Monthly Archives: April 2009

NEW JOURNEY: Between Steps 7 and 8

I’m learning that perfectionism not only limits my options, it limits the options of others.

I’ve always been a serial friend.

By that, I mean I have very few friendships that lave lasted more than a few years. Partly that comes from moving so much: I left home for college at age 17 and never really went back. We went on to live in three more states. Even as I write this, we are contemplating where our “next state” might be.

I’ve also changed my “groups” a lot. First there were school friends. Then there were work friends. Parent friends. Now artist friends.

I have many online friends–people I’ve met in discussion forums and through blogging, many of whom I’ve never even met in person.

I have riding friends, martial arts friends, knitting/yoga/climbing friends. I’m sure I will now have hospice friends, too.

One reason I make friends so easily is, I am open to it. An old school chum said, “You have made more friends since I’ve known you than I’ve even met!!” I must have looked chagrined, because she added quickly, “No, that’s a good thing! I don’t made friends easily. I envy you.”

But that means I’ve also lost a lot of friendships.

It’s impossible to have deep friendships with everyone you meet and like, of course. Not all friendships can pass the test of time, distance or changes in circumstance. If you want to discover who your true friends are, see who hangs around after you or your spouse is laid off. You will be dismayed. And astonished.

But I still regret the loss of some of my more profound friendships over the years.

I’m thinking maybe…actually, I know…I lost them to perfectionism.

Because here’s another drawback in perfectionism:

When you expect it in yourself, you will demand it from others.

And that, as we all know, is totally, hopelessly, humanly, impossible.

I like to think I have been a good friend. But I’ve always suspected I could have been a better one.

Looking back, I can see that sometimes the best friendships were short-lived for good reasons. I love this little essay by Brian Andrew “Drew” Chalker, “A REASON, A SEASON, A LIFETIME”.

But I know sometimes–many times–I simply asked too much of people. More than they were willing, perhaps even capable, of giving. And that has served neither of us well.

So now I strive for a little less perfectionism.

I hope I can do that really, really well.

I’m hoping, if I can learn to forgive myself for not being perfect–if I can learn not to expect it from others–I will truly be a better friend.

And wife. And mother. And artist/writer/climber/rider/owner of silly pets.

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Filed under art, friendship, hospice, life, perfectionism

NEW JOURNEY: The Seventh Step

I learn that trying to be perfect limits your options.

Another quick thought to share with you today.

I read a comment that Quinn McDonald (of Quinn Creative) left on my last post about my hospice training experience.

(And btw, let me thank all of you who took the time to write such thoughtful, beautiful, powerful words of support to that post. Each of you, and your words, are a gift to me.)

I had a coaching session with Quinn a few months before I began hospice training. She said several very valuable things to me, thoughts that helped me stay centered and calm.

The most pragmatic were her observations on perfectionism.

When she asked if I were a perfectionist, I answered, “Yes!” I’ve worked hard at everything I’ve undertaken with my art biz. I’ve always tried to come up with the best solutions for everything. When I teach, I try to create the perfect workshop experience. When I speak, I work hard to say exactly what I want to say to an audience. When I write, I cull and edit and re-edit to make sure everything flows logically. It drives me nuts to find a spelling error after I publish a piece.

I know that is perfectionism exhausting. I recognize it eventually produces diminishing returns for our efforts.

Quinn pointed out another drawback:

“When you are a perfectionist,” she said, “then you are full of knowing. And when you are full of knowing, nothing new can come in.”

Nothing new can come in….

I had to really think about that one. If I am to learn as much as I can from this experience, I have to be open to what is there.

And what I’m learning so far is that there is no need to excel in the class. There’s no need for intellectual brilliance, or to even ask great questions. There’s no need for extreme competence or great listening skills or excellent communication skills. This is not the place for perfect anything. The skills I’ve relied on all my life do not serve me.

In fact, as our training leader says over and over, every class, it’s not about “doing” at all.

It’s about “being.”

Being present. Being there.

We can help by simply offering the gift of ourselves.

This is new territory for me. But what an odd place to end up, this year. Somewhere where nothing is asked of me, except to have an open heart. In a way, it feels a lot like yoga….

I feel like I am learning to simply listen. And breathe. Perhaps hold a hand.

And be.

P.S. I edited this little article about two dozen times. Until it was almost perfect. Obviously, I am still imperfect at being imperfect.

additional P.S. The implications for my art–and my life–are not lost on me, either.

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Filed under art, coaching, hospice, lessons from hospice, life, mental attitude, perfectionism

NEW JOURNEY: The Sixth Step

When words fail, there is poetry.

