Monthly Archives: December 2008

STORIES

I just read a piece on writer Jodi Picoult in the latest issue of Oprah magazine, words that made me drop it and run out here to my ‘puter to write.

You can read the complete introduction here.

In essence, she says book, a work of fiction, does not stand on its own, nor does it tell one “truth”.

There is the writer telling a story, but there is also a reader connecting to it in their own unique way, bringing their own truth to it–their past, their thoughts, their future.

A good story may not make you change, but it will ask you to consider it….

Change a word here and there, and I realize she could be describing any artist.

“It’s my job as a[n] writer/artist/jewelry designer/singer/dancer/painter to tell you a story that’s going to take you away from whatever you’re doing….and make you ask yourself…..”

What?

In Ms. Picoult’s mind, she wants you to question your assumptions about yourself. “Why are my opinions what they are?“, she asks you to ask yourself. Why do you think what you think?

I realize I, too, want my collectors and followers to ask themselves these questions. In fact, the same questions I ask myself when I’m stuck:

Why do I think I can’t be a bigger person, a happier person, a better person?

Why do think I cannot achieve great things?

Why do I think I cannot be the artist/singer/dancer/writer I was meant to be?

What can I offer the world? How can I be the change I want to see it it?

The things I make are proof I can think big, I can be happy, I can be better. I can achieve great things, and I can be the artist I was meant to be.

These little birds, these bulls and bears, these horses and fish, and bones, shells, stones, are what I have to offer. The stories that come to me when I make them, they are the change I want to be.

I may slip-slide away from time to time, but when I come back to this work, I am back to myself–my best self.

When I make my jewelry with animal artifacts, I like to think that each artifact I make is a little totem, an animal spirit that speaks to someone, a certain someone. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched someone search my offerings in my booth, and suddenly exclaim over one particular piece, one special horse or bird or bear. That one!)

I see each little critter as a spirit guide, leaving my world, going out into that person’s world. Something that inspires them, supports them, celebrates their spirit. Urges them to dream, to leap, to fly.

For some reason, I see the wall hangings as the crowbar Ms. Picoult refers to, “…that slides under your skin and, with luck, cracks your mind wide open.”

Because I’ve seen that in my booth, too. Someone entering, sometimes in awe, sometimes in idle curiosity, browsing, admiring, looking–and suddenly, a certain wall hanging simply grabs them emotionally, spiritually, and takes them away to another place.

My husband pointed this out to me, how one piece will catch someone’s eye, and they stop. They move in a little closer. And then they do a little head tilt, which means, an artist friend once told me, their creative/emotional/spiritual right brain is whirring feverishly trying to process this wonderful new thing.

I love it when that happens.

Awhile back, a beloved customer asked if she could come to my studio for an hour or so, just to hang out. “I won’t be in the way,” she said. “I just need a little ‘mental vacation’, and all I can think about is your lovely studio.”

Of course I said yes, and she came by and browsed and poked around while I worked.

She then shared a wonderful story with me. She’d attended a conference at a local college, attended by people from all over the world, of every color/tribe/culture you can imagine. “As colorful as New Hampshire gets,” she said wryly. “It was amazing, the power and energy in that place.”

One speaker, a woman, gave a moving speech, and afterward, my friend met her briefly just to say thank you.

They ended up talking for a few moments. Then the woman saw my friend’s necklace–a horse necklace I had made. She reached out and touched the pendant gently and said slowly, “This little fellow is wonder-ful!” With the emphasis on “wonder”, my friend said.

“She knew your work was special,” my friend said. “She knew.” My work crossed every line of distance, culture, color and creed, and spoke the same language of a kindred heart.

I love it when that happens, too.

Stories. We all got ‘em. Good ones, too.

Start spreading them out into the world.

Can you tell I’m getting my mojo back?

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Filed under art, creativity, inspiration, jewelry, telling your story

WHAT?? NO SANTA CLAUS??!!

I realize this morning why I’m feeling stuck.

I just found out there is no Santa Claus.

Part of my muddle comes from reading an odd little book called The Awful Truth About Selling Art by Dan Fox.

Mr. Fox shows us one way artists can be successful–I paid $15 for this book, which took me about 20 minutes to read. To be fair, you can probably get it second-hand.

