Monthly Archives: January 2009

YOUR REAL CAREER

This is another party story, like Turning the Tables.

At this same party, there were so many new people I’d never met, unusual in our smallish town. I would ask people, “What do you do?”

It always feels like a hopelessly inadequate question. After all, a person working as a clerk in an office could also be an artist, a singer, a T’ai Chi master. You never know.

It reminds me of a section in Martha Beck’s latest book, The Joy Diet. In the chapter “Play”, she asks you to name your real career.

A real career is not necessarily what you’ve trained for, or what you do to earn a living, or even the job you’re currently in (or not in).

Your real career, as Webster defines it, is “…the course of action a person takes over a lifetime.”

It may not be what you do for money. It may not be anything you’ve ever done. It may not even be what you do in your free time.

It is, she says, “…the course of action your true self would take if you were to live to the limit of your potential.”

This is a harder concept to grasp–what do you dream of doing? What feeds your soul? What are you at heart?

And this could be, she says, a Japanese scholar, a scientist, a mother.

This reminds me of the older definition of amateur: What you pursue for love. Or perhaps what you would pursue, for love.

To cut to the chase, she often asks her clients, “What were you doing the morning of 9/11? And what did you do that evening?” What seemed most important to you then?

When I found out about the two towers, I was working in my studio. And making preparations for my birthday celebration.

My husband and I immediately went for a walk. And talked.

We observed that there was a new dividing line: The people who knew. And the people who didn’t yet know.

I held my family close, and struggled with what to tell my kids.

I went back to my studio to make little horses. I struggled with why I should still do this.

Then I wrote about it.

And then I went out to celebrate my birthday.

I had to write about the event to make sense of it.

I had to ask myself why why making those horses still had meaning for me.

It was because they were, for me, a symbol of everything that’s tender, and good, in the world.

So I know my real career is making sense of the things that happen to us in life. To write about them as I go through them. To mangle my intentions, to struggle with meaning. To find a little way through.

And then to share them, through stories, with other people.

And then make little horses that embody those stories.

Oh, and to always leave room for cake.

I’m curious.

Pretend we’re at a party, and we meet.

What is your job?

And what is your real career?

PS. Art biz tip: This should be someplace in your artist statement, you know….

PPS. For this exercise, if something spared you the sucker-punch-to-the-stomach reaction to 9/11, feel free to choose another life event that left you reeling.

8 Comments

Filed under 9/11, art, artist statement, craft, inspiration, life, telling your story, writing

DO WHAT THE SPIRIT SAY DO

A soul-stretching experience at our local Colonial Theater here in Keene Saturday night. A friend called at the last minute with two extra tickets for the women’s ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock. And our hearts soared to their incredible, passionate music for two glorious hours.

Their albums barely do justice to the energy of their live concerts. So if you ever get a chance to hear them perform–GO!

If you sing, dance, paint, pray, write, and you have not heard them sing Do What the Spirit Say Do, treat yourself–and your spirit–to this song today.

Leave a comment

Filed under art, creativity, inspiration, life

TURNING THE TABLES

You’ve probably realized by now how much I constantly second-guess myself as an artist.

Like countless others, I’ve struggled the last few years in a poor economy, with galleries and artists alike going under like rocks in a lake, trying to imagine a success that’s no longer defined by dollar signs. After all, making lots of money is considered a pretty good definition of success.

It’s hard to keep your good energy going when your work isn’t selling like it used to. It doesn’t matter that NOBODY’S work is selling–it still feels personal.

So what do you do?

Do you get bigger? Or smaller? Keep doing the big, expensive shows, even though they’re no longer a sure thing? Take a break from doing big, expensive shows, because they look like the ONLY thing?

Work your current customer list? Look for entirely new customers? Do you change the work? Or hold fast to it, working even harder to find the right audience?

I’ve looked for answers everywhere, in books, on the internet, seeking wisdom from friends and fellow artists, consultants and columnists.

