Monthly Archives: April 2011

BIG PUPS

When your life is full of poop, it’s time to stop and smell the roses.

We had a rough week. Nothing serious, nothing even very exciting. Just one of those times where you feel out of it and out of synch. You feel your battery draining instead of charging, and your feet drag for no good reason.

We also picked up two more Potcake puppies from Logan Airport in Boston. And for the next two days, I was frantically thinking, “What have I done??!!”

The pups seemed overly shy and anxious. To make it worse, they’re BIG. Much bigger than any pups we’ve fostered. And heavy. It’s hard to keep up with two puppies to begin with, let alone two you have to chase, and hoist with a big ‘oof!’ and even then, I could only hold one at a time. Twice as hard to manage.

I complained loudly to anyone who would listen. The woman at the rescue operation on the islands they came from; the shelter contact we’ll be delivering the pups to soon; my husband. And myself, in a running chattering dialog of “What-was-I-thinking-I-can’t-do-this-these-pups-are-awful-who-knew-such-a-small-critter-could-hold-so-much-poop-dammit-get-back-here-oh-my-back-OMG-he’s-peeing-AGAIN-help-help-HELP!!!!”

Having kids was like this. And starting my art career. And doing my first show. Come to think of it, doing all my shows. Learning how to shoot my own photos for my online shop. Teaching my first workshop for artists. Teaching my first grief writing workshop.

Get it?

Everything that’s worth doing comes with some dog doo.

Two days later, the pups have calmed down. They’re on a schedule of eating/outside to eliminate/play/sleep. Rinse and repeat.

My sanity returned. Time for damage control!

I wrote a contrite letter of apology to my island contact and another to my local shelter contact for my overreaction. I eased up with the pups. I made peace with my husband.

I realized the gift these puppies are to me.

They’ve traveled a long way from home, through scary airports with complete strangers, without food, in tiny carry-on bags. They arrive to a place with snow (yes, we had snow on Easter Sunday!) and a suspicious older dog and a houseful of grumpy teens and adults.

If that were me I’m not sure I would have been on my best behavior, either.

Marriage, kids, puppies, and yes, art, come into our lives with much romance and excitement. Eventually this is overshadowed by the sheer drudgery and weight of custodial care. You and your spouse have to agree on who’s turn it is to do dishes, and who gets to go into their office and shut the door for a few hours. Kids need custodial care the first few years, and emotional care forever. Pups and kittens sometimes seem to be a conduit of poop from another dimension. (Well. Human infants, too.) With art and career and writing come days of discouragement, missed deadlines, disgruntled gallery owners, difficult customers, sagging sales.

When everything goes wrong, we’re very quick to complain. We want to bail. We wonder if we made the right choices. And is a quickie Mexican divorce really that simple and inexpensive?

When I feel this way, I know it’s time to stop. Breathe. And think about what has to change.

Sometimes we really have barked up the wrong tree. (Dog pun. Sorry!) If everything about what we’re doing is draining our battery and never recharges, then maybe it’s time to consider a new direction.

Maybe we need to change our way of doing things. What’s worked for us in the past may need to be tweaked now. With teens, we learn to choose our battles. At shows, we find ways to streamline our set-up. With big puppies, more structure and containment is necessary.

Sometimes we just need to see beyond the poop for a moment. We need to stop and smell the roses. We must remember that the most fragrant and beautiful roses–antique roses–come with plenty of thorns. When the thorns prick us, that’s the time to slow down. And sniff.

Caring for these puppies transports me to the days when my children were young. It was a lot of work, but there was even more joy. Like children, these pups come into this world with a powerful need to be loved, and the desire to love in return. Both of these young ones will do almost anything to get that love. They learn to control their bowels and bladders (though it can feel like an eternity, as my teacher sister says, “They’re always potty trained by kindergarten.”) They learn not to chew on your favorite shoes, or use them for a Barbie bathtub.

In return, they teach you that it’s never a waste of time to sit quietly in the sun on a warm spring day, watching young things gambol and cavort in the new green grass.