Fox’s book is caustic and cautionary, explaining why most of us will never get into a major art gallery and why most of us will never be a rising art star. (For one thing, I’m now too old to be an emerging artist….) He also explains why we shouldn’t want to get into a major art gallery.

He goes on to tell us how none of the other ways of marketing ourselves and selling our art will work, either. We’re left with perhaps having some modest success as a “local” art-in-the-park level artist, or teaching or suicide. (Just kidding, there are a couple of other choices available.) (Oh, wait, no, there weren’t.)

It’s incredibly discouraging, yet pretty much what I already knew about selling art.

On the other hand, I didn’t become an artist to become rich and famous. (Okay, I was hoping to become a little bit rich, and a little famous….) I do crave some kind of success, even if I’m not sure what that looks like right now–especially in this economy.

So how to have wild, audacious, fabulous dreams and goals for our art, knowing that in reality, most of them will never come true?

How do you avoid letting this become an excuse for not making art? (“I’ll never sell my work anyway, why make it??”)

How do you let go of outcome, and yet still have goals?

How do you figure out what it is you want to achieve, and then accept you might never achieve that?

And then go make art anyway?

It’s sort of like when I first found out there was no Santa Claus. I remember thinking I knew it was too good to be true, but it had been fun to pretend it might be.

Just because there is no Santa Claus, that doesn’t mean we should quit striving for goodwill, peace and love in the world.

If I can figure this out, maybe I’ll have a place to rest my brain while the rest of me makes wall hangings this year.

I have a funny feeling that, if I work on my artist statement, that may give me a clue.

P.S. Actually, I think I just found everything I need in the January 2009 issue of Oprah magazine….

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Filed under art, business, choices, creativity, fear of failing, mental attitude

STARTING OVER AGAIN Part Trois

I’ve been responding to the great comments people left when I blogged about leaving the martial arts.

I kept going back to how much I’ve learned from studying Tae Kwon Do and kickboxing. The martial arts helped me be stronger and healthier. It taught me perseverance and focus, and self-discipline.

I’ve been afraid of how far I will fall without it.

Suddenly, I remembered something a friend told me years ago.

I was at another decision crossroads.

I’d been doing a little show, part of a growing arts tour. I never did very well, but each time I did it, I’d sell enough just work to pay for the next thing I needed to do. (I was pretty small potatoes, so we’re not talking much money at all.) I would make a good connection, or learn something new.

On the other hand, my role in that show shrunk more every year. And it really wasn’t a good fit for my work. It took up a lot of time and energy, too.

Should I do it again?

My friend suggested I list the pros and cons of doing the show. When I pointed to how many “intangibles” I’d gotten from the show, she said, “You’ve learned all you can from this situation. You don’t need to keep repeating it to learn the same thing again and again.”

Oh. Yeah. Got it!

Now I’m wondering if the same thing could apply here, too.

Although there could be so much more to learn from these martial arts–Tae Kwon Do, Thai kickboxing–perhaps I don’t need to continue these particular ones. Or to keep learning the same lessons over and over.

A lot to think about….

I’ll keep you posted.

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Filed under art, choices, life, martial arts, mental attitude, perseverence

THE QUAGMIRE OF CUSTOM ORDERS

I’m struggling to finish my last custom order from my big big retail show in August.

On the surface, it wasn’t a difficult order. The customer, new to my work, fell in love with my aesthetic. She asked me to create a necklace featuring a treasured natural artifact.

We discussed colors, style and price range. I took all her contact info. I promised to have it done within a month, at the most six weeks.

It’s been a heckuva lot longer than that.

I’ve had a difficult fall–a death in the family, new injuries, not a few distractions. Enough to bump things like this custom order a little further down the priority list each week.

Fortunately, I must have sensed the potential for trouble, so I didn’t take my normal deposit for the work. At least I haven’t taken money for work I haven’t done (though I do have her precious artifact in my care.)

And fortunately, I’ve found my creative jones again. I’m slowly envisioning what this piece could look like, and I’m halfway through the design process. I’m hoping that free express shipping, and a healthy discount on the quoted price will help offset the customer’s frustration on my lateness.

But I’m struggling with the why. Why do custom orders so often throw me for a loop? Why do they seem so difficult?

