Monthly Archives: February 2009

SELFISH BITCH

Why being selfish can not only good for YOU, but ultimately good for EVERYBODY.

I was nursing my first cup of coffee and poking around my blog stats this morning. (I know we’re not supposed to care, but come on–we all do it!) I found a link to a blog by Twisted Thicket, a gourd and rock artist.

I saw the title of the artist’s current post, “Being Selfish”; it stopped me dead in my tracks.

The artist wrote, “Do you ever feel the need to just pick up your paints and brushes and paint something, anything, just for you? I do. I need to let myself go and paint without boundaries and time constraints. It may seem selfish….”

It hit me hard because it cut so deep.

That word.

Selfish.

Twisted Thicket went on to talk about her latest work (yay!), but the train of thought she started carried me here.

‘Selfish’ is probably the worst thing you can call a woman. Especially a mother. Well….that, and the other word I used in the title.

Aren’t we supposed to be compassionate? Aren’t we supposed to be supportive? And giving? Giving, to the point of self-sacrifice? Don’t mother animals actually pull fur and feathers from their breast to make their nests for their young? Aren’t we supposed to be….

Nice?

I have no idea when or where, in what context or how often that word ‘selfish’ was applied to me as a young person. My parents are pretty nice people. As I go now through the difficult stage of parenting teens, I’m guessing I heard it most often when I was a teen.

Because that’s what teens are. That’s where their brains are at, developmentally. They are ‘selfish’, ‘self-centered’ and ‘self-absorbed’ at that age. I’m sure I heard those words pretty regularly during my young adulthood. I know I have to bite my tongue now to keep them from popping out when I’m dealing with my son.

I bite my tongue because I know those words have staying power. How do I know?

Because at some point in my teens (and I’m sure I deserved it) my mother, berating me for some stupid, selfish thing I said or did, said I had “a vile personality”.

And in my deepest, darkest moments of depression, I can still hear her saying that.

This is not to blame my mom, who is kind and generous person. I know she loves me and wants only good things for me. I’m sure I stretched her patience to the breaking point that day.

It’s about the fact that sometimes, the words we hear go far beyond that moment, and burn themselves into our hearts.

And never go away.

When I talk to other creative people–singers, writers, painters, designers, musicians–when I ask if they’ve set aside a separate space for their craft, or a time to practice it, I’m dismayed by how many do not.

They carefully explain how they can’t do that, because that would be selfish.

Whether they are just starting out or beginning to hit their stride as artists, I’m amazed how many have to carve tiny bits of time around their kids’ naps. Or work on a kitchen table, setting up and clearing away their projects every single day.

I remember a woman whose husband had an entire room for his cigar collection, but she painted on an easel in their bedroom.

I myself often chose the role of ‘rescuer’ to such women. I would give hours, entire days, to help someone deal with their latest crisis. And when I wasn’t needed any longer, I drifted on to some other drama I could play a part in, some other person who “needed” me.

It feels good to be needed, doesn’t it?

We give up our time, our space, our attention–willingly, unasked–because we think others deserve it, and we do not.

Here I am, after ten years of making good work, enjoying some success with my art, making good money (or was), finding it difficult to figure out what I want from all this.

Or rather, not what want–but what I want.

Because making time for ourselves, making space for ourselves, making art that pleases ourselves, seems….selfish.

What I’ve learned is, you can’t take care of others until you take care of yourself first.

That old flight attendant metaphor of putting your own oxygen mask on before you help kids on with theirs is a good one. Because it’s true.

The best way I can help my kids in their young adult years is to model the kind of person I hope they’ll be. Self-reliant. Confident. Open to change. Focused on what matters to them. Er…me. Creating good energy in the world by being….

Myself.

Caring for others, yes, but not at our own expense. Being there for our friends, but not losing ourselves in their issues. Encouraging our spouse, but not sitting in the back seat because we’re too afraid to drive the car ourselves.

Self-sacrifice should only involve a life-or-death situation–not your daily practice. (You have to ask, who would even want, or expect that from you on a daily basis??)

I’m told there comes a time where we will not care (so much?) what other people think of us.

I’m told that when a woman reaches menopause, her priorities shift. The years spent nurturing and supporting others ease off.

This will be the time when we step forward to claim what we want. A time to speak up with our voice.

We will not be judged any longer. We will only….be.

We will be the artist, the writer, the activist, the community organizer person, whatever we dream we were meant to be.

It can’t come soon enough.

I can’t wait to be a selfish bitch.

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Filed under art, courage, life, life with teenagers, selfishness

25 RANDOM THINGS ABOUT YOU: How to Write a Better Artist Statement

Use a silly little Facebook game to put more passion in your artist statement.

An article in our local newspaper discussed the current Facebook phenomenon, “25 Random Things About Me”. Apparently, it’s the most popular Facebook “Notes” feature of all time.

Why??

The article suggests it proves that we all love to talk about ourselves, especially the younger generation usually found on Facebook. (Although it turns out every age group on Facebook, including mine, is hopping on the “25 Random Things” list. I’m always amused at how we talk about other generations’ differences as if they were a different species…)

Emily Nussbaum, editor-at-large for New York magazine, says the most decisive difference is that the Facebook generation “assumes they have an audience”: They have a mental image of a large group of people interested in postings such as “25 Random Things.” Part of their identity rests on an invisible entourage that accompanies them everywhere.