They teach you that there is nothing quite so wonderful as a good belly laugh–from them, or from you. (And I swear those pups are laughing.)

They teach you that when you hold them in your arms, and they gaze at your with perfect knowledge they are safe and sound, and profoundly loved, there is no better balm in the world for a troubled heart.

So I’m grateful for the gift of these puppies today. They’re beautiful dogs, full of joy and hope, ready for their forever homes. They’ve given me peace in my heart. They’ve reminded me of what it means to be alive, to be in the world, with all its joy and beauty.

And all the poo that comes with it, of course.

Aren’t you glad I didn’t say you had to learn to love the smell of poo?

P.S. Jack and Gillie will soon be on their way to the Monadnock Humane Society in Swanzey, NH soon. Help spread the word!

Run, baby, run!

Jack and Gillie.

Jack, in perfect Potcake tail mode.

2 Comments

Filed under art, craft, dogs, gratitude, life with a dog, life with teenagers, mental attitude

RETELLING A STORY: How to Get Your Mind to a Better Place

Find a different way to tell your tired, sad old story, and watch your heart grow.

There’s a sad story I catch myself telling over and over. And I’m sick of it.

When we moved into our current home, I did a major de-stash of my fabric collection. I actually reduced my inventory by almost 75%. It was a glorious horde of vintage fabrics and used clothing (from my vintage looking traditional quilting days), home decorating fabrics (from my make-my-own curtains, duvet covers and pillow phase), silk ties and antique velvets (from my crazy quilt days).

It was really really hard. I had to use all kinds of strategies to overcome my hoarder mode brain. I was determined to keep only the materials I would use in my art quilts, and the fabrics I truly loved. For example, pink isn’t really on my Lascaux Cave color wheel. So I told myself if I ever made another baby quilt for a girl, I could go out and buy NEW pink fabric. (Don’t worry, I kept most of the vintage pink fabrics.)

Another strategy was to find the perfect home for my stash. For years I’d donated fabrics, books and supplies to a little sewing group at a women’s prison in northern New Hampshire. They accepted almost anything gratefully. They made quilts for various causes. It felt wonderful to help a group of people who, in such sad circumstances themselves, made things for other people who were even less fortunate. It made the ‘letting go’ easier.

I bagged up almost twenty giant bags of fabrics. Someone from one of the causes found out about my donation, and offered to meet me at a town halfway between us to get the stash. I was grateful, for it saved me hours of driving time.

We met, the bags were transferred to her van, and I went home to wait for the donation receipt.

A long time later, I emailed to ask her where the receipt was.

Her answer struck me speechless.

She said her organization only accepted donations of new, 100% cotton fabrics. Because so much of my fabrics were old, blends, vintage or specialty fabrics, the entire lot (except for some picking by the staff) was…..dumped.

I called her immediately to remind her that the donation was not to her organization, but to the sewing circle that donated some of their projects to her organization. There was a long silence and then a quavering, heartfelt apology for the misunderstanding. I received the receipt for the donation anyway.

But I still cringed at the thought of all those fabrics sitting in a landfill somewhere.

For many years, that affected my ability to de-stash. Because one of my main motivations is to feel that my cast-offs are going to a new and better place, to people who will truly love and use what I’ve given them.

And it made for a good story, too. When I was feeling small and vindictive, I could tell that story with a sad little face, and with relish. See how awful that was?? All that good fabric gone to waste! It was a guaranteed sympathy-grabber and aren’t-other-people-awful moment.

Yes, no good deed goes unpunished, as my husband always says.

But lately I’m embarrassed to tell that story. And ashamed I’ve kept it going so long. It feels…wrong.

Because the truth is, many good things came out of that incident. Things that served me far, far better than a small truckload of fabrics I was happy to move on.

1) I discovered the light heart you get when you finally let go of things you don’t really need nor even really want anymore. If it took a ‘good cause’ to get me going on that, so be it. But when you really let go of something, demanding that it still serve you somehow is unproductive.

