On Open Letter on My Personal Transition

by noelyovovich on July 24, 2011

I’ve been out of touch for quite a while now. For good reason. My whole life has been pretty much rearranged, and that takes some recovery time.

To recap—I saw an opportunity and I took it, but I had to move fast to make it work. I saw on Orchid that James Binnion, the Master of Mokume Gane, needed an assistant. I thought about it for a couple of weeks, then I applied. To make a short story shorter: in the space of two months, I heard, I applied, I flew to Bellingham, WA to interview, I got the job, I packed up my life and loaded it into a “pod”, flew to Bellingham again to rent a house, shipped my pod off and drove 2250 miles to start work.

Off the grid and in the woods

So now I’m living in Bellingham, a small but cosmopolitan town two hours north of Seattle, an hour from Vancouver, in a strange but wonderful house off the grid and up the side of a low mountain. A have not had the energy to totally unpack yet—I have not had a 9-5 job since I was in my 20s.

Bellingham is known as “The City of Subdued Excitement”. It is a lot like Evanston, IL, where I lived for about 30 years, but with a better view. This area is spectacular beyond belief—and looks a lot like the imaginary landscapes I’ve been putting in my work for 20 years.

Sunset from my window

I came down with a somewhat mysterious ailment shortly after arrival (can you say “stress”?) which I am now convinced is/was shingles, but of course I didn’t have a doctor here yet, so that did not go well. A month later, I’m regaining my energy but still in some discomfort. I do not choose to say exactly where the outbreak is, but suffice it to say this has all been quite a PITA.

My first month at work has been challenging. I’ve never felt so incompetent in my life! Working with mokume is very difficult, and at the price of gold and silver these days, believe me, you do NOT feel good when you melt it! But I feel as though I’m gaining ground at last.

So here are some fairly random thoughts and information from this life-altering period.

Here’s a news-flash for the metalsmiths: red gold (gold+copper) alloys very readily with silver, given proximity and heat—and then it is yellow gold (gold+copper+silver). You may have experienced something like this if you have soldered brass to silver (brass=copper+zinc; silver+copper+zinc=solder) but you don’t feel quite as bad about turning a silver and brass piece into a puddle.

I’m learning to use a PUK welder—that’s a little pulse arc welder with argon cover gas and a microscope. You can tack-weld parts before soldering, and you can use it to do things like melt a ball onto the end of a wire. I haven’t done it yet, but this means that with care, you can fasten pearls or gemstone beads onto a piece of jewelry with a balled wire. A very cool tool, but financially out of reach for most studio jewelers or classrooms. It feels like cheating to use it!

I’m also using a lathe and a mill. They are a little intimidating because we are working to incredibly tight tolerances (who’d have thought my style of working could seem sloppy!) but they are very fun tools.

So, for the time being, I am not doing shows, I am not teaching, I am not even making my own work—but I AM earning a living. I have withdrawn myself from nearly every aspect of my previous lifestyle, and it is a pretty strange feeling. I am learning a lot, and it will be very interesting to see how it impacts my own work when I can manage to get back to it. Plus, of course, with a “real” job, I have the luxury of only making pieces I really want to, I suppose, though I don’t have a lot of interest in making things just to have them sit in my jewelry storage. Well, time will tell.

I miss all my friends, acquaintances, students and loved ones (and there are big overlaps in these categories) more than I can begin to say. Please do not think I am not thinking about you just because I have been too exhausted (and, yes, at times depressed) to be in touch.

What a strange business life is!

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Janice August 1, 2011 at 5:44 pm

Noel – it sounds like a wonderful whirlwind! I am so excited for you – really! (and a little jealous perhaps! lol) You are going to learn so many new skills and I can’t wait to see what you do with it all. Enjoy your new home, your new job, your new life!!! And keep us posted. As someone else said – I will enjoy reading about your continued journey.

Barbara J. August 1, 2011 at 5:00 am

I also live in the Great Northwest and love it’s many moods. I love the different seasons including the rain, and it’s green everywhere, everyday. The Pacific Coast is spectacular and just waiting to be explored.
There is a song that was produced about ten years ago by Duran Duran called “Ordinary World”. It speaks of loss and how hard it is to lose what was our comfort zone (our ordinary world), and to move into unfamiliar territory. But through this life transition we have so much to gain and eventually our old world fades away and the new world now becomes “ordinary”… Finally we can say, “I’m home”

Barbara Bejna July 30, 2011 at 1:50 am

Hi Noel,

I’m inspired by your courage. Sent you an email response which was a little to long to post here. Hope each day goes a little bit better! Barbara

M'lou Brubaker July 28, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Thanks for the update. I’m sure that your body will settle down and feel better soon. You have an exciting path to follow. Make sure to spend some time in very calming activities like meditation, yoga, or whatever does it for you, to counterbalance the excitement and get yourself back on track.
Best to you,

Sarah Triton July 27, 2011 at 7:55 pm

You’re not only brave, but an inspiration to all of us baby boomers who have been fearful of leaping into unfamiliar waters! You just get your health back on track, then you’ll find the places to hear music or whatever you like, and meet new friends. Meanwhile, Deb Fitz and others are up there when you’re up for a weekend adventure, right? You go, Girl!

