Monthly Archives: October 2007

THE RIGHT EYES WATCHING

There’s a terrific line from an old TV series called ABsolutelyFABulous (affectionately known as “AbFab” ) that I absolutely adore.

It’s not a series normally known for insightful and inspirational words. AbFab is the modern adventures of two hysterically funny, well-to-do, aging-hippy women who are not going gently into middle-age. They’ve managed to remain ignorant, self-absorbed and silly even as the ’70’s and ’80’s have passed them by.

But in this particular episode, the main character Edina scolds her extremely shy and self-conscious daughter Saffron for being so fearful of taking risks. Never mind that in this episode, Edine is wickedly manipulating Saffie into doing something for ulterior motives. The statement is still so powerful, so true, it still makes me gasp.

She tells Saffie, “You have made yourself a prisoner of other people’s eyes.”

OW!!!

Some of us–many of us!–are so worried about what other people will think of us, it paralyzes us.

It keeps us from taking risks, or from trying new things. We shut down and shut ourselves off from new situations, new opportunities, new venues.

We’re so afraid we’ll look ridiculous or stupid, we literally imprison ourselves, as Edwina said.

My second favorite expression is, “You won’t worry so much about what other people think of you, if you knew how little they think about you at all!” As one of my martial arts instructors said recently, “No one’s looking at you messin’ up. They’re too busy freakin’ about how they’re messin’ up!” Which is also probably true.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about other eyes watching us.

The right kind of eyes.

One kind is the eyes of a good teacher.

My climbing inspiration, Lin, an older woman who is remarkably fit and incredibly enthusiastic about climbing, watches us newbies go up a wall. “Beautiful climb!” she calls up from below. “You are amazing!”

You can actually feel your heart glow when she says that.

There are the “right eyes” of the constructively critical teacher. I think my current martial arts instructor falls into that category. You can relax your guard, knowing the faults they point out are nothing they haven’t seen before. Their feedback will set you on a better course.

Another set of “right eyes” are the ones I spoke of yesterday, in THE BUDDY SYSTEM, the eyes that can give you a fresh viewpoint.

The “right eyes” I’m thinking of today are the eyes of people following in your footsteps.

These are the people who desperately want you to be successful–so they can be successful.

Like wanting you to be a successful artist. I know there are people who want me to make it because I feel that way about other artists myself.

Recently, someone commented on how much more I could be doing to get more fit.

At first, I took it as criticism–implying I wasn’t really trying now. I felt indignant–“I’m doing what I can!” “You don’t understand how hard it is right now!” “You don’t know how much everything hurts!! My foot, my other foot, my hamstrings, my sciatica, my neck bumps, my shoulders, my back…shall I go on??”

But then I realized these are often people much younger than I am. They are often people who are incredibly fit themselves.

Now, maybe they want to believe that getting older, and getting injured, couldn’t possibly happen to them.

But I’d like to think they simply might also want to believe that if I can find a way to stay active in spite of my setbacks and injuries, then someday they can persevere, too.

In other words, I can be a good example of hope.

I’m thinking that myself with the older people who join us climbing. There are people in their sixties, seventies, even their eighties, who are still climbing. And not just climbing, but climbing with strength and skill.

They amaze me. They inspire me.

Not just because they lay that myth to rest, that as we age we get weaker and less able, and therefore are helpless. They prove just how able they are every time they get up that really difficult wall that much younger, stronger climbers still struggle with.

It’s also because they show how much we can accomplish if we persevere.

They have aches and pains and injuries and setbacks, too. But they find a way to keep going.

Their lives–and mine–are so much richer for it.

I want to remember those eyes on me, the next time I work out.

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Filed under action steps, art, climbing, life, martial arts, mental attitude

THE BUDDY SYSTEM

Here’s a little trick the next time you find yourself backsliding about any of your “new steps forward.”

Call a friend.

Call someone whose judgment you trust, and ask for help.