2) Remembering how quickly my stash of not-really-useful fabrics grew, it makes me think twice before letting just ‘any old fabric’ into my studio. Oh, I still succumb now and then. And those of you who have seen my fabric stash and are snickering, “Really, Luann? You actually restrain yourself from buying more fabric?! Yeah, right….snort!”, just cut it out.

3) Someone I respected admitted they’d made a mistake. And apologized with a full heart. (I am a complete sucker for a sincere apology.)

4) This same woman taught me a simple technique for prayer. And though I am quite the agnostic (meaning I don’t feel we can KNOW there is a higher power, and I know there probably isn’t, but I like to believe there could be), I believe the act of prayer is human and healing and good for the soul.

To pray for what you want and need, you don’t fall to the ground and hunch over with closed hands.

You stand. You take a deep, cleansing breath, and let air fill your lungs. As you gently exhale, let your arms drop, hands open and facing outwards. Raise your face to the sky, and close your eyes. Get quiet. And ASK the universe for what is in your heart.

I have a story about how dramatically this worked for me the first time I tried it. It was so powerful, I’m actually a little scared to use it much. But somehow, simply going through these motions is often enough to lift a weight from my heart, and soothes my savage, yapping little brain.

It restores me to my true self. I find I rephrase my wish into a better request. And the sole act of asking fills me with a feeling that’s even more healing than getting the wish. (Which, perhaps, is what I’m always actually yearning for.)

5) And, hey, I got my tax deduction.

So I’m telling that sad, self-righteous little story for the last time (I hope!) I think the process I’m describing is called ‘reframing’ in psychological terms. Whatever. It works.

And from now on, I will strive to ONLY tell it in this shiny, wonderful new context.

8 Comments

Filed under art, choices, cleaning the studio, craft, gratitude, inspiration, telling your story, world peace

LESSONS FROM HOSPICE #3: The Grief Writing Workshop Continues

What will survive of us is love.

I had to laugh when I looked through my drafts file this morning. I have tons of posts labeled “Lessons from Hospice”, but I see I’ve only published a handful. I realize now some of them seem simple, but are too much for me to handle. I’m reminded that so many of the good lessons in life are simple. But not necessarily easy.

Today’s thoughts come from the Grief Writing Workshop I’ve been running for a couple months now. We’re on session number two, with most of the first members signing up for another round, and some new members, too.

I’m seeing the changes in people already. When some of them started, their grief was palpable, written on their faces and even in their postures. It’s astonishing to see the changes in them as they begin the healing process. As they work towards peace and acceptance, they literally seem to glow. Such is the healing power of writing.

When I first struggled to get a grip on what this workshop would be like, I found this essay by Kathleen Adams extremely helpful. For anyone who’d like to pursue a career in such work, I highly recommend her website JournalTherapy.com.

The free-writing technique I learned years ago may be too overwhelming for those who are still in the raw stages of grieving. A simple but flexible structure in my workshop helps immensely.

We have a typical support group opening (establishing rules of confidentiality, for example). We name our loved one–because our culture is so uncomfortable with death, people hesitate to even say their name or bring up their death. For those who have lost someone, this feels like that person has truly been erased from the earth.

We do a few simple warm-up exercises, then move into writing on various topics. I started out with my own, but as people grew more comfortable, they started bringing their ideas, too. We do poetry-writing exercises, and I usually end by reading a favorite poem or prayer. We end as we began–saying our name, and the name of the one we’ve lost.

So simple. So ridiculously, delightfully simple. Yet the results are simply blowing me out of the water each week.

Of course, I’m not really teaching these people how to write. They come to the class because they already write, or they want to write more. I’m not even teaching them to write write WELL. I don’t edit their work, nor criticize their efforts in any way.

I give them the time, the resources, and the encouragement to do what their heart yearns to do–to contemplate what has been lost, and what has been found, in writing.

If anything, the greatest gift I give them is just this: Permission.

Permission to write, because it is important to them. Permission to write, because they love to write. Permission to write, because they want to.

“Write for yourself!” I tell them constantly. “Write your truth, your thoughts. Use writing to get yourself to a place you can’t get to with just talking, just thinking. Write the raw stuff. Write the mistakes, the scribbles, the doubts. Write ‘blah blah blah’ if you can’t think of anything to write–but write down the blah blah blah. Write as if you are the only person who will ever see it. Sure, use this later for inspiration, for ideas, for essays, poetry, whatever. But start here: Write because you must.”