It’s also an exercise to creatively select “facts” about ourselves that puts us in the best possible light. A little humor, and voila! A captivating mini-bio that reveals us as a delightful individual.

Is that so awful?

“Random Things” lister (Joe) Diorio has his own theory about why the lists and commentaries have become so popular. It has a piquant irony: “We spend so much of our lives online with Facebook, LinkedIn, and we spend so much time connected that we feel disconnected. So we tell people these little things, to feel more connected. We put a piece of ourselves out there, to give it a try.”

Isn’t this what art is all about? To connect what is in our heart to a larger audience?

Look, it IS hard to “stand out” in a world of a bajillion people. I’m a fairly outgoing person with a variety of ways to connect to my environment–parent, artist, assorted pastimes, social networks. In my own smallish town of Keene, NH, there are 25,000 people. What percentage of those people actually know who I am? Or care?

And yet to effectively market my art, to create an audience for the work I feel compelled to make, I may need to forge connections across a whole region, a country, perhaps over several continents.

So how do I make my work, and myself, stand out? How do I connect meaningfully with a larger audience?

We always assume it’s only about the quality of the work. Is it?

Good work helps. Great photography (so people can see our good work) helps. Publicity, self-promotion, advertising, exposure/exhibiting all help.

But what always grabs me is a good artist statement–an exquisite example of creative non-fiction. The ultimate “25 Random Things” list.

It should be true. But specific enough tell us something. “I just love color” or “I just love music” doesn’t tell me a single damn thing about your work.

It can be about your education or training. But that can’t be the whole thing. Typical artist statements often list the other, more famous artists someone studied under. To me that reads as, “I’m ALMOST as good as they are, but my work is a lot cheaper!”

It should be so well written as to be elegant. More often, it’s full of jargon and buzzwords (aka “artspeak”) that simply hides who you really are and what you’re really doing.

Here’s what I think it should be:

It should be aspects of the world at large that you experience through the lens of your unique perspective, your individual experience–in a way that explores, reveals and creates wonder in your audience.

It’s your honest, thoughtful explanation of why you create the work you do.

And why we should care.

Because that’s part of our human nature–to be interesting to other people. And to be interested in other people. We are social animals, after all, from the exuberant “look at me!” to the thoughtful “I never thought of it that way before….”

But if really connect with an audience, you have to dig a little deeper. Reveal a little more. Be a little more honest. Be more real.

Show us something human.

To quote the article again:

That communal aspect is what so much commentary misses about “25 Random Things.” It’s not just a list; it’s a communal exercise. Posters post, and friends comment.

What’s that commentary like? An unscientific survey of more than 30 such lists has yet to uncover anything vicious or unkind. Mostly, the virtual community is, in Nussbaum’s words, “surprisingly supportive, sweet, even encouraging.” It is nurturing, a thing friends do.

And that’s what I love about the 25 Things.

Every time someone I “know” writes one, I’m amazed at what I read. New facets of their personality, their history, their hopes, fears and dreams are revealed. They seem deeper and richer to me. I’m in awe of what has been shared.

I feel more connected.

I care.

Don’t be afraid to do this with your audience, your customers. Give them something real about you to connect with.

Your homework for today, should you choose to accept it, is to compile your own 25 Random Things list about you as an artist. I compiled such a list for my biz awhile back. In it are some of the stories that compel me to make my art.

I think I’ll be revisiting this list from time to time. I think it will continue to change as I get closer to discovering what makes me tick. As I get more clear about what it is I want to say. As I get closer to figuring out what it is I want to contribute to the world.

As I begin to understand how truly and completely fallible, lovable, annoying, loving, inspirational, wicked, kind, forgiving….how human…I really am.

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Filed under 25 Random Things, art, artist statement, business, inspiration, life, marketing, networking, press release, self promotion, social networking, telling your story, writing

SAYING THANK YOU

Saying “thank you” not only makes others feel good, it can make YOU feel GREAT.

Saying thank you is a common theme in my blog. I’ve shouted out my share of of thanks to the many, many people who have supported and advised me on my artistic journey.

Lately I’ve been doing something a little different.

I have a line of simple jewelry–earrings, necklaces–made with semi-precious stones, vintage glass beads, odds and ends I have lying around the studio. Sometimes I use wire-wrapping techniques a la Deryn Mentock’s work. Sometimes I use salvaged chain in antiqued brass and oxidized silver. Sometimes I combine old buttons and antique beads or even vintage radio resistors.

I can’t sell them at the handmade craft shows I do, because I’m using “purchased components” rather than making my own beads and buttons. I sell them on Etsy, out of my studio, and at some of the smaller shows I do. They’re usually inexpensive–under $25–, they’re fun to make, and they’re always different.

After my holiday shows, I had a lot left over. So I started giving them out as thank you gifts.

If a sales clerk went out of her way to smooth over a sticky transaction, I’d leave a pair of earrings for her. If my photographer squeezed me into his schedule when I had an urgent deadline, he got a few pairs for his wife. When I got my first flat tire last week, and the tire dealer fixed it and remounted it at no charge, I left a few pairs for his wife.