I’ve tried to keep my spirits up, and my focus sharp. Sometimes with more success, sometimes less.

It’s funny–but what really got me fired up was encouraging someone who’s in the same boat. Actually, someone who wasn’t even in the same room with me.

I was at a party. I was asked what I do. I said I was an artist and writer.

I was asked what kind of writing I did. I said, “I write about why I make art. What inspires me. And I write about how making art has made me a better person. And how the things I’ve learned in life–from trying to be a good parent, trying to be a better martial artist, learning how to ride a horse and climb a wall, and do yoga–have made me a better artist.”

I was actually starting to feel better already.

Well, someone in the group has a daughter who yearns to be an artist, too. But she hates her job, and she can’t figure out how to support herself as an artist.

And the next thing you know, I was on fire with what I call my “Be the artist you were meant to be” speech.

I said, “Tell your daughter not to focus so hard on how to make a lot of money. Focus on doing what she loves. That has to come first.”

She asked about doing little local shows and fairs. I said, “They may or may not work well for her. But she could try them. She’ll learn a LOT about how to display and market her work. And she’ll learn a LOT about how to talk to people about her work.”

She lamented that where her daughter lives is an economically-depressed area (translation: “Nobody buys art”) and not really her customer base. “ALL artists say that,” I countered. “It may be true, but there’s this thing called the internet that can help a lot. She can research galleries in other places, find other shows and marketing opportunities, and even sell online.”

She said her daughter wasn’t good at the marketing/selling thing. I said again,” MOST artists feel this way. But that’s no excuse to sit on the bench and not get out there into the game. She can learn those skills, just like learning to play the piano or parallel-park.”

She brought up other obstacles, and I had an answer for them all. All of them.

Because I’ve heard them all before. Heck, I’ve told them all to myself before.

It boils down to this:

It gets tempting to give up. It’s too easy to say that being “successful” with your art is an all-or-nothing proposition. And then step back and say ‘all’ is too hard.

It doesn’t have to be ‘all’. It doesn’t have to be 100% successful. It doesn’t even have to be someone else’s definition of success. It doesn’t have to always be only about fame or fortune. Plenty of mediocre artists have both, and plenty of talented artists have neither.

It has to be about what is creative and worthwhile inside you. Something that, when it is fully expressed, makes the world a better place.

Maybe the world is more beautiful because of it. Maybe the world is more peaceful because of it. Maybe someone else is happier because of it, or more thoughtful, or more inspired.

And yes, it can also be because you are richer for it, whether in spirit or in your bank account. It’s okay to make money from your art.

Now, maybe I came across as just another artist who hasn’t figured anything out for sure.

But what I suddenly realized was, I had some pretty good advice for her. AND myself.

You HAVE to follow your heart, and believe the money will follow. Because we’re all learning a very hard lesson about where ‘follow the money’ will take you.

Don’t think so much. Just….DO.

Usually we’re very good at giving advice to others that we should be following ourselves. It’s much more fun to GIVE advice than to get it, after all.

But if I’m smart, I intend to be very, very good at following the advice I give to others.

Starting now.

6 Comments

Filed under action steps, art, business, craft, inspiration, life, mental attitude

MINI BEAR COLLAGES–DONE!!

I finished all fifteen mini collages.

I was indeed fifteen minutes late to Jeff’s. In my defense, we’d just had another 6-8″ of snow and the streets were slick! Jeff said he didn’t notice I was late. I love Jeff.

You can see the first set of six bear collages at my Etsy shop.

These are little guys–they fit in the palm of your hand.

I decided to let customers decide if they want one as a pin, with a small hanging cord on the back, or mounted on a very tiny beaver-chewed stick (for additional $$).

I think they came out really great! But then, I’m prejudiced.