I show them a gem of a book I found in my research for this class, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. The book is fine, but what I love best is the title. The writing is in your bones, and you have to do it.

(BTW, it looks like Natalie Goldberg and I went to University of Michigan at the same time. I wonder if our paths ever crossed?)

I couldn’t become the artist I always dreamed of being until I finally realized I HAD TO MAKE ART. And when I let go of the idea of being a GOOD ARTIST. When I accepted that it didn’t matter if it were good or bad, it simply had to exist in the world–and the only way that could happen was through me.

So, too, these folks are slowly losing the coulda/shoulda/woulda stuff that holds back any creative effort. They simply pour their hearts and their souls into the work.

And what comes through is exquisitely, profoundly beautiful. And poignant. And gentle/sad/raging/full of wonder and joy.

And after every session, I marvel at the miracle that has occurred right in front of me, from a small circle of strangers, now friends, who have blessed me, and each other, with the tender gift of their grieving, healing hearts.

So what’s the lesson? I dunno. I thought I’d just write this today, and not wait til it was wrapped up neatly in a package tied with ribbon for you.

I guess I’m learning that even when the worst thing you can imagine happens to you–the loss of your child, your soul mate, your sibling, your dearest friend–even as your heart is breaking and you feel like it is not possible for a human being to cry any more tears–there is a place of healing, and hope, and joy at the gift you had, and how no one can ever truly take that away from you.

I’m learning there is a place where all can be forgiven, if never quite understood.

I’m learning that sometimes, the most important person to forgive is yourself.

I’m learning that everyone is deserving of love. That we all yearn for it, need it, cry for it.

I’m learning, every day, that the line from Philip Larkn’s An Arundel Tomb is true, if only (and it’s such an important ‘if’) because we need it to be true:

What will survive of us is love.

Leave a comment

Filed under art, death, grief journaling, hospice, lessons from hospice, love, writing

DOUBLE TIP 4 U

Simple techniques for oxidizing silver.

I wanted a simple version of my animal and artifact necklaces. Sterling silver chain was an obvious solution. But the bright shiny sterling just didn’t go well with my little ancient-looking artifacts.

One day I was browsing a chic little store on Charles Street in Boston, and was captivated by a line of metal jewelry. The line design was simple and clean. The chains were BLACK. They looked wonderful!

I couldn’t figure out what the metal was, til I realized it was oxidized sterling silver. I knew I had my chain solution.

I’d done a wee bit of oxidation in the past, using traditional liver of sulfur. But it was difficult to use, smelly and tended to age out in between bouts of oxidation.

I searched online and found simple oxidation techniques using cooked egg yolks. It worked. But it was hard to control the process, it was time-consuming, and it just seemed wasteful to use up a carton of eggs for larger batches.

I finally found this terrific product: Patina Gel from Cool Tools. It’s liver of sulfer in a gel form. Its shelf life is loooooong, and it’s incredibly easy to use, even in small batches.

I’ve only used it on sterling and fine silver. But the bottle says you can also use it on brass, bronze and copper.

One of my favorite supply companies, Rings & Things in Spokane, WA, carries this product now. I even bought it in the larger size so I’ll never run out!

So that’s tip #1.

Tip #2 is silly, but hey, it works. Today I needed to oxidize a very tiny batch of items–an old sterling ring I took apart for the components. I’d just done a large batch of items the day before, in a small plastic storage container, so I couldn’t batch the items up with other items. And even the small plastic container was overly large for my purpose.

It occurred to me to use a small ziplock bag instead. And it works GREAT!

I used a 3″x3″ bag, put the items in it, put about an eighth of a cup of water in (maybe less) and a drop or two of the patina gel. I sealed the bag, squished it gently to mix the water and gel, and let it set.

Voila! A tiny batch of nicely-oxidized components at my fingertips!

Now if I can just remember where I set it down…..