I’ve been working on focus. Taking care of myself, not always putting other people first. Preserving my time–studio time, me time, family time. Fun time. (I love fun time!) Not getting pulled off course or away from stuff I need to take care of.

This week I backslid. Big time.

In spite of all my good intentions, I found myself pulled off-course this weekend. I found myself doubly-volunteered, committed to a climbing day out of town, accommodating a last-minute visit from friends, getting a last-minute estimate from a contractor on a frightening foundation issue (aren’t all foundation issues frightening by definition?), determined to go to a memorial service and trying to celebrate my son’s birthday.One commitment overflowed into another another. Times got changed and rearranged, or relayed to me incorrectly. The fragile schedule came tumbling down like a tower of toothpicks. I found myself honoring one commitment after another that didn’t really need me, to the detriment of people who did. I missed out on a day of climbing with friends and my daughter. And by Sunday I was still running behind and dropping balls–with more commitments to go.

Sometimes we just lose track of what the right thing to do is. We get caught up in all the details, the ramifications, the consequences. I even get caught up in the spirit of the moment. I’m one of those people that almost always responds to a good plea for help. “Sure, I can help!” (One of my favorite t-shirts reads, “STOP ME BEFORE I VOLUNTEER AGAIN!!”)

It happens to all of us, especially if we are people who like to be “useful.” (That little phrase about Thomas the Tank Engine, the one where Mr. Conductor always praised him by calling him a “really useful engine”, always got to me.)

That’s when we need another set of eyes to see more clearly.

I called my husband. “Just skip the memorial service,” he advised. “No one will care.” Good advice. Hmmmmm….he’s not exactly a disinterested party, though. He tends to tell me to skip everything.

Who would know the right thing to do?

Finally, I called a friend who always knows the right thing to do. (Or at least she fakes that really, really well.)

When she answered, I said, “I have a moral dilemma I need help with.”

She said, “And you called me??!!

We both laughed. Good! I needed a laugh.

I laid out what was going on. And in five minutes, it was clear where my real priorities lay.

No matter how surly and grumpy my kid is, no matter how much he says he “doesn’t care” what we do for his birthday, he will always remember if we end up doing “not much”.

On the other hand, I am neither expected nor needed at the memorial service. It would be a nice gesture. But my family has to come first.

The fundraisers and volunteer ops? I can’t help it that the same six people always show up–that’s not my problem. I’ve done my bit. I need to find other ways to help the organization that don’t necessarily mean so much time away from home.

My buddy kept me from sinking. My head’s above water again!

Think about your friends, and think about which ones are really good at what kind of decisions.

The next time you find yourself backsliding, give one a buzz.

Oh, and be sure to do that for someone else if they need it, too. It’s always easier to sort through someone else’s stuff, isn’t it?

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THIS IS (sort of) A TEST

My husband is trying out a new kind of blog for him–one for ordinary people like us who aren’t necessarily techno-geek-internet wizards!

If you have a few moments today, would you take a look at his most recent posts and give him feedback? Internet Common Sense: Jon Udell’s advice for everybody

Oh, and please tell him that my title choice–“What Your Mother Never Told You About the Internet”–would make a much cooler blog title!

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CLIMB AWAY!

In wall climbing at the local Y, there’s a little safety ritual piece we recite just before we climb: The Climbing Contract

The climber says to the belayer, “On belay?”

The belayer takes this moment to check the climber’s knots and lashings. She checks her own fittings: Is the rope threaded through gris-gris or the ATC correctly? Is the carbiner attached to the right loops? Is it closed? Am I tied in properly?

If everything is ready, the belayer replies, “Belay is on!”

The climber announces his intentions: “Climbing!”

The belayer answers, “Climb away!” (The proper address is “Climb on!” but we are so enthusiastic, it sometimes gets modified to “climb away!”)

And the ascent begins.