Here’s my point: It’s one thing to say “thank you” to all those who go out of their way to make my life easier.

It was another thing entirely to actually reward it.

I never kept track of how many times I actually say thank you. When I hand out earrings, I notice.

It’s an odd experiment, I know. But if you are feeling like life just sucks right now, try it. Make up something that’s simple and inexpensive. Keep a few tucked in your pocket or bag.

The next time someone does something nice for you, surprise them with your little thank you trinket.

Just see how many more you’re gonna be making each week.

And marvel at the amount of kindness in the universe.

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Filed under art, craft, gratitude, life, mindfulness

FAKING IT

CHANGE is not just for “other people”–you can do it, too.

There was an incredible program on BBC years ago called “Faking It’. Actually, it looks like it’s still around.

A person from one walk of life would be dropped into another, for a month. A male ballet dancer trained to be a professional wrestler. An upper class class college student became a bouncer at a bar in a rough section of London. An exotic dancer learned how to ride horses hunt class. A shy Indian woman became a newscaster.

For four weeks, they were immersed in a new culture, with new expectations, often the antithesis of what they knew. The student, who was gay, found himself training with coaches who hated homosexuals. I still remember the scene where one trainer’s girlfriend boxed with him–and beat the pants off him. The dancer, terrified of injuries that could derail his career, was tossed and pitched across the ring in complicated take-downs.

The show was intensely watchable. You felt for the newest candidate, totally submersed in a new culture, terrified and overwhelmed. Tempers flew as coaches demanded top performances, and many tears were shed.

But amid the tears and frustration and fear, something marvelous happened.

They all transformed themselves. Each and every one.

And came out better for it.

The shy woman, who’d never even raised her hand in school, learned how to face a camera and report the news with confidence. The gay student not only found new courage, he also transformed the people around him. They marveled at his hard work and endearing personality, became his supporters, and learned to accept his homosexuality. The exotic dancer found her athleticism and excellent balance served her well as a rider. The classical ballet dancer learned inner strength he never knew he had. .

They all learned what they were really capable of. They all developed a healthy sense of self-confidence.

The final test at the end of each show was, could they “pass” as their new personae in front of three judges. And they all won, or nearly so.

Later, the crew revisited these “students of life”, to see how permanent the experience had been.

All had changed their lives.

The dancer performed his ballet with new spirit and enthusiasm. The exotic dancer returned to her world, but with new goals. Now her money was going to put her through college, and she made time to ride regularly. She dreams of owning her own horse some day.

They were either better at what they did, or they were doing something else, something they’d never dreamed of if they hadn’t learned to believe in themselves.

I constantly hear from people asking for advice or insight about their own art careers. At some point, the person always says, “I just can’t…..(fill in the blank)”

“I just can’t sell my own work. I’m no good at it.”

“I just can’t write my own artist statement. Do you have a template I could use?”

“I just can’t do shows/make cold calls to stores/figure out what my market is….”

Yes, you can.

When someone says, “I don’t know how to do that!” or “I’m no good at that!”, I always say, “Well, we’re not born knowing how to play the piano.”

It takes practice.

It takes perseverance.

It takes courage.

And sometimes, we have to fake it til we make it.

If a young gay man can learn to walk through a homophobic culture with pride and real peace in his heart, if a young stripper can find a way to keep horses in her life forever while she earns money to go to college (the first to do so in her family), if a shy woman can learn to stand up and speak with the power of her true self, if a chubby woman whose only “sport” is walking can learn to climb a rock wall and practice Tae Kwon Do, and take up her art at age 40 with two young children…

Then you can learn how to sell your work. You can learn how to market it. You can learn how to write about it. You can learn how to find the watch spring in your soul that makes you tick, that makes you create the wonderful work you make, that makes you sing the way you do, that makes you, well…you.

Yes, you can.

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Filed under art, business, courage, inspiration, life, mental attitude, selling

NEW JOURNEY: The Fourth Step

When that “jack-of-all-trades, master at none” becomes all too true, maybe it’s time to give “master of ONE” a try.

When I left Tae Kwon Do a few months ago, after yet another injury, the head instructor asked if I were leaving because my green belt test was coming up. Was I a person who quit when I was challenged too hard?

I was hugely indignant, but I admitted the thought had occurred to me.

Was I a quitter?

I’ve done a lot of thinking about what he said, coupled with reading an interesting article, “Mastery Plan” by Kelly Corrigan in the January 2009 issue of Oprah Magazine.

Corrigan reinvented herself in several disciplines–photography, journalist, author, playwright. She was the ultimate student, reveling in steep learning curves that produced spectacular results. Where learning a new discipline causes most students drop out at level one or two, she made it easily to level six or seven.

But never to levels eight, nine or ten.

She wonders if all the excitement of the reinventions, the ‘look at me, I’m good at this!’ moments, learning in leaps and bounds, avoiding the point where learning comes in tiny increments “… just might be a distraction from (her) greatest fear…”

Fear of failure.

She talks about the people who work more slowly, but create something of that lasts, something with true elegance, something of value. She wants that, too. But she’s not sure she can.