Patina Gel--One of my favorite tools!

Fun freebies, like this ruler, from Rings & Things.

Leave a comment

Filed under art, oxidizing silver

ART FOR ONE PERSON

HOW DO WE MEASURE THE VALUE OF ART?

Whether it’s for one person, or millions, your art matters.

I belong to a new guild in Keene, the Creative Professionals Guild of New Hampshire. I’ve never thought of myself as a ‘commercial artist’ and I don’t always enjoy groups. But there was good energy in the group, and it was a chance to meet different people, interesting people. I realized some of my writing gigs fit the bill as a ‘creative professional’. So here I am, getting ready for an upcoming exhibit at a local bakery/coffee shop in town, writing press release, advising people on their artist bios and tag lines. (I have a knack. Who knew?!)

I was talking to one of the group members yesterday. Roma Dee is an amazing young woman. Not only is her photography good–she’s really really skilled at capturing what she calls ‘emotional moments’, at weddings and in portraits–she’s also a delightful woman whose gentle leadership skills rallied u to put on our first show. Even-handed, even-tempered, ready to laugh at the drop of a hat, she’s been a joy to work with.

We talked about her business, the nature of marketing to a small, time-sensitive, targeted group of people (brides) and the nature of art. (Bear with me here.)

We all have strong ideas of what art is, and like porn, we think we know it when we see it. Modern art forms, and modern ways of marketing it, make the definition more fluid. Is photography art? If so, is digital photography art? What does ‘art’ mean when ‘anybody can do it’? When the materials are cheap, or easily accessible, or not even ‘desirable.’ (Something polymer artists run into a lot. Face it, I make plastic horses.)

Roma talked about this and her chosen career, and then she said something effin’ brilliant.

She said she loves to do portraits and weddings. Yet these subjects do not lend themselves easily to art shows, and galleries. They are often only meaningful for the people involved, but perhaps not for a ‘general public.’

“But,” she added in the next breath, “It’s art to that one person.”

It’s art, but only for that one person. Or maybe it’s not ‘art’ (for everyone), but it’s definitely art to that one person.

So….is it art, if only one person cares about it?

In my mind….YES!!

In our modern culture, we can look to the past for our definition of ‘art’ and even ‘great art’. There are the works–usually painting, or sculpture. Work like the Mona Lisa. (Not to be too flippant, but most of what we consider ‘real art’ is stuff made by dead European white guys.)

Sometimes it can be work of ‘lesser media’ of great historical and cultural significance–that have endured the test of time. The Bayeux Tapestry. Grecian urns.

Millions know them and love them. Everyone agrees it’s art.

If we look to more recent examples, we look to the measure of fame and money. Picasso. Pollack. Warhol. And even more about fame and money, even less about original work, Richard Prince and Shepard Fairey.

When….did fame and money become the only measures of what is art?

When….did artists have to die before they could achieve fame and respect?

When…did we begin to consider how many other people like what we do, to determine if what we make is ‘real art’?

Roma said she did a portrait of a child, and her mother cried when she saw it. There was something in the moment Roma captured, the emotional content, that moved that one person to tears. (In a good way.)

That….is art.

Yes, there’s good art, and mediocre art. Sometimes even downright appalling art. Sometimes it’s popular, sometimes it’s not.

Yes, we all crave to speak to a larger audience. We all yearn to know our work is wanted, valued, admired. We may wish enough people valued our work enough for us to be able to make a living making it.

Yet sometimes, as Roma remarks, only one person will respond to it.

When we make something that resonates with someone, gets past their ordinary-life-defenses….
When it slips in and breaks their heart wide open…..
When what we create, creates that secondary moment–that awareness of something bigger, something special, something powerful, something meaningful….

Even if only that one person feels it….

That….is our blessing in life. To have that gift, and to be able to use it to make that moment in someone else’s life…..

That, in my art-making, is the one moment I live for.

There is also the moment for little chocolate cupcakes with pink icing, but that’s whole nother story. Come to our reception on April 16 and see what I mean.

5 Comments

Filed under art, craft books, creativity, inspiration, marketing