When the climber reaches the top of the wall, we have a little ritual, too. Not as formal, not as much a “set piece”. But the climber announces he’s ready to come down. The belayer tells him to sit back. She takes up the weight, and gets ready to let him down safely again.

Fast or slow, gently or rappelling, however the climber wants to come down.

It occurs to me this morning what a lovely metaphor this is for any venture we take on in life.

To ensure our success, we take the proper steps.

“Belay?” We check our equipment. Have we done our homework? Do we have everything we need to start? Is everything in place and ready to go?

Do we have the support we need? Does “our team” know what we want to do, and are they there for us?

“Belay is on!”

And then we announce our intentions. “Climbing!”

The focus is on the climber.

This is what I want. This is important to me. This is what I want my life to be like. This is what I want to do, this is where I want to go. These are the people I want to share it with.

This is who I want to be.

But it’s those last words that thrill me. When the universe says, “Yes! You can do this! You can be this! You go, grrl!”

Put one foot in front of the other. Take that first step. Feel the fear, but do it anyway.

“Climb away!”

As for the rest of the metaphor–the part when the actual ascent is over–well, that’s lovely, too.

Because coming down is just as fun.

It’s thrilling to fly down, bouncing lightly off the rock face, knowing you will land safely on your own two feet.

Because someone is there, holding the rope, keeping you safe. Keeping you safe so you can fly.

And knowing you can turn around and go right back up again, as many times as you want, because there’s always someone who wants to see you get to the top–now, that’s exciting, too!

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FORGOT

When my daughter was teeny-tiny, she loved to show us all the letters of the alphabet she knew (courtesy of Sesame Street). She was so little, she wasn’t even speaking in complete sentences yet.

One day, my husband pointed to the letter “Q” and she said, “O!” He said, “No, that’s a ‘Q’–see the little tail?”

She slapped her forehead and exclaimed, “Forgot!”

Last evening I came home grumpy and depressed after a less-than-stellar workout in Tae Kwon Do last night. Once again, I’d flooded with the impulse to simply leave. Once again, I was embarrassed I’d even felt like that.

Last night I dreamed was I back in a school room, teaching a class, only to have them mutiny halfway through. The students started yelling at me, “You can’t teach worth beans!!” (Or words to that effect.) Other teachers joined in. It was excruciating. I remember thinking in the dream, “They’re right–who am I to tell them anything?!”

In the wee hours, I woke up in distress over various little matters that seemed urgent at 4 a.m. I actually made a list of them. (And as I look over the list, well, maybe some of them are a little urgent. Like asking that guy who’s going to cut down some of our trees if he’s actually ever done that before.)

At any rate, this morningI was exhausted and crabby and thinking of all the things I’m doing wrong. I thought of all the things I’ve tried to fix all those wrong things. None of them are working.

Where is my magic fix??!!

And suddenly, like little Robin, I wanted to slap my forehead and exclaim, “Forgot!”

There is no magic fix!!

I can remember the day I made a decision to become an artist. I can remember how powerful I felt after that. I can remember the successes I had once I realized I only had to decide to do it.

I forgot the parts that were still hard.

I forgot that there were still setbacks, disappointments, outright failures, even back in my “full steam ahead” days.

That day of declaration wasn’t my magic fix. It was the first decision of many, many smaller decisions. Weekly, daily, sometimes minute-by-minute decisions. The decision to simply refuse to give up, to refuse to give in.

What kept me going was my decision to keep going.

So here I am this morning, remembering that.

There is no magic fix. No treatment, no therapy, no pills. (Well, I am lovin’ ibuprofen lately….) No magic press release, no magic show or exhibition.

Just little steps every day. Cherishing the ones that move me forward. Letting go of the ones that don’t work out.

Practicing my forms. Making my artwork. Working through the physical roadblocks. Writing my way through the mental roadblocks.

There is only the decision that this is important to me: Continuing to study the martial arts. This is what I want to do: Make and sell my art. This is how I want to live my life: Stay active, make art, be with people I love and respect. Breathe. Breathe!!