I have so many thoughts to share this week, but no time to sort them out. So this short post….

I was in a major funk all weekend. Nothing seems to be working out. My enemies seem to reign triumphant. My bills are mounting, and my sense of failure seemed overwhelming.

Then, in hospice training this week, we watched this incredible movie on death and dying and hospice called Letting Go: A Hospice Journey. It’s hard to find how to see it outside a hospice setting–Blockbuster doesn’t have it! But if you get a chance to see it, take heart, and do it.

It was difficult to watch–I felt on the verge of tears the entire time. It showed the finer moments of hospice, and a few of the not-so-fine. We watch as a vibrant middle-aged woman, an 8-year-old child born with incurable brain disease, and a strong man who’s always protected himself fiercely from love, come to their end with the aid of hospice. We watch as their loved ones all struggle to resolve major life issues during these patients’ last days on earth.

These people’s final moments are poignant and powerful, very sad, and yet somehow beautiful. And ultimately, utterly human.

Not everyone is at peace. Not everyone can accept what has happened. There are no miraculous cures, no reprieves. Yet miracles abound, and great healing is there, too.

At one point in the movie, one person says that people near the end have usually lost everything they valued in life. Their jobs. Their skills. Their health. Their physical abilities. Their hopes and expectations. Either those they love have gone before, or they leave grieving loved ones behind.

Everything is gone, in the end. All that is left is love, and all its complications: Things we should not have done to others. Things others should not have done to us. Gratitude. Love. The role of hospice, he says, is to create a tiny space, a haven, for the dying person to resolve these issues, to say the “four important things”:

Please forgive me.
I forgive you.
Thank you.
I love you.

And later, he recited this haunting poem, and that’s when I cried:

The way of love is not a subtle argument.
The door there is devastation.
Birds make great sky-circles of their freedom.
How do they learn it?
They fall, and falling, they’re given wings.

Rumi

So much can interfere with love–our own human shortcomings, or those of others: pride; anger; jealousy; ignorance; selfishness; fear.

It can be so difficult to get past that, to get to the core. But when we do, love is devastating in its power to transcend even death.

And, at the end, this is all that matters.

We fall, and falling, are given wings.

I apologize for this rambling post. I know some are chafing at the bit, eager to hear more about art marketing and booth lighting, catalogs and mailing lists. These are important, too. I just have to pause to think about where I am today.

I still have no idea what is in store for me, or which way I should go on the river in my little boat.

But all of this is such powerful, beautiful, sometimes scary stuff, my heart feels at peace today. And wide, wide open.

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Filed under death, hospice, lessons from hospice, love

ARTIST STATEMENT = MISSION STATEMENT

A quick thought and a short post today. (You folks in the back row heaving a sigh of relief, I HEARD THAT!!)

A lot of people have written to say they don’t think of their art/craft as “serious enough” to be worthy of an artist statement.

Would it make you feel better if we called it a “mission statement” instead? I love this definition because I love the question, “Why do we exist?”

Or how about a “vision statement”? Again, I love how this article distinguishes between a mission statement and a vision statement:

The difference between a mission statement and a vision statement is that a mission statement focuses on a company’s present state while a vision statement focuses on a company’s future.

Your homework, should you chose to accept it, is to write a good mission or vision statement for your craft or art. Heck, go crazy and combine the two!

And someday, when you realize that the work/art/craft you do has its place in the world, see if writing that artist statement comes a little easier to you.

Be the guinea pig! Or be the bunny! Remember, they, too, have their place in the world.

And so do you.

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Filed under art, artist statement, craft, inspiration, telling your story

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BABY IN THE WORLD

When you truly open your heart to possibility, you will find beauty, joy, compassion, love and other miracles.

It’s odd, but my hospice training experience is already crossing over into my artistic experience. Last week’s session made me think about the connections we form when we make our art from a powerful place in our heart. (Yes, that place some of you are finding so hard to think about when it comes to your artist statement!) (And I say that with love and acceptance, by the way. No lecturing parent thing here, just bear with me.)

During my first hospice training session last week, we split into small groups to do various exercises.

I worried for a moment. What if I didn’t like the people in my group?? What if they didn’t like me? I decided to set my fears aside and simply see what would happen.

We started our listening exercises. I soon realized the people in my little group, these “randomly selected” people, were soul mates.

Their stories blew me away. Their outlook on life amazed me. When it was my turn to talk, their compassion sustained me during difficult moments. What we shared with each other was astonishing.