I’ve written about possible pitfalls with custom orders (the Design Diva scenario, for example.)

I know the drill on how to make sure custom orders go smoothly: Decide if you’ll charge for the actual design process. Get as much input from the customer as possible (size, price, color, etc.) Get a deposit upfront (to ensure the customer is committed.) Get them to sign off on the design stages, even sending images, if possible, of the work in progress. And get everything in writing.

And I’ve enjoyed success with most of my custom orders. Customers seem to be thrilled with the finished products, and often come back for more.

But there are still sticking points. Today, in the wee hours of the morning, I woke up with a better understanding of what those are, and why I struggle with them.

When a customer falls in love with a piece I’ve already made–at a show, in my studio, in my new Etsy shop–that emotional connection is palpable. And immediate.

They see it, they react to it, they buy it–and they’re happy. Instantly.

There is that astonished moment of recognition–”This is the one!”–a moment that is the culmination of my creative process. I made something I think is beautiful, and someone else agrees. They trade their hard-earned money for my time, my energy, and my vision. The transaction is complete.

I love that moment.

With a custom order, we both get partway there. But then that final moment is postponed. It becomes nebulous.

I go back to my studio after the show. There’s usually a significant amount of downtime. I have to recuperate, physically and emotionally, from the stress of doing the show. There is inventory to be put away, booth paraphernalia to be stowed, paperwork to be completed, sales to be recorded and deposited.

The excitement of the show dissipates. The memory of the actual encounter fades. (I’m getting older, after all!)

I can’t read my own notes on the transaction, or I don’t understand what my sales assistant meant by her notes.

The desire to make that customer happy is still overwhelming. But
the energy has faded, the details have become hazy.

Doubt and second-guessing sets in.

She said blue. But which blue? Sky? Turquoise? Baby? Cobalt? Copen? Capri? (Yes, I have all of these blues in my stash.)

She said handmade ivory beads, but not too big. What does that mean??

She said she didn’t care, she trusted my judgment. But the seeds of self-doubt have been sown. I don’t trust my judgment anymore.

I’ve become paralyzed trying to anticipate the desires of a customer who’s no longer in front of me, and whose heart is not known to me. (Geez, I struggle making things for people I’ve known intimately for years….)

I’ve moved the center of my creative energy from pleasing myself, to pleasing someone else.

I care deeply about being successful, yet I begin to question every design decision.

It’s not the customer’s fault. It’s just the nature of the process, for me. I struggle with this particular dynamic.

I don’t mean to sound presumptuous, but I sometimes wonder if God felt this way when he created Eve. “Hmmmm, yes, I’ll make him a companion, sort of like what I did with him but a little different. Dum de dum de dum de dum da….. Wow, that’s pretty good! Very nice. VERY nice. Wait….what if he doesn’t like brunettes????”

One thing I know for sure: I have to figure this out.

If I move into making bigger fiber wall hangings, if I hope to work with interior decorators or do commissions for public works, I’m going to have to get over this hurdle. Because these will all be “custom orders” in a sense–site-specific, made-to-order, the whole shebang. And the bigger the work, the more money involved. And, I assume, the bigger the risk of not pleasing the customer.

I realize it is this fear, this huge issue of self-doubt, that is holding me back from that next big step in my professional art career.

So how do I get past this?

It may simply be a process of learning to trust myself, completely, with full heart and steady resolve.

After, my customers did.

And maybe once again, my life situation and my art are closely intertwined. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, just as I’m realizing my next step in my martial arts practice, a log jam in my creative process is slowing breaking up.

All I ask is, I wish it would hurry up.

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Filed under art, business, choices, creativity, mental attitude, public art proposal, risks

MY FAVORITE THINGS

I’m not very literate when it comes to social media and netiquette. I usually mess up email chain letters, and I have a habit of checking out email rumors and urban hoaxes. I don’t have a blog roll, and though I have bajillions of bookmarks for favorite sites, truth is, I don’t actually use them that much.

That said, I do have places on the Internet I enjoy. So here is a cyber-Christmas present for you today–just a list of some places I think are cool, or sweet, or interesting, or just plain fun, in no particular order. (I tried not to duplicate my I’ve Been Tagged! post from a few weeks ago….)