There are strategies and coping skills that help me persevere–this blog, going to class, taking commissions and making commitments for my artwork. Going to the doctor when the discomfort interferes too much, wearing the damn air cast, taking the occasional aspirin-or-aspirin-substitute. Learning to belay until I can actually climb again. Remembering my horse is still out there somewhere.

But what will ultimately keep me on my path is remembering:

I have to choose this.

I have to choose this, over and over. Every single day. Sometimes many times a day.

The power is in the choosing. And it’s never-ending.

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MIRROR, MIRROR

A few days ago I received a long, tortured e-mail from a dear friend. She is in turmoil–emotionally, spiritually, artistically.

She wrote on and on, detailing all her failings and faults, bemoaning the fact that she was such a terrible friend, a failed professional, a dilettante in her art because she sets it aside the second someone else needs her.

The whole time I was reading this, I alternated between wanting to hug her and wanting to shake her.

Because the whole time I was reading this, I was thinking, “This is ME!!”

I could have written this letter.

This, I realized, is what I sound like to the people who know me and care about me.

This friend is smart, articulate, an excellent writer and a talented artist.

She has helped me with advice and suggestions, recommendations and opportunities, feedback and tough love.

She’s done the best listening to me regarding my art I’ve ever had. Her sense of where I’m floundering is dead-on, though sometimes painful in its honesty and perception.

And she’s apologizing for not “being there for me” as a good friend should?? Ohmigod.

When someone else drops a professional ball, she’s right there trying to pick it up and set it back in place again. There are agencies and causes she feels passionately about, and she’s given them huge amounts of personal time and energy to keep them going.

She does all this, but at the expense of her own art, and her own personal life, and her own professional goals.

Time to shake things up.

“Cut it out!” I told her. “Time to make time for Y*O*U!”

It’s time to read her the riot act. It’s time for her to make hard choices, about the things she has to take care of vs. the things she “should” take care of.

It’s time for her to stop apologizing for how “awful” she is, and celebrate how fabulous she is. And to accept how wonderfully, imperfectly, incredibly human she is.

Just like me. Just like you.

Which really made me laugh, because a mentor/friend had given me exactly the same pep talk (aka kick in the pants) a few months ago…..

Sometimes, the best way to see how you get in your own way, is to watch someone you love and respect do exactly the same thing.

Sometimes, the best way to hear the advice being given to you, is to give it to someone else.

Sometimes, the best way to learn, is to teach. And the best way to teach, is to learn.

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Filed under art, business, change, choices, inspiration, mental attitude

BEAUTIFUL DAY, BEAUTIFUL GIFTS

It’s an achingly beautiful autumn day. The fall colors are at their peak, and the sunshine is brilliant and clean.

Last night was our little community’s world famous Pumpkin Festival. My husband Jon made a delightful little movie about it in 2005 that still captures the essence of this incredible event, which you can view here.

Last night, I volunteered to man an off-site parking lot for the event. I was kinda dreading it–who wants to spend Pumpkin Festival in a parking lot two miles away–but I actually had fun.

As cars pulled in, I guided them into multiple lanes to keep the lines moving, took money (most of which goes back into the fund to put on next year’s festival, and gave them directions on where to park, where to catch the shuttle bus, and (of prime importance)where the PortaPotties were.

Most people arrived excited and happy: “This is our first year at the Pumpkin Festival!”

But sometimes they arrived anxious (“The signs were awful!”) or distraught (“What do you mean the lot is full?!”) or out of sorts (weeping children, scolding parents.) Sometimes even downright grumpy (“$5 to park?! Outrageous! Can’t I park downtown for free?? And I suppose we have to pay for the shuttle bus, too!!”)

I could plainly see my mission here.

I had 20 to 30 seconds to get them to a different place, physically and emotionally.