Oddly, when we returned to our big group, I noticed we all felt the same way. Everyone felt their little group was the perfect match for them.

The only thing is, the groups were created in a fairly random manner.

How could all of us, have “randomly” ended up in “the perfect group for us”?

After the session, I asked our trainer how often that happened.

She said it happens all the time.

In fact, it happens every time.

In fact, she’s come to believe this:

“If your heart is open to this work (hospice), then that connection is already there.”

I thought about that all night. This insight is one thing that made me realize this is the perfect place for me to be right now.

When your heart is open, so many things are possible. Miracles are possible.

This phenomenon reminded me of a story, one of my personal favorites.

Years ago, before kids, before Keene, my husband and I shared an evening with new friends. They had just started the arduous process of adopting a child from another country, working with an international organization. In one of their support groups, another couple had told them this story, and now they were sharing it with us.

Now, because this story is third-hand, and because we heard it so long ago, I’m sure I have many details wrong. So if I’ve messed up anything that may be distracting if you know more about this kind of thing than I do, please forgive me and go for the story.

This other couple had gone through years of preparation and paperwork, and waiting and disappointment. (At one point, they were almost given a baby they learned at the last moment had been STOLEN from her mother. They were devastated on many levels.)

But finally, the glorious day came. They were told a child was available for them, really truly available. In fact, a number of children were available. A group of prospective parents were traveling to a South American country together, to receive their new babies and return home.

Now, for some reason, they would not be allowed off the plane. Their babies would be brought to the airport from the orphanage, then carried to the plane by the nuns who cared for them. Each baby would be given to its respective new parents, and the plane would take off immediately and fly home again.

On the flight down, the parents-to-be talked excitedly among themselves. They were bubbling with hope, and excitement.

And fear.

It had been so hard. So much had gone wrong. They’d waited so long. Was it really going to be all right today? Were they finally going to have a child to love?

Their biggest fear, they all agreed, was that they might be given an ugly baby.

(I remember the way Cathy told this part, in a hushed voice, and it always makes me laugh. It seems so silly! Yet a year later, I was pregnant, and that’s why I remember this part so clearly. Because I had the same fear.)

They could handle anything–missing toes, deformity, sickness, injury. But maybe something else would wrong with the baby. Maybe it would simply be ugly. And what would they do then?

And everyone agreed that it wouldn’t matter. It didn’t matter at all, not now.

No matter what, they all decided they would learn to love that ugly baby, and give it a wonderful home and a beautiful life.

The plane finally landed at the small airport, and rolled to a stop.

They could see the little terminal from the plane. They could see the doors.

They waited. And they waited.

For what seemed like an eternity, they waited.

Was there a mistake? Had something something wrong? Had the orphanage changed its mind?

Finally, the terminal doors flew open, and a very strange procession marched out into the fierce sunshine.

It was the nuns, with their habits and white wimples flapping in the breeze. They marched quickly, single file, across the tarmac.

And each nun, in her arms, carried a baby.

The nuns-with-babies marched up the steps into the plane, names were called out, hands were raised. And soon every baby was being cradled by its brand new mommy and daddy.

Now, the rest of the story is very fuzzy, probably because it would be almost impossible to describe the joy that must have filled that plane. If you could measure joy, if you could figure its weight, it would have been so big, so deep, so profound, our planet Earth must have surely tilted slightly on its axis that day.

But, Cathy said in a hushed voice, her friend had been very clear on one point:

Every single couple on that plane secretly rejoiced that they had received the prettiest baby in the group.

Each couple whispered to each other that their baby…

….that their baby…

… was the most beautiful baby in the world.

So it’s true. When your heart is open, wide open, fear and doubt will fall away. And the most powerful connections–authenticity…compassion…love–will already there.

Don’t you think that’s a miracle? I do.

That’s why art can be a miracle, too. When we make art from this powerful place in our heart, we will find other people whose hearts resonate with it. And that is a powerful connection. One heart speaks to another. A miracle.

P.S. At the end of our training session, we were asked to give the person next to us a blessing.

Here is mine for you today:

May you find such joy in everything you do in life, especially your art.

May you always have an open heart.

And may you always know, deep in your beautiful, open heart that you, as a child of the universe, as someone who brings your own special creativity to this world, at this time, in this place, may you know that to somebody, somewhere, you are the most beautiful baby in the world.

And may you know that somewhere in the world, your creative work has made someone else feel that way, too.

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Filed under adoption, art, artist statement, craft, hospice, inspiration, lessons from hospice, life, life lessons