Monthly Archives: September 2012

EXCUSES, EXCUSES: A Lesson From Frank

I’ve been thinking about guilt and shame. Two states of mind that can really rack us up. Especially if we’re not clear on what they are. Especially if we’re not clear on what their purpose is.

I read that guilt is when we do something we shouldn’t. Or don’t do something we should. It’s not right, or fair, or kind. It doesn’t fit our idea of who we are, or who we want to be.

Guilt, in a good context, is an alarm, an “intruder alert”, that our lizard brain is running the show.

Shame, on the other hand, is feeling there is something wrong with ourselves. It’s the feeling that we are a bad person, not worthy of anything good. We don’t deserve forgiveness, success, respect or love.

Shame has no good context. It is truly destructive, because we feel incapable of making better choices.

I’m not going there with shame today. Too big!

But I’ve learned a big lesson about guilt.

I injured my back awhile back. In desperation, I sought out all kinds of alternative therapies, including the services of a local chiropractor, Frank Abbate.

Frank and I talked as he worked. He’s a martial artist so we often talked about principles and personal integrity. One memorable discussion centered on excuses.

One of his pet peeves is when people are late. Not the “late” thing itself. But the excuses people offer up.

I cringed a little, because I’m often running late. I know that being late can imply I don’t respect the wait-ee’s time. Or that I’m being unprofessional. Both are not who I want to be.

I was also curious. Why did the excuses bother him? Sometimes the things that make us late are beyond our control. (Though I’ll admit here, on the record, that I often fall victim to the creative person’s sense of time as fluid and elastic, stretchy enough to accommodate my belief I can really squish an hour’s worth of tasks into 27 minutes….)

Frank said, “If you’re late, you’re late. I’ll take the next person in line, that’s all. Or whatever….”

But, he added, “When you offer me your excuses, you’re really trying to put the load on me. And I refuse to pick that up.

Frank is saying an excuse is a justification for what we’ve done. When we try to justify our actions, we are actually trying to avoid guilt. And since we’re trying to avoid our responsibility–to show up on time–we are ever-so-gently sort of resting it on Frank.

“Nothin’ doing'”, he said. “Just apologize, and try not to do it again.”

It was such a new concept to me, we spent the entire session talking about it.

And of course, I realized he was right. Whether I had a good reason or not, I’m responsible. Not him.

When we mess up, and create a problem for someone else, the honorable thing is to own that.

Maybe the traffic was terrible. (Could I have left a few minutes earlier, just to be safe?)

Maybe someone else kept ME waiting. (Could I have phoned Frank and given him the option of rescheduling me?)

Maybe my car wouldn’t start. (Could I have noticed the battery was problematic, and been proactive about replacing it?)

Even with a good reason (an emergency situation, a last-minute deadline, bad weather), it’s not Frank’s problem. It’s mine.

And by offering excuses, I’m subtly trying to involve him in my problem. To let myself off the hook.

And he wants no part of it.

“I’m not mad, I’m not resentful,” he said. “Stuff happens. I just don’t want it on my plate.”

Now, at first glance, this seems like small potatoes. Late to an appointment? Pfhhht! Big deal!

But carried to an extreme, we find people who habitually blame others for their own shortcomings.

If I don’t put the effort into doing my marketing, if I don’t set aside enough time to clean my workspace for an open studio, if I don’t take the time to add new work to my online shop, who’s to blame for that? Not some mythical set of circumstances. Me.

Maybe it was a bad year. Maybe there wasn’t enough time. But the reality is, I made a choice. I set up other things as a priority–and rightly so.

But that decision was mine.

It gets worse. And you’ve seen it for yourself, among your peers, in the news.

Sent that fair application in a month late? Then blame the producer, saying they’re money-grubbing for charging the late fee? Yeah, right.

You overcharged a client, or cheated them out of money? Then say it’s because society doesn’t respect your line of work enough to allow you to make more money? Yeah, right.

You cheated on your spouse, and then say it’s because they aren’t fun to be around anymore? Yeah, right.

I’ve been making a better effort not to offer excuses anymore. (And boy, do I have really, really, really good excuses this past year.) It’s just not who I want to be.

It’s hard, but it’s…rewarding.

It feels a little bit like being a grown-up.

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JUDGES AND JURORS or Knowing When To Break The Rules

If you’re an exhibiting artist, try breaking this rule. My latest column at Fine Art Views, a blog about marketing art, may surprise you!

Last week, artist Sharon Weaver wrote a column for FineArtViews about entering art competitions. It was a good flow chart for your decision-making process.

In addition to the excellent reasons Sharon gave, there’s another big reason to enter an art competition: To get your work in front of a particular judge/juror.

(I’m going to use “juror” for both terms, because your work will be juried into these shows, and then judged for awards on its merits. The same person may fulfill both functions, but not necessarily.)

The juror may be an established, well-known artist. They may be the owner or manager of a prestigious gallery. They may be a curator associated with an art museum, or an independent curator. Or an art reviewer, an art dealer, art critic, art consultant or art appraiser. Depending on your professional goals for your work, this may be a golden opportunity to have your work seen by this particular juror. That alone may be worth the price of admission. It often is for me!

And consequently, that is also an excellent reason to contact the juror after the show—especially if you receive an award.

But…and here’s the kicker…

You should also contact the juror even if you didn’t win an award, and even if you did NOT get juried into the show!

Read the rest of this article here…

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WHAT’S THIS ALL ABOUT??? MY NEXT STEPS WITH MY ART.

Thoughts for my new series are still roiling and boiling in my brain.