It felt wonderful to work on these. I really like working on a tiny scale. And in these little pieces, I made everything except the seed beads. Sometimes I think about making my own seed beads (I already make my own 6o beads, sometimes) but seed beads are tiny–10o to 12o. That means 10 or 12 beads to the inch. Don’t go there, girlfriend.

2 Comments

Filed under art, craft, for sale, new work, polymer clay

TINY ORANGE BUTTONS

After browsing some other artist blogs, I realized I don’t write very much about my own process–what I actually do during the day, and how I make what I make.

So today here’s a little peek at what I’m working on.

I’ve been working on a series of very tiny fabric collages. These are mini versions of my fiber wall hangings, small enough to wear as a pin.

They’re going well. I’m in “the zone” and feeling good about them. I’m using tiny horses, fish, bears, birds and I even have one with a tiny otter.

I was so confident with my progress, I called to schedule a photo shoot with my photographer, Jeff Baird of Brattleboro VT at 9:30 a.m. sharp. (Ha ha. Jeff knows I’ll be 15 minutes late.)

I just realized we’ll be gone this weekend.

If I want to finish 15 mini collages in time to have them photographed this Monday, I have to get them done today.

I’m about 75% finished with four, and 50% finished with eleven. I needed four tiny orange buttons to finish one. I had three. So I stopped to make more.

I just made 180 very tiny orange button beads.

They’re now in the oven baking, and I’m working with the collages that will use aqua, yellow or leaf green buttons for now.

Here’s a picture of one showing the very tiny orange buttons.

How is your day going?

P.S. I just ran out of pale aqua buttons.

P.P.S. Oh for cryin’ out loud–bright olive green.

5 Comments

Filed under art, craft, creativity, polymer clay, to do list

CHAIN OF HOPE

As a small postscript to yesterday’s post SILENT EVIDENCE, let me share another chain story.

Our little family traveled to France soon after 9/11. We’d made the arrangements long before the terrorist attacks, and though it was frightening flying overseas less than two weeks later, I’m glad we went.

It was a difficult trip in many ways. It’s hard to remember now, but it seemed like there was a good chance we could be caught far from home if the United States declared war–and that was daunting. Til I convinced my husband with the argument that we’d all be together, in Paris, with credit cards. Where was the downside in that?

Since we were so close, we visited friends who live in Brussels, Pierre and Benedicte.

Benedicte’s father had been a doctor, and following in his footsteps, she had gone into nursing. Now she worked with a French non-profit that provided medical care to impoverished or war-torn countries. I can’t remember the exact name, but from her description, I believe it may have been this group called La Chaine de l’Espoir.

The reason this stuck in my mind, and what reminded me of it again today is her translation of the group’s name.

Benedicte spoke excellent English, but she groped for the right words. “It is hard, but in English, it is literally ‘chain of hope'”, she explained. “But that word is not good, because in English, ‘chain’ usually means…” and here she gestured, in a way that still moves me to tears, to show her hands bound. “…like ‘handcuffs?'” she suggested.

“Manacles?” I suggested.

“Yes! But this chain is a good word, because…” and here is where I cry, remembering her struggle to get just the right nuance, and again, watching her hands form links, then joining, and rejoining, in the air. “…this is what links us, one by one, to each other, no matter where we are. It is hope, these links.”

That is the chain I want to be a part of.

Does the chain save everyone? No.

Can it be broken? Oh, yes. Easily.

But it is still our best, and most powerful gift we can give to others.

4 Comments

Filed under 9/11, art, creativity, inspiration, life, mental attitude

SILENT EVIDENCE

There’s a great article on the front page of our local newspaper, the Keene Sentinel, written by staff writer Phillip Bantz.

Our big news in New Hampshire (after the devastating ice storm) is the conviction of Michael Addison, a young African American, for killing a white police officer. He is the first person in our state to be given the death penalty in 50 years.

There has been much debate over the morality and efficacy of the death penalty in New Hampshire.