Sound familiar?

I wonder if part of my conflict with my art is fear, too–the fear I’ve already done my best work?

It feels too hard…

…Maybe it’s supposed to?

Thinking it might be time to move on to something else…

…So I can avoid the hard work that’s called for now?

It reminds me of being a parent. How hard it is, but exhilarating, especially when your kids are young. You’re exhausted, but you’re also rewarded every day with some new discovery, some new milestone they achieve.

Til they hit the teen years, and everything slows down. And gets really, really hard.

You learn to let go of expectations, and big successes. Your rewards are tinier–”She said thank you!” “He did the dishes the first time I asked!

But you also dig in–because as hard as it is to parent teens, as thankless as the job is, they actually need you more than ever.

You can’t stop being a parent just because it gets really, really hard. We may never know if we were a ‘great’ parent–but our best efforts will be ‘good enough’”. And it’s certainly worth our while to do our best.

Corrigan ends the decision to write a second book, determined to keep working at it til it truly reflects an indomitable spirit.

Which is, oddly, an attribute of black belt. Indomitable spirit.

Last night I talked with my Tae Kwon Do teachers about returning to practice.

It means much more work on my part. My teacher says he believes I’m capable of so much more than I believe I am. He says attitude is everything. I’m doubting myself, and the only person who can turn that around is….me.

Maybe he’s right.

I’m going to find out if I can turn this around. I want to find out.

Last night, I also decided to keep making my fiber art and jewelry. It feels right. For the first time in ages, I heard no negative voices in the wee hours of the night.

I’m not abandoning my new journey. Maybe the hospice will open up something else, and I look forward to exploring that. Something’s calling me there, and I want to find out what it is.

But just as I can study Tae Kwon Do and be a parent, I can explore this new venture and make my art. The art may change, it may not change. But maybe it will simply get even better.

Being a parent is teaching me, and Ms. Corrigan, how to be a more deeply creative person. How to create something of value that will really last, as an artist and a martial artist.

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Filed under art, choices, creativity, fear of failing, inspiration, life, life with teenagers, martial arts, mental attitude, perseverence

NEW JOURNEY: The Third Step

Change is always hard, but learning to recognize when it’s TIME to change, gets easier.

In my last two posts, I described two big fears in my life. The first was knowing a change was coming. The second is not knowing what it is.

The third is being afraid I’ll get stuck in the new change.

Now, if this isn’t anticipating trouble, what is? Right?

But I’ve seen many people leave the art and craft biz, trying to take their experiences to draft a new career for themselves. There are drawbacks to leaving that source of knowledge and passion.

Some did it beautifully, and have given much back to the community. Others had “steam” for awhile. But eventually, driven again by the need for fame or fortune, or fear of changing what works, their contributions become stale and rote. Like a burned-out teacher two years from retirement with two kids in college, they slog away, feeling they are simply in too deep to quit. They grind on for “just a few more years.” And making life miserable for others around them. (I don’t mean to pick on teachers, it’s just something I witnessed once that wasn’t pretty, and it stuck.)

I dreaded ending up in the same boat.

But once I recognized this for what it is–anticipated fear of failure–it was easier to put it back in the box.

First, I have no idea that’s where I’ll go next. Being afraid of something that might happen from a new career direction I might head in seems awfully silly.

Second, I realized it just won’t happen. If I’m paying such close attention to my changing desires now, I always will. That’s who I am. I will always be questioning, and rigorously testing my motivation.

Several readers mentioned this in their comments to my last few posts. It’s a journey, with more than one destination. More than a few travel plans will change. We never get to one single place and then plop there for the rest of our lives. “Got mine, get in line,” is no longer a justifiable or sustainable model for the self-aware. Change is always just around the corner.

Which reminds me of something a friend told me years ago. It was at a dark time in my life, just before I realized I was being called to be an artist. I was so fearful of everything in my life, and especially for my child. The world seemed to dark and full of evil. I said I couldn’t figure out how to protect her and keep her safe.

“You can’t!” exclaimed my friend. “That’s not our job. Our job is to teach them to be themselves, and to believe in themselves, so they can handle anything life throws at them. I want to teach my children to dance on the edge of the universe!’

Her words sent shivers down my spine. Here was a fearless mother who knew a good way to truly protect her children–teach them to adapt gracefully and beautifully to the inevitable challenges that come their way in a fully-lived life. She showed me how to drive that debilitating fear right out of my heart, and put love and faith and courage in its place.

So who do I want to be? An anxious whiny person, determined not to risk what I have in order to move forward?

Or do I want to dance on the edge of the universe?

ps. Years later, my friend had more difficult pregnancies, resulting in children with debilitating special needs. Emotionally exhausted, financially overwhelmed, the family made the decision to move across county to be closer to family and old friends for support. The night before she left, I took her some gifts, told her how much her friendship had meant to me.

“You led me out of a very dark place, and I will always be grateful”, I told her. I repeated her words back to her.

“I said that??” She couldn’t remember ever being that fearless and sure.

It was then I realized the real reason she’d told me those words was so I could repeat them back to her when she needed them most.

They had been held in trust for her.