Diane Parson July 26, 2011 at 9:07 pm

I am so excited for you on your new opportunity and adventure! Things happen for a reason and I have a feeling this is a great thing to happen. Good luck Noel…looking forward to hear about your exciting new life.

Maggie Bergman July 26, 2011 at 8:48 pm

Wow Noel, what a brave and exciting thing to do! The challenge of ‘packing up your life in a pod’ seems amusing, I’d need a three bedroom pod! I hope your health continues to get better as you settle more into the new ‘routine’ Stress would be a daily companion I’d imagine, so many new things to learn, new equipment to master! Very exciting though, good luck, I’m looking forward to more updates when you get time.

Cathy Davies Paetz July 26, 2011 at 3:01 am

What you have done is exciting and exhausting all at the same time… I admire your courage to pack up and go (did that in my 20’s – but now seems daunting) and look forward to hearing more about your adventure. Hope you feel better soon and keep us posted!!

Dana Evans July 26, 2011 at 2:24 am

Give in to the fact that you are in a new environment and may be in mourning for your old life. Do some things for yourself each day that are meaningful to you- pamper yourself even if it’s a small thing. Creating a new life for yourself will happen in time once you start collecting these new habits and things you do for yourself. All of a sudden you will realize that you are happier than you were a month ago, and life’s new routines are good. You may look at your ‘old’ work and life with new eyes.

Vicki Kataja July 26, 2011 at 1:48 am

I’m happy for you, Noel! Congrats! How exciting; nowhere to go but up and forward!!

Ann Davis July 25, 2011 at 5:49 pm

Wow Noel!! What an exciting adventure!!! It takes a lot of courage to just pick up and start a new life!! Love the little house:)) Sorry you crashed for a while but at least you didn’t burn:)) I can only imagine all the wonderful new things you are learning!! I have always wanted a PUK welder!! I’m so jealous!!! It actually all sort of sounds exciting and kinda mystical…you are following your muse!!!

Anne Bellissimo July 25, 2011 at 2:52 pm

I’m sorry for the misspelling. I do know how to spell city.

Anne Bellissimo July 25, 2011 at 2:50 pm

You did fine. From a distance (I am in your old stomping ground, FL)it looks like a natural progression. Thanks for posting and staying in touch with your cyberfriends. You sure have bragging rights about living in the sity of Subdued Excitement. I’d travel there for a workshop just to say I’d been. Anne

Tamara Culp July 25, 2011 at 2:49 pm

You sure have been in my thoughts, wondering how your adventure was proceeding! Take care of yourself. It seems the older we get the more depression comes along with any illness. The good thing is the depression subsides with our recovery to good health. I too experienced a similar PITA calamity this spring that entailed emergency surgery. It left me questioning my artistic abilities and inspiration. I’m now making friends with my studio again and seeing the light. It’s a process and I can’t wait to see how you will apply all this fabulous knowledge to your own creations.

tom arnold July 25, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Congratulations! I’m sure you’ll be fine. It is a good thing to make changes occasionally. It keeps you on your toes. Learning new processes has no negatives. Again congratulations. Have fun. Tom

Carrie July 25, 2011 at 11:02 am

Glad to hear an update Noel! The new skills you are learning are wonderful. Will be interesting to see how that affects your own work later. I hope will get settled in soon and the transition stress will fade. A tip about the shingles: get some Lysine supplement, avoid peanuts and chocolate, go easy on the caffiene. Oh and meditation could do you some good too. Give yourself plenty of support with healthy food and sleep. I am really glad you took this leap. Good things will surely come of it.

Alma July 25, 2011 at 3:21 am

Congratulations on having had the courage to make the move. I live in the Pacific Northwest and it is just gorgeous here–rain and all. I do my best work when the sky is gray, or the fog rolls in.
How wonderful to be working with such a master, and to be learning all about new techniques and equipment. Somewhat daunting, but obviously you are up to it.

Suzanne July 24, 2011 at 11:54 pm

What a great opportunity. Sometimes you have to be brave and just do it, which you have, congratulations. An inspiring tale.

Rita Telaak July 24, 2011 at 11:50 pm

Congrats! What a brave move and so very life changing! Hope you’re back to 100% soon! What a beautiful area to be in!

Lisa Cain July 24, 2011 at 10:57 pm

Wow Noel! I am an admirer of your work and have great respect for such brave life changes. You are grabbing life with both hands. Naturally you risk failure but without risk we never know how far we can reach. Good for you to dare to reach! I hope your brush with ill health is now a distant memory and that all good things come to you.
I will enjoy reading about your continuing journey.
All the best

JoAnne July 24, 2011 at 9:26 pm

I’m in Seattle and often pass thru that area on my way to Canada.
It’s hard to move but you’ll love it and I’m sure you make a lot of new friend!

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