If you like old beads, you will love The Bead Collector Network, especially their BCN online forum. It focuses on ancient beads and trade beads, but segues into other beads from time to time. Check out the brand new gallery section, featuring over 16,000 images of beads recently compiled by forum hosts Joyce And David Holloway. You can get lost for days viewing great images of unusual, collectible beads.

If you need a giggle, check out I Can Haz Cheezburger?, a site filled with pics of cats doing silly things, with equally silly captions. Hint: The captions are written in ‘text message’ style, hence the odd abbreviations and misspellings. Plus, if cats could text, it would look like this because paws aren’t as dexterous as thumbs when it comes to punching those tiny keys…. My all-time personal favorite is this one, because it brings back memories of me & my sibs searching the couch for $$ after my dad took a nap.

Supposedly there’s a similar site for dogs, but my heart couldn’t take it.

If you have a friend…you know the kind of friend I mean…who reads all those email hoaxes and feels it is their mission in life to alert everyone they know to the imminent dangers of say, canola oil or if you are one of those people, then this hoax-busting site is for you. There are others, but Snopes is pretty good, and I’ve grown to rely on it when someone sends me an email telling me about Bill Gates’s latest give-away.

Of course, some of these stories are true. Which makes it all more fun.

Have I shared the website of zefrank before?

If you haven’t tried Twitter, be careful–it’s as addictive as Facebook. But a little less cluttered. Here’s me on Twitter, and don’t say I didn’t warn you. I would share my Facebook link, but I can’t handle any more pokes, ornaments or the myriad other requests I’ve received that simply baffle me.)

Okay, I’m only saying this for those people who, like me, really like knowing how a movie or book ends before we read it. (I will not respond to your snide comments from those of you who don’t. I’ve heard them all before, believe me.) But if you share this secret sin, then The Movie Spoiler is the site for you.

I’ve taken up knitting again, but not too many knitting blogs. Mostly because the people that write them actually finish projects, which makes me feel bad about myself since I have been reduced to simple hats and scarves due to lack of concentration and an overabundance of guilt about not doing other things. But I do like Yarn Ball Boogie, despite the fact that he not only finishes projects, he finishes difficult projects, but he’s snide and funny and outrageous, too. So that makes it okay.

My two favorite yarn websites are Webs whose warehouse of sale yarns is dangerously close to Keene, NH, and KnitPicks, with really good sales and hugely affordable wool/llama yarns from Peru.

I thought this virtual makeover was fun enough to bookmark, though all my makeovers come out very similar. Hmmmmmm…..

I don’t know why, but I like this fun little site about things you can make with stuff from the dollar store.

I adore Christine Kane’s blog, but some of her articles really resonate. Especially this one on business advice for sensitive artist types.

If you like little peeks into other people’s lives (mostly funny, sometimes poignant) and you haven’t discovered Found Magazine’s website yet, then you are in for a treat. It’s made me more careful about what I put in writing.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit how quickly I can become intrigued with wholesale lots of memo pads and Powerpuff Girl 3-D stickers, but I’m guessing it’s my brain’s version of junk food. Still, some people find great ideas for free-gift-with-every-order-over-$50–those who plan ahead enough to check this surplus site ahead of time, or who have enough storage space for freight pallets of Christmas wrapping paper…. (Now you know where the stuff in dollar stores and on Ebay wholesale lots comes from.)

The first time I made my own portrait avatar, I used this fun little website to do it. I’m much cuter in person. (cough, cough.)

The Strongbad cartoon site was the very first site my daughter shared with me, when she was in middle school, and I’ve kept it bookmarked for sentimental purposes. Plus, I can’t get the memorable phrase “My blood hurts” (from one of the stories) out of my head.

Whenever anyone asks me a question about polymer clay, I refer them to the Glass Attic website. And a good place to see what people around the world are making with polymer clay, I check in with Cynthia Tinapple’s Polymer Clay Daily. Sometimes it’s lovely, sometimes it’s silly, sometimes it’s astonishing, but it’s all polymer clay.