In addition, Addison’s character and motive have been heavily expounded upon the last few months, too. There was evidence he’d bragged about his intentions to “kill a cop” someday. The prosecution resisted any defense of his horrible environment, noting that countless people come from horrible environments, yet they don’t choose to kill. Which is true.

It is not our finest moment, in so many ways.

This article is different. It tells a story about silent evidence.

Here’s a good definition of silent evidence. Usually, silent evidence refers to a happy story of success or survival, that overlooks the stories of those who didn’t succeed or didn’t survive.

This article is about the happier story that could have been….

Eight years ago, someone did imagine a different story for Michael Addison.

Eight years ago, Addison walked into a teen counseling center: Compassionate Connections, in Manchester, NH. Steve Bernstein, a counselor there, saw a troubled youth with a drive to change his life. He saw a young man with hope and optimism.

A young man who was trying to choose differently.

Addison came to the center regularly, of his own free will for well over a year–unusual in and of itself. He became friends with Bernstein. He got his driver’s license. He pursued a GED. He sought counseling. He talked about learning a trade.

He wanted something different. He acted on that. And he showed up, consistently, choosing differently every day, for over a year.

So what happened? How did he end up a handful of years later, murdering a cop in cold blood?

Why did he walk away from everything that was working for him, and choose this?

A few sentences say it all. Bantz writes,

“Addison never left the center. The center left him. After working with Addison for about a year and a half, Bernstein said the grant money that was the lifeblood of his center dried up, and he was forced to close it’s doors.

The next time he saw his friend’s face, it was on the news….”

It’s a weird, inversed modern version of what-could-have-been from Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
\
Maybe it’s facile to say things could have turned out differently.

But…they could have. A little more money, for a little more time, and there may have been a different story. Maybe no story….

There would have been no murder, no police officer shot in the line of duty, no devastated family left behind, no grieving community. No flurry of news stories and headlines and debate about the dark soul of a heartless monster who killed for no reason. No death penalty debate.

Just a non-story, just another electrician in Manchester, plying his trade, maybe supporting his own young family. Maybe giving back to his community, reaching out to help other youths, as others had reached out to help him, once upon a time.

Just another link in a chain of hope, and compassion, and choice. A chain now broken.

As artists, we create such chains, too.

We choose creativity. We choose passion for making beautiful things. We choose to add to the good in the world.

Yet we cannot see how our actions manifest themselves in the world. We cannot see what good they do, or what is left undone. We may never know what comes of our decision. We may never even see success, or affirmation.

It seems like a small thing, sitting here today–I cannot see the chain I create by putting something beautiful out into the world, the chain I create by making something, whether it’s evocative art, or beautiful jewelry, or a story I tell about my process. I cannot see it.

I cannot see what would happen if I stopped, either.

I believe in silent evidence. I choose to believe. That somehow, the world is perhaps, at least, a slightly better place because of what I put out there.

This story today in our local paper, about what could have been different for this killer, affirms that for me. Not confirm. Affirm.

I hope it does that for you, too.

Because something in my heart says it’s so.

We cannot see the chain.

We can only choose to believe it’s there.

13 Comments

Filed under art, choices, craft, creativity, inspiration, life, mentoring, silent evidence

MY COLUMN GOES LIVE!

Today I received my first digital copy of The Crafts Report. And for the first time ever, my column is available on line!

I can’t seem to post a direct link, so double-click on the “contents” tab at the top of the page. I’m the “Craft Matters” column on page, 78, “You Might Be an Artist If…”

I’m feeling…..[in]famous.

P.S. A friend sent me this link to the work of Carl Warner, who took the first “You might be an artist if….” to heart. Warning: It might make you hungry!

8 Comments

Filed under announcement, art, business, craft, creativity, funny, humor, life, writing

10,000 HOURS

Several thoughts reached congruence for me today. The result is a huge kick in the pants.

A few days ago, I listened to a call-in seminar provided by Christine Kane, singer/songwriter/blogger/creativity coach.