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Filed under art, change, fear of failing, inspiration, life, mental attitude

NEW JOURNEY: The Second Step

Finding new values for the life you lead, and defining your own success.

In my last post, I shared what brought me to consult with artist/writer/life coach Quinn McDonald. I wrote about my conflicting desires for my art, and why I feel so lost about my next steps.

At the very beginning of our conversation, I mentioned to Quinn almost apologetically that there was something that had grabbed my heart recently. It made no sense to me, but it did to her. More on this later.

After talking for awhile, I noted that there were some things that still made sense to me.

I love public speaking. I ask the event organizer, “What is it you want your audience to come away with?” Then I focus on addressing that, from my own experiences, from my heart. For example, for the World Batik Conference, it was how to encourage artists to promote themselves in a way that’s sensitive to their cultural heritage. (In some cultures, it is not considered respectable to “brag” about your accomplishments.) The result was this essay about sharing your gift with the world.

I love inspiring and encouraging new artists (actually, all creative people)as a group. I loved my experience as a guest lecturer with the Arts Business Institute. I didn’t so much help people to sell their work, or focus on wholesaling (which is probably why I didn’t become a permanent faculty member!) I loved getting them to think about what they wanted from their art, and helping them establish goals to get there. My workshops on self-promotion resulted in this article: The Ultimate Story

I love writing this blog (though it’s nowhere close to being a hugely popular blog!) because it does both. And it helps me work though issues I have with my art and my life.

I was adamant about not wanting to teach per se.
We explored the teaching thing. I like the one-to-hundreds model, such as speaking and writing. One-on-one is exhausting to me. I would make an awful coach or therapist. After three visits, I’d fire my clients.) Even classes, which start out fun, end up with me wishing halfway through I could get back to my own work. And I have no interest in teaching people “how to make the little horses”, a common request from (some) other artists.

Quinn agreed that the world probably didn’t need more people making my little horses. But she pointed out that most people who take classes from artists simply want to share a day in the life of that artist. Hmmmmmm……

We decided if someday I could go out and speak to a large audience and get paid, that would be great.

But people only want to hear from artists with credentials, I protested. If I dropped everything I’m doing now, or didn’t get busy achieving something else, who would want to listen to me? (Here I credit my good friend Kerin Rose with this insight: She exclaimed, “Luann, you already have those credentials! No one can take them away from you, and you don’t have to keep proving yourself.”

Well, then, how will I know how successful I am in creating an audience for my work, or my words, or my thoughts? How can I measure that?

Here is where Quinn brought in my odd little admission at the very beginning of our talk.

Since fame and fortune are not doing it for me right now, what will?

Where is money and fame NOT the coin of the realm?

At the end of life.

Before we’d started, I’d told Quinn I was drawn to hospice, and had signed up for volunteer training.

There have been three times in my life I felt this strong a pull. One was the compelling desire to take up my art. The second (very odd) was to volunteer for an intense women’s self-defense program I’ve taken twice. (I didn’t pursue that, it was too far away, and I still regret not doing it.)

The third was this. Hospice.

“I’m not surprised,” Quinn said.

Wha….??

“You’re drawn to the end of life, to see what happens. You will be a witness to what is there, to what is valued at the end. It’s not money, it’s not fame. It’s something else. You want to learn what life is all about.”

But I’d told the volunteer coordinator that I was simply called to do this. It isn’t about my art. Artists like Diedre Scherer have already explored this realm in their art, with sensitivity and grace. I had no intention of copying her or “mining” this experience for myself, for new inspiration. I just had to follow where my heart was leading.

However, the coordinator said all my reasons sounded spot-on. She had no qualms about admitting me to the training program.

Which sounds perfect, by the way. The program is long and involved, well-rounded and grounded, covering all aspects of the experience. At the end, volunteers are carefully screened and interviewed to find out where, if any place, they would fit best. Most people drop out, or end up volunteering in a totally different capacity from what they initially intended. As scary as it sounds to me, I know I won’t get in over my head.

And I have no idea why I’m going there, or where I’ll end up. I just know I must.

“You’re searching for the values that will define this next era of your life,” Quinn said. And then she gave me my question for homework:

What are the values that are calling to me, the values to be fulfilled in my life?”

And my mantra…(and this is important):

I don’t know yet….and it’s okay.

Because I have become so very full of knowing. Knowing has gotten in my way for the last few years. Knowing how hard it will be to recreate new work, a new audience, new goals. Knowing what will work, what won’t. Even knowing what isn’t satisfying anymore.

Perfectionism is all about being full of knowing. This is the opposite, and that’s why it makes me feel so uncomfortable.

There is a gift in not knowing. You can’t know until you realize you don’t know.

So that’s my homework. As I work, as I do yoga, and martial arts, and I sit quietly and simply observe, I say to myself, “I don’t know yet….and it’s okay.” I am to pay close attention to what comes up, as I begin to truly accept the fact that I don’t know.

She says she can see me standing in a doorway, waiting…for what?

For what’s next.

Not knowing, and listening to your heart, and patiently waiting….

Isn’t that the very definition of faith?

ps. I won’t be writing much about this aspect of my journey for a bit. I’ve found there’s a danger in talking too much a new venture. Talking about it and “writing about it” begins to feel like “doing something about it”, and I don’t want that to happen. I’ll share what I can as I go, but no more speculation, okay?