Okay, should be able to get into some kind of trouble with all this. Be sure to send me some of your favorites. Because it’s Christmas, after all, and we have to do something after drinking all that rum-spiked eggnog tomorrow.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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Filed under art, Blogroll, funny, inspiration, knitting, life, life with teenagers

STARTING OVER AGAIN Part Deux

One door closes, another opens.

I made my decision, and I will leave my Tae Kwon Do practice.

Ironically, I had just submitted a testimonial to the school a few short months ago.

I had an excellent talk with my head instructor. I’ve grown to greatly trust and respect him. He’s seen this coming, though he’d hoped I would find a window of opportunity, a chance to “get ahead of my body” before another injury could set me back.

He said some things about my spirit that made me cry (in a good way.) He urged me to stay until I had my “next step” in place. He reminded me that we all eventually reach this place in our practice, including him, and he will help me figure this next step out.

Less than 24 hours later, I may have found that next step.

It was practically under my nose.

A few months ago, a friend mentioned her brother-in-law is a “world class Tai Chi guy.” I found the contact information she gave me. I took a deep breath and emailed him.

He wrote back a few days later, and agreed to meet with me.

Turns out he “gets” the martial arts aspect of Tai Chi (something that is important to me right now.)

It turns out he is an accomplished martial artist in several disciplines, who did indeed “compete” at an international level for several years.

It turns out he thinks Tai Chi could be a perfect “next step” for me, incorporating strength, balance, focus and safe practice.

It turns out he knows–and respects–my instructor.

And it turns out he lives around the corner from me.

I took a deep breath, screwed up my courage, and asked what was in my heart:

Did he have any interest in teaching?

It turns out he’s been thinking that teaching would be a way to return to a daily practice, something that’s been hard to fit into his schedule the last few years, as he travels extensively back and forth between two cities.

Just thinking about this, and now writing about it, sends shivers down my spine. (In a good way!)

As we dig our way out of our third snow storm here in New Hampshire, I send these good wishes your way:

May your home be warm and may your power stay on.

May you have food on your table and may you have family and good friends to share it with.

May you find you own tiny miracles to astonish you, as often as you need them.

And if you need one today, take a look at this wonderful little movie, Where the hell is Matt?

I can’t watch it without tearing up. It delights me to my very core to see people of all ages, shapes, sizes, colors and beliefs, join this guy in his silly dance.

And it astonishes me that it came of a “silly whim” of his to quit his job, drop everything, and simply go see what was out in the world.

Thank you, everyone, who wrote to encourage me during this very difficult time. My goal is to catch up on my comments section in the next few days.

And Merry Christmas to all, wherever and however you dance!

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Filed under art, change, choices, health, life, martial arts, mental attitude

STARTING OVER AGAIN

I’ve been slip-sliding away the last few weeks. Low on energy, low on creativity, low, low, low in mood. Didn’t feel like I had much to say so I didn’t say anything.

I thought I could handle the one-day-at-a-time thing, which then segued into can-I-make-it-through-the-next-15 minutes?? thing, and hit bottom with the stay-in-the-moment thing.

Then I twisted my knee again in tae kwon do class Monday night. I fled the class, limped home, and spent the next two days with my knee iced and elevated.

Dang! And I was just getting the hang of dealing with life in 60-second packages!

It’s mostly my fault. I was cajoled to “work a little harder”, and I should have said no. That’s my responsibility.

But practicing tae kwon do has become more and more about saying no, with less and less to say “yes” to.

I’ve tried to go back to the martial arts half a dozen times now. I just can’t figure out how to practice safely. Looks like I need to explore that tai chi thing again.

I’m feeling overwhelmed with sadness about leaving, but also relieved. I’m beginning to realize how much I’m dreading another major injury.

Most people don’t see what the big deal is. They have no idea how much I’ve enjoyed my practice, nor what I’ve gotten from it.

I’ve learned the very definition of “perseverance” from my studies. Leaving feels like giving up on a very profound level.

It’s taught me so much about life, and about myself. That will be difficult to walk away from.

But if I don’t, I’m afraid I’ll be walking “funny” the rest of my life.

I’ll share my thoughts as I work through this, and I’ll know more after I see my doc after Christmas.

If anyone would like to pass on words of wisdom, I could use them now! I know I have much to be grateful for, but it’s still hard.

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Filed under choices, health, martial arts