I got my very own tool box about nine years ago - right around the same time I Googled the words "why am I fat and happy?" and when I made my family embark on that wild New Year's Resolution to not buy anything new for an entire year called The Compact. It was also around the time that I got laid off from my career as a museum curator and pulled my babies out of preschool and daycare as a result because it was also the recession. To say it was a time of significant change and forging of new paths for me would be an understatement. It was also the same time I started this blog.
I've written about some of this in the past, and talked about it a bit in my TEDx talk, too. It was liberating and terrifying and brutal and brilliant and simultaneously one of the worst and best things to ever happen to me. Immediately upon my layoff I was hired on contract as a curator for the City of Boise Arts & History Department to help them install and care for their public art collection and roving exhibitions all around town, hanging art in places like the airport, City Hall and the convention center. I worked with signmakers to design and install large signs on public art pieces in city parks and museums and educational centers. I'm trained in doing this sort of work, and it's always been really hands-on, wearing jeans and sneakers and crawling on my hands and knees digging and carrying and lifting heavy and dirty things sometimes. And other times wearing white gloves for precious and expensive artworks and fancy clothes for galas and exhibition openings. At the museum I had a crew of people with tools who provided them to me, but out on my own I finally had the need for my very own toolbox.
We had an unused one at home that was plastic and yellow and I filled it with all the necessary things I'd need to install art: hammer, nails, level, white gloves, museum putty, Velcro for signage, pencils, measuring tape, screwdriver, scissors. I taped a business card on the inside for identification if I ever misplaced it, kind of like I do with my luggage when I'm traveling. I soon found that this toolbox morphed into a holding place for so many things - my keys, cell phone, a granola bar for lunch. And I started to decorate it with stickers that were given to me on the job.
Shortly after that stint with the City I started Wintry Market, a handmade for the holidays indie art & craft bazaar every November. We just celebrated our seventh successful year, where we were named best holiday market in the state of Idaho by Food & Wine magazine!, and are launching our first Summery Market, a handmade for the sunny days sister event this June. Turning quirky locations like gymnasiums, dance studios, historic warehouses and old Shrine Halls into a creative art show for 60 artists required a similar use of my toolbox. So I took things out - no more need for the white gloves, for example, or the museum putty - and put new things in - like painters tape, Christmas tree ornament hooks, and mylar for marking off booth spaces.
Six years ago I got a big idea to start a little veggie garden at my neighborhood elementary school and the principal said a hearty HECK YES. I became the School Garden Coordinator, a volunteer position I take very seriously, and one that has me shoveling, building, planting and constructing in more ways than I ever thought possible, as we've expanded our eight raised veggie garden beds to include a half-acre Idaho Native Plants Learning Landscape & Teaching Garden. I was not only the chief designer and grant writer for the project, but the forewoman as well. My toolbox has become my trusted confidant and is now covered in mud more than ever before, and filled with things like zip ties, construction gloves, safety goggles, seeds, a weeding tool, shop keys, receipts from nurseries and equipment rental, tiny dino toys of Arlo's, pinecones and pieces of owl pellets.
It was also nine years ago that I began building my body positive toolbox, that led me to a life of activism through art, writing, teaching and leadership. It doesn't live in a physical plastic space, though, but in the depths of my heart and mind and in loads of files both on my computer and in the "FILES" section of my beloved Facebook community, the Boise Rad Fat Collective. As a lifelong learner, there's a bibliography a mile long and, admittedly, many of those books do live on my bookshelves at home, which actually IS a toolbox, if I think about it. I've got lists of websites and Powerpoints I've created on my laptop and so much information floating around in my brain that I could write a book on it. (OH WAIT, I DID.)
I also carried around a diaper bag (aka the new parenting toolbox) for the better part of the last decade but have recently abandoned it for the parenting toolbox that lives in my big ol' brain along with the one for architectural history and one for the American way of death and so many other things I'm obsessed with becoming an expert on.
I love my toolboxes, both my physical one and the ones living in my brain. I love feeling them in my hands and my heart and filling them with things that are necessary and important and help me to do the things I need to do. I love cleaning them out and making way for new stuff. Knowledge is power and having these tools at the ready are a necessity for me and carrying them around makes me feel more full and happy than any briefcase full of files from a desk job ever did.