Tomorrow: Another fear overcome. Stay tuned!

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Filed under art, change, creativity, inspiration, lessons from hospice, life, mental attitude

NEW JOURNEY: The First Step

Letting go of one stage of life in art, moving on to the next.

WARNING: The following is my personal experience and thoughts on this particular juncture in my life.

I do not cast judgment or aspersions on anyone else’s decisions and goals. It is simply one person’s thoughts (mine) on what I’m going to do next, and a discussion on how I’m getting there.

Time to share some of the reasons I checked in with artist/writer/life coach Quinn McDonald last week, and some of the insights I’ve had since then.

I’ve been feeling like a failure.

Or rather, I’ve now achieved all the goals I set for myself fifteen years ago, for better or worse, and I can’t find new ones.

Some were great: Getting juried into the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. Getting juried into the equally elusive Buyers Market of American Craft winter wholesale show. Getting juried into one of the country’s top retail show, the ACC-Baltimore show.

I’ve been featured in national magazines. Interviewed on TV–twice! Wrote a book. Wrote articles, even a regular column, for magazines.

I’ve been a guest lecturer for the Arts Business Institute. Given speeches at an international crafts symposium, various state and regional artist groups.

I’ve sold wall hangings for $5,000, an outrageous goal when people were balking at paying $50. I’ve had my work exhibited alongside some of my art heroes. I was selected for juried exhibitions in dozens of other states. I’ve won awards.

I’ve learned how to apply for public art proposals, how to create an exhibition proposal and how to pitch an article idea to a magazine editor. I’ve learned how to promote myself as an artist and writer.

In the process I’ve met wonderful people, made new friends, traveled across the country, and enriched my relationship with my now-adult daughter (who was three when I started all this!)

Some goals proved hollow or too elusive, and I’ve set those aside for now.

But I can’t think of any new goals. I have no idea what’s next.

Not knowing feels like failure.

Last fall I came across this incredible article on failure in the October 2008 issue of soon-to-be-defunct ODE magazine. Writer Marisa Taylor explores why failure is not just critical, but crucial to our development.

I know something is changing in me. But “giving in” to it was terrifying.

What if this “next step” means walking away from my art? What if it means not being very good at something?

What if it means going deeper into my art, and I’ve already used all my talent? What if I can’t sell it? What if I can sell it, but I don’t know how? Or don’t want to??

I realize I’ve fallen back into bad thinking habits. Thinking I have a finite talent for learning, focusing only on what I do well, whether I love to do it or not. Fear of looking stupid.

I realize lately I’ve taken more risks with my writing than with my art. How many people do you know would say it right here, “I’m afraid of looking stupid”…??

“The brain is a muscle,” says Taylor, “that grows stronger the more it’s used.” Failure, she says, creates even more synapses, more connections. Success and failure in the business world is about taking big risks–because only mediocrity lives in that middle ground.

And creativity is all about new connections. Like mediocrity, it never lives in that middle ground.

For me, selling my work gently but firmly led me to making creative decisions from my wallet, not my heart. Playing it safe, lowering my prices, focusing on work I thought would sell more easily.

Now, selling artwork is not a totally bad thing. It’s wonderful to have people love your work, it’s incredible when they tell you how beautiful it is.

When they buy it, it means they value your work enough to pay you for it. Their hard-earned money for your incredible work. One of my 15-year-old goals was to sell a wall hanging for $10,000. The day I sold one for $5,000 was a banner day.

But that thrill of selling is short-lived. Defining my success as “how much money I made at this show” or “how much money I made this year” made my world smaller and smaller. As the recession hit harder, and fear affected more and more of my customers, my sales took a walloping.

I kept saying I would not give in to that, but I did. As I look at all my decisions the last few years, I can see I’m still holding on to that lame definition of success.

It’s left me with an empty place in my heart.

My coach said it’s easy to see how I got there.

Just for simplicity, she suggested I temporarily replace “success” with the phrase “thrill of selling”.

Art shows are all about making money, from the producer to the show guide publisher, down to the booth holder and the parking lot attendant. Money is the coin of the realm here.

You sell your work or you don’t. You make “enough” money because enough people buy your work, or you don’t. If you are“successful”–selling your work for a lot of money–well, it gets harder and harder to raise the bar.

And if not….if you feel you have something–a pot, a quilt, a necklace–to offer the world and you’re “not successful”–it’s not being valued/bought, that’s painful.

The recession has made that worse. There’s been a sea change in our culture since 9/11. It’s a culture of fear. And it’s been exploited by many for a lot of different purposes.

So, said my coach, you’ve got something wrapped around your axle, so to speak. You are an artist–and money is not important. You are an artist–and money is important.

It is very, very hard to hold two opposing thoughts in your head at the same time. Which is where some of your discomfort is coming from.

Hmmmmm…..

Here’s the first question I was asked:

“What if money were not the coin of the realm?”

(Actually, the very first question was, “Are you a perfectionist?”, but we all knew that answer….)

So if I mentally/emotionally remove myself from that art show environment, what else is there?