To the formerly-lost people, I’d reassure them, “Oh, thank you for telling us about the signs–we’ll let them know for next year!” (Though I have no idea who “they” are…) “I’m so glad you made it–you’re going to be okay now.” To the grumpy people, I chirped, “Oh, this is so much more convenient than parking downtown tonight–let us keep your car here while you relax and take the shuttle bus. And not to worry, the bus is free–this is the last fee you’ll pay tonight! Hey, are you kids excited about the Pumpkin Festival or what?!” To crying children, I’d exclaim, “Ohmigosh, what a great costume! You look so beautiful/scary/er, enigmatic!! Are you ready to see all those pumpkins?” They’d smile through their tears and nod.

If the lot was full, we had to send them to the next one. I was amazed how many people took this with such good grace. But the ones who were totally frantic, we’d point to the six cards ahead of them and say, “They’re headed up to the next lot, too–just follow them!” And we’d add, “If you get lost, just come back–we’ll have openings by then. Don’t worry, we’ll get you to the Pumpkin Festival!”

In the greater scheme of things, this is small potatoes. But I also felt like this was their first encounter with our city, and our Pumpkin Festival. It felt good to help them get to a place where they could relax, and enjoy it.

Twenty seconds to turn someone’s heart around….

I thought of all the snarfy columns I’ve written about booth design and salesmanship in the last few months. I want to apologize if it sounded like I was disrespectful.

Because the beautiful thing about all these clueless craftspeople is, THEY WANT TO MAKE COOL STUFF AND SELL IT!

So they start out making odd stuff and displaying it badly, and not doing a very good job of selling it. So what? They’re out there doing it. They’re out there doing the best they can.

As Oprah says, “When we know better, we’ll do better.” And so when they are ready, and open, to doing a better job, they’ll find a huge craft community full of people who will happily help them get better at it. Hopefully, people like me, Bruce Baker and all the folks who helped me get better along the way. (Thank you, Bonnie, Mark, Jeff, Alyssa, Alisha, Terri, Christine, Mary, Mark, and I could go on and on but you get the picture.)

On another note, I was getting ready to post that though my lumps are still problematic, and though I’m almost definitely facing several more consults, tests, and some surgeries, I also seem to be cancer-free.

And coincidentally, this week I saw a friend who in a six week period, found out they had an aggressive form of cancer, underwent an equally aggressive treatment–brutal, in fact–and just received a clean bill of health a few days ago. A miracle, in fact. A gift.

All without a word to anyone.

I have to admit, I was a little embarrassed at my own very public panic in the face of this “muscling through” the fear and anxiety on my friend’s part.

But then I thought–I was brave, too. I handled it differently. But then, he and I are different in how we handle things.

Bottom line–I’m so very, very grateful and relieved he is okay. We are both here, on the other side, he after fighting a huge battle (and winning); me knowing I skipped this particular battle this time.

It is two miracles. Two gifts, in fact.

I discovered this weekend I have received yet another gift. I realize that, after almost a year of doubt and frustration with my martial arts, I really am where I’m supposed to be for the next few years. I’ve truly found my next teacher in the martial arts–one who has the patience, the depth of understanding and the skills I need to get to my next level.

So as we rouse our grumpy family this beautiful morning to go to breakfast and visit a particularly beautiful stretch of road my husband discovered yesterday while hiking up Mt. Monadnock, I think of my blessings.

I realize that every day, every precious morning is a blessing, full of gifts to be given, and gifts to receive.

Even while working as the proverbial parking lot attendant, in 20 seconds I could give the gift of enthusiasm and good cheer.

When you follow your passion in life, there are people along the way who will be there to help and advise you, who will celebrate your successes and who will get you through the hard parts.

Even as I was caught up in my own scary health battles this month, not only did I come out the other side okay, I have been given the gift of a good friend, a brave friend, who’s going to be around for many more years to come.

I know again the gift of, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

It’s not even Christmas yet, and the gifts are just incredible.

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