She spoke about New Year’s intentions, very different than resolutions. It was really cool. I found where my sticking point was. I’m thinking on how to work on that this year.

But one phrase reached out and really whapped me on the head. (The proverbial dope slap through the telephone, so to speak.)

She said our current culture creates “a conspiracy of distraction.”

I work in a studio connected to our home. It used to be only the doorbell and the phone that broke up my days. (Well, and crying children, too, to be fair.)

Now the disruption is constant. Email. IM. Texting. Facebook. Blogging. My beloved Twitter. I even have two phone lines, one for our house and one for my business and faxes. One phone is hard enough to ignore, but two….

All contribute to a constant stream of of interruptions and distraction throughout my day.

I know the simple answers: “Turn off the phone!” “Take the computer out of your studio!” Just focus on your artwork!” Yeah, that works. Just like, “Don’t eat that box of cookies at 10 p.m.!”

Bad habits are hard to break. I’ve tried to break this one before, and failed.

Fortunately, I am not alone, and good people are at work in the world, writing books and telling me how to deal with this. (Except, of course, the irony of taking time to read yet another book that tells me how to improve myself.) Perhaps this shorter blog article will do the trick.

But it has to happen. Today a dear friend sent me a link to this article by artist Katherine Tyrrell in her blog, Making a Mark.

She talks about how it takes 10,000 hours devoted to something to make it really outstanding.

This make me think about that conspiracy of distraction, and how it sucks our time so completely.

We need that time, so we can put in our 10,000 hours.

This all relates back to a little half sheet of paper that changed my life.

I was struggling through my kickboxing training, about two years in. I felt like I was making no progress. Instead of getting better, I was painfully aware of how bad I really was. My instructor ran back to his office and came back with a half sheet of paper, which he gave to me.

On it were the four stages of learning.

Most people quit at stage two. It’s simply too painful, and they quit dieting, stop their studies, quit making art, stop writing.

Just knowing that….just understanding that it’s going to be hard at this stage…was enough to keep me going.

I’ve written about this before, but I can only find this short version I wrote for Robert Genn’s website awhile back.

The 10,000 hours ties in nicely with the four stages of learning.

The last piece of the puzzle was reading about how it can take eight tries to make a major change in your life. Whether you’re trying to stop smoking, exercise more, jump start your new art career, sell a wall hanging, you will fail, or you will hear “no”, an average of eight times.

Maybe my past efforts to make these crucial changes failed. But I will keep trying.

Because when the universe tells you three times to sit down and do the work, you better listen.

So why did I take the time to write this out, instead of jumping up to sew a fabric piece?

Because writing is one of my creative processes.

Because if I write it down, then I won’t forget it.

And if I publish it, then I can share it with you.

p.s. Just as I finished this, the phone rang.
p.p.s. And the doorbell rang.

9 Comments

Filed under action steps, art, business, choices, creativity, martial arts, mental attitude, time management, writing

YOGA FOR THE REST OF US

If you’re near an issue yesterday’s The New York Times, check out this article, The Enlightened Path, With a Rubber Duck by Abby Ellin, or read it here online.

It’s a great article about how yoga can be part of your real everyday life, which is a good thing.

Yes, that’s me, quoted near the bottom of the first page!

Actually, I’m not sure I’m actually in the print version, but we’re going to go looking for it soon.

I know it’s not really about my art–it’s about how I feel about yoga. Which translate to what I feel about life in general we’re supposed to be–being serious, being focused, being spiritual–are important.

But it’s also “just us” out there, trying to do the best we can. “Serious” for serious’s sake doesn’t really cut it for me anymore. (Did I really say ‘serious for serious’s sake?? OMG!) Let me rephrase: “Serious” doesn’t have to be “somber”.

And it does say “artist” right behind my name.

And maybe someday it will be about my art.

What a great way to start the new year!

Leave a comment

Filed under announcement, marketing, self promotion, yoga