Stay tuned…..

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Filed under 9/11, business, choices, coaching, creativity, fear of failing, life

GOALS OR GOAL-LESS

I’m still not done “processing” my session with life coach Quinn McDonald of QuinnCreative. But today I found a blog post by another good friend and jewelry artist, Kerin Rose. In her essay My 2 Cents, she shares her thoughts, based on her long teaching career, on the dangers of artists setting goals.

All I’m gonna say is that Quinn’s insights led me to a similar place. Which led me to my story about Will and the Mermaid.

As I fiber artist, I have to be amazed by the different threads that are already weaving my life back together.

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WILL AND THE MERMAID

When I first met the man who became my husband, he had a very odd friend in tow.

The friend was Will Shipee, a homeless man who lived on the streets of Ann Arbor Michigan in the late 70′s. He was a small man, lean and tan, energetic yet quiet, with sparkling blue eyes.

He was the first guy I knew who wore earrings. They gave him a friendly pirate look.

He was an incredibly spiritual person and spoke of God’s presence in his life often. He was a vegetarian. He didn’t drink or smoke. (Well. He smoked something, but it was a $5 fine in those days.)

He was intelligent and articulate. He was peaceful, graceful, self-sufficient, wise. He’d walked away from many things in his former life–a high-paying corporate job, a marriage, a mistress, expensive cars–to live and pray in India. He returned to live in the streets of America, determined to live a holy life, free from the chains of money and ambition.

I was a little nervous around him at first. But he never asked for money or took advantage. He was there if we needed odd jobs done, asking only for food in exchange.

He sometimes moved among more dangerous people, which made me uneasy. But he kept them separate, always careful to make sure they never encroached very far into our lives.

He had a way of dealing with everyone that was quiet, peace-making, grounded. Everyone respected him. No one harmed him.

My (future) husband and I spent many, many hours talking, listening, laughing, eating with Will. (He was always hungry!)

Will was an artist, a woodcarver. He would work on a wood carving for a year, usually for a specific patron, and sell it when it was finished for a nice price. He lived very simply and frugally, but he needed the occasional chunk of money so he could get to a warm place for winter.

His carving project during that magical summer was a mermaid. A praying mermaid.

We have pictures of her, but I can clearly see her even now. About 20″ tall, carved out of a solid chunk of mahogany. Upright, with her tail curled and curved up behind her, each scale carefully and skillfully incised. Her face as serene as a Botticelli Venus, eyes closed, lips slightly parted. And her hands folded gently but fervently in prayer.

He carried her wrapped in a blanket, with his carving tools, in a sling on his back. He took her everywhere.

And people were drawn to her.

We all wanted to hold her. To look at her. When she was brought forth, our hands all reached for her, to touch the silky smoothness of her face, to feel the intricately carved hair and scales. For the first time, I understood the power and mystery of an icon.

Will didn’t brag, but you could tell he was gratified by our response. He wanted to show that even the mythical beings who supposedly had no soul, could feel and celebrate the presence of God.

Pretty heady stuff for a young woman who was in love, and who’d just left her own corporate job to shovel horse manure in a riding stable.

He had a buyer for her, a guy in Texas who would pay him a huge sum of money for her–several thousand dollars. It would be enough to find a house and feed himself for the winter.

I thought the person who owned her would be blessed. I envied him as I yearned for her myself. I could imagine her in my life forever.

Will left at the end of the summer, dreaming of a winter in warmer climes.

But the deal fell through, and Will returned.

And he kept carrying the mermaid.

He looked in vain for other buyers. And he kept working away at her, unable to stop. Til finally, he carved away at her eyes, and “opened” them.

She no longer seemed innocent and dreaming. Now she looked lascivious

He offered her to me for $300. I didn’t have it. But I wasn’t sure I even yearned for her anymore.

I wondered what it meant.

His art carried too long, went from “finished” to overworked. And in the process, changed into something….less? Certainly different.

His art became all about the money as he desperately kept working to make her what he thought a buyer would want.

I think he finally gave her away to someone for a pittance of his original price. Perhaps just enough to buy him a bus ticket out of town.

His carefree life was more grounded in his art than he realized. And when he left that connected space, even though it was for a good reason, he always seemed a little more lost and uprooted to me. I think he felt that way, too, for he disappeared soon after that.

We never saw him again.

Will taught us many things that year, beautiful things.

I often think of him. I hope he is safe, and well, and loved.

I wonder what happened to the mermaid.

I wonder where she is now. I wonder if the person who owns her has any idea what her origins were, or what she meant so so many people that summer in Ann Arbor, so many years ago?

And as my thoughts turn over in my mind–What’s next for me and my art? Where do I go from here?–I can’t help wondering…

What do we open ourselves to, when money is the only coin of the realm? What do we gain? What is lost?

Is it the smart thing to do? Is it right, or wrong?

Is it worth it?

Yes. No. Maybe. Sometimes. Who can say?

Unusual thoughts on this cold, cold day in New England, so far away in distance and time from that heady summer days of new love and wonder.

p.s. As I reread this, I hasten to add that I don’t criticize my friend’s desire to have enough money to eat, and travel and stay warm. But something changed when the deal fell through, something that was painful to watch. Something made visible even in the change of the mermaid’s expression.

