myself). I talked to colleagues, lobbied for myself (and called in reinforcements) when a wrinkle with our orders threatened to undo the whole thing, and rounded up recommendations. I procrastinated writing my writing sample then enjoyed a brainwave and hammered the thing out; jittered my way through the day of my interview, then sat down, made some notes about relevant experiences and then proceeded to remember them AND to ask an intelligent couple of questions at the end. Then I went back to being jittery while I waited for a result. I’m not sure much productive happened at The Job I Actually Had (up until then The Job I Really Loved) after I got the call that I got the call that I got The Job That I Really Wanted; I was just so happy.

Then came of a couple of months of doing all that stuff I wrote about already and then came actually moving to Georgia before beginning the Waiting For All The HR Stuff To Happen phase. Finally, last Monday I got up, put on my big girl clothes, and went to The Job I Have Been Waiting For. And here is how that went:

1. Wake up and discover the cold that seemed to be going away has come back with a vengeance.

2. Be very grumpy because this is the first cold I have had in over three years. What?! I thought I was cured of this – and I get sick for my first day of work at The Job I Really Want? No one calls in sick on their first day.

3. Really, no one calls in sick for work on the first day. GO TO WORK!!!

4. Arrive at work to discover that the only other person working on the same issues as me – also known as The One Who Knows Everything – has had to start maternity leave a little bit early and there is no overlap.

5. Discover that not only do we have seven hundred projects we are working on before Christmas, one of them is happening Right. NOW. And I am The One Who Knows Nothing At All. And who is stupid with a cold.

6. Fortunately there is Wonder-Intern who is more than able to tie on her cape and save the day all while graciously pretending I’ve added something meaningful to the process.

7. Not that I could have if I wanted to since computer access is not one of the things you are provided with on the first day.

8. Neither is a working phone.

9. By the end of Day One I have to restrain myself from audibly whimpering because I want to go home and burrow in my covers so badly.

10. Day Two brings more of the same only by this time my colleagues are mentally referring to me as Typhoid Mary and I am given the green light to take myself home in the early afternoon.

11. I do not get home in the early afternoon because I made the ill-advised decision to drive myself home. Several hours later, I finally got unlost and crawled under those covers again.

12. A two Benadryl night happily results in a return to The Land of the Living. I show up for work but cannot remember anything about Day Three. I suspect I spent it trying to figure out how you fit seven THOUSAND projects into a six week calendar.

13. Day Four is the day I’ve been looking forward to for months: I get to accompany a guest speaker to a series of lectures in the city. http://www.michaelrohde.com/html_home.cfm?menu_itemID=797649&load=html turns out to not only be phenomenally talented (one of his pieces is exhibited in The Chicago Art Institute! And I sat next to him in the car! And talked about my mom!) and hyper-intelligent, but also patient, humble, and immeasurably kind. He was the perfect visitor for a Person Who Does Not Know Her Job Yet to support. He deserved better but honestly was far to patient to ever mention it. Thank you, Michael!

14. Day Four is also when I learned what I figure will be the defining lesson of my tenure: Wash Your Hair Or Else One of the Most Popular TV Stations Will Ask You to Give Them a Surprise Interview. Ask me how I learned this one…

15. Relax, this one has a happy ending: I did not give the interview. I wisely found someone who knew what they were talking about and got them in front of the camera, and I called it good judgment and a job well-done.

16. Day Five was even better than Day Four – we got out of town to take our guest to visit a local development project: reWoven. It was a beautiful sunny day after lots of rain. Alas, typically, I recognized the sun and promptly forgot the rain and chose to wear regular professional shoes. Lesson Two: Rubber Wellies Are Your Friends; Do Not Neglect Them in the Closet. Still, mud washes off and we enjoyed a truly informative look at the traditional Caucasus rug weaving process.

A new carpet is born!

A new carpet is born!

17. Four Day Weekend! I needed all four to process what happened during the previous five days. Clearly if this threw me for a loop, my future as a Wall Street Floor Trader is bleak.

Today I returned from my weekend and happily got a handle on my schedule including all 70 THOUSAND projects looming over my head. I had a couple of conversations and got a good feeling for what my job is when we are not at panic stations, and left with a feeling that it is as I dreamed – an exciting mix of some of the best aspects of my last two jobs. Got a new project for us? No worries – I got this (just let me go wash my hair now).