And that’s what I’m trying to figure out.

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RISK-FREE CHOICES

Today I had a remarkable experience. I had a coaching session with an old online friend, Quinn McDonald, an artist who is now an artist/trainer/life coach. You can learn more about her services at QuinnCreative.

I’ve always admired Quinn’s sensitive yet thoughtful contributions to the many professional craft forum discussions we used to participate in. It seemed natural to turn to her as I try to figure out the major change I feel coming in my artistic life. And I found her coaching session hugely insightful.

I have to “process” everything I heard and said, so that’s all I’ll say for now. But if you’re feeling stuck or lost or just hopelessly confused, she may be the answer to your prayers.

On another note, I found this blog essay, How to Be Unremarkably Average, while surfing this a.m. What a heads-up! Suddenly, “risk-free” doesn’t seem so special anymore.

And today I actually used the word insouciant in a sentence. Really!

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TIME LIKE A RIVER

Two weeks ago, a switch got flipped in me.

I realized I’d become a couch potato again. (Another injury side-lined me in martial arts.) I went on a healthier eating plan and ramped up my exercise regime (which had dwindled away to “not much” the last few months.)

I knew this before then. But I decided to really do something about it.

I’ve been wondering why it took so long to simply start eating better. We all the know the benefits of working out and eating more veggies. Why do we put it off?

Because it just seems like a huge commitment. We’ve all known people who are relationship/commitment phobic. Well, I am diet-and-exercise/commitment phobic.

For me, the diet road is a long, dusty, boring highway. It seems to stretch on forever, with no fun food in sight. Saying no to a burger when you eat out. Choosing fruit instead of peanut butter fudge for a snack. Foregoing General Tsao’s chicken for hot-and-sour soup and some steamed rice.

Choosing that road seems like a very big deal. Not a very enjoyable one at that. One that will last a long, long time. (No more Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Chunk Fudge ice cream? Forever??)

And regular exercise is the same. Choosing years and years of swimming, walking, Pilates, lunges, weights. All that time to switch into workout clothes (instead of getting dressed once for the day and staying there.) All that time to walk somewhere (instead of just jumping in the car and driving in five minutes. And ending up running one errand instead of six.) Washing and drying my hair after a workout or a swim (which takes forever once your hair gets beyond a certain length.) Getting sick after snowshoeing because it’s so damn cold in January, in New Hampshire, for any exertion that makes you breathe deep and hard.

Did I mention I’m allergic to chlorine, too?

Making a commitment to actually start that journey just seems like too much. It’s much, much easier to say, “I’ll start tomorrow.” Or next week. Or after New Year’s.

Which never really happens.

I keep seeing that bumper sticker, “One Day at a Time”. Well, I get that, but it still didn’t help much. Seems like one very long hungry/achey/sweaty/coughing/itchy day after day after day….

Til I had a revelation this week.

Time is like a river.

Not an original idea, I realize. But the usual metaphor is we cross time like a river. And it’s never the same river twice, since “different” water is flowing each time we cross.

Nice image, but not helpful for starting that new practice.

But what if we are standing in the river?

Facing upstream.

And time itself is moving all around us. Constantly flowing toward us, and around us, and past us, as we stand.

There is only the power, the energy, the beauty, the potential, the miracle of a brand new day coming to us.

We don’t move through it. We inhabit it. It flows to us.

And all we have to do is deal with the water that engulfs us this day.

Then there is no long highway to walk. No exhausting effort to make day after day. Only choices. Plucking a different option out of a stream of possibilities.

I don’t know if this is making sense or not. I know it baffled my husband when I tried to tell him about it. “Sounds like that movie Ground Hog’s Day“, he said.

To quote a Wikipedia entry, “The main character (played by Bill Murray) is forced to relive the day over and over again until he can learn to give up his selfishness and become a better person. In popular culture, the phrase “Groundhog Day” has come to represent going through a phenomenon over and over until one spiritually transcends it.”

“No, it’s not like that!” I protested. “It’s not punitive. It’s not repetitive. It’s…opportunity. A new beginning, every single day. Tomorrow doesn’t exist. Yesterday is gone.”

It’s like we don’t have to go to it. It comes to us. Very hard to explain….

But suddenly, the choices I make today seem a little easier.

ps. This Wiki entry has a list of the ground hog’s prediction results for the ten years. And a good explanation for why spring always comes six weeks after Ground Hog’s Day, whether it’s sunny or not. (I’m feeling very smart because my husband didn’t know this.)

pps. Is this too Zen today? If so, just go eat a salad and worry about it tomorrow.

ppps. I just swam for an hour.

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Filed under action steps, change, choices, inspiration, life, mental attitude, perseverence

WHY IT MATTERS THAT YOUR ART MATTERS

A few weeks ago I read two articles at the Rosen Group’s Market Insider online newsletter.

The first is a challenge question to ask yourself in these hard times.

The second, Brain Fuel: A Higher Purpose is an inspirational article on why it is important to stick with your principles, your art, your talent and your mission.

Good stuff. Check it out.

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Filed under art, business, creativity, marketing, self promotion, telling your story