The ideas come from many places and times. Some as long ago as I can remember, and others as recently as today. Some was inspired by seeing how another assemblage artist organized his materials. “THIS should be your art!” I exclaimed. He was not amused.

But it got me thinking.

All of this is based on my favorite activity, which I refer to by its ancient designation, “hunter-gathering”.

I’ve always loved picking up pretty pebbles, twisted twigs, sea shells, bits of rusted metal. This actually translates in a beautiful (and sometimes devastating) way to shopping. I love poking through piles of stuff, looking for the perfect little something everyone else has overlooked.

Last month I found a huge box of shells at a local antique shop. It was marked way, way down. But still a little pricey at almost $60. I won’t say I had buyer’s remorse when I got home, but “What was I thinking?!” was flying around my head. (It’s not buyer’s remorse if you’re still secretly glad you bought it….)

So here’s where the shells have gone. Here:

Big, big jar of big, big shells. Found the perfect jar at T.J. Maxx for under $15, in the perfect shade of sea glass blue.

And here:

A smaller jar o’ shells.

And here:

Note how they are sorted by color, texture, size and other significant characteristics. Like one slot holds “stones with spots”!

Now the last pic is especially telling. Because when I go to the beach, I come home with this:

Box o’ beach rocks.

And they quickly get displayed like this:

Do you see a pattern here?

Which got me doing this a few years ago:

People absolutely fell in love with my many trays of handmade artifacts at my last open studio!

So in my head are images of artifacts, collections, gatherings of objects, museum display, shrines and altars. Add to that a shaman’s gathering of healing herbs, objects of power, talismans of hope, magic stones and mysterious bones.

I don’t know exactly what it is. I have only vague ideas of what it looks like. Sometimes it frightens me. Sometimes I wish I could drop everything else to work on it. Sometimes it seems too much like play to take seriously.

There is only one thing I’m sure of:

Something wonderful is coming!

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HOW NOT TO BE PROFESSIONAL

Today’s post is a link to my regular column in The Crafts Report on how not to look like a professional artist.


THE PROFESSIONAL ARTIST HOME SURVEY

I read an article in a professional magazine today, about how to tell when someone is a professional artist. According to the author, it’s not how much work you sell, or how famous you are, or how seriously your work is taken. It’s when you act like a professional. Criteria includes adhering to a schedule; a dedicated space that’s organized and distraction-free; technical skills; talking intelligently about your work, and dealing with customers fairly.

Some of these markers are a snap for me. I can talk like a house afire about my work. I have technical skills.

The other stuff? I’m in trouble.

So I present for you today, an imaginary home visit from the professional artist assessment team….

Read more….

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GOODBYE GOMEZ

A local news story brings its share of heartache this morning.

Our cat Gomez has been missing since August 18, the day we left on vacation. He escaped the house just as we were packed and ready to go. “He’ll be fine!” everyone groaned. “Mary (our pet care person) comes tonight, he’ll be back for dinner time!”

So against my better judgment, we left. I tried not to worry. Everything would be fine, I told myself.

That was the last time I ever saw Gomez.

Mary called two days later to tell us there was no sign of Gomez. When we got home, he still hadn’t made an appearance.

We made very effort to find him–calling shelters, hanging posters, talking to people in the neighborhood. We met many wonderful people who tried to help us.

But every lead dried up. Even the black cat sightings all turned out to be other cats. I never knew there were so many black cats in Keene!

Gomez is such a great cat! I held onto a slim hope that he’d ingratiated himself into a new home, though I know that’s not how most lost cats end up. I called him every time I went outside. I watched for him as we walked or drove around our neighborhood.

Twice I was sure I’d found him. Happy, happy day!

Then I’d wake up, and realized I’d been dreaming.

Then I read the article in last night’s Keene Sentinel, our local newspaper. Three dead cats found in different Keene neighborhoods. Although there’s no evidence the cats were deliberately killed, the number of incidents, and some details about the deaths, raise a suspicion or two.

Two of the bodies were found very near our house.

I called the detective assigned to the case to get more information. Sure enough, one of the incidents involved a black cat. Actually, the head of a black cat.

It was disposed of by the home owners before the police arrived. And with no body, there was no microchip to be checked.

The head was found the day after Gomez disappeared.

The detective was sympathetic. He has pets, too, and had recently lost one. He knows how hard it is to lose a furry friend.

Some day soon, I’ll share those wonderful stories. As in any bad situation, there are good people who come forward, who cross our path, who restore our hope and faith.

It helps to know that Gomez is not lost, or suffering, or frightened anymore.

But right now, it is a very sad day at our house.

Goodbye, beautiful, beautiful cat.

Our charming and suave cat Gomez.

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MAKING ART WITHOUT A LICENSE

I subscribe to a great newsletter by Canadian artist Robert Genn called Painters Keys. Sometimes it’s about technique, sometimes it’s about marketing, sometimes it’s about the journey of making art. It’s always an interesting read.

Today’s letter about artist credentials reminded me about an article in my series, specifically, the one asking DO YOU HAVE TO GO TO ART SCHOOL TO BE A REAL ARTIST?

It came at a good time. I’m feeling self-judge-y and unfocused today. (That’s what happens when I clean my studio.)

But I know when a surface is cleared and I sit down to work, the muse will return.

No license needed to practice art.

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HOW TO VISIT SOMEONE IN A NURSING HOME Part 2

I told you I’d forgotten something! More tips on how to make your visits richer.

TALK STRONGER, NOT LOUDER

If the person you’re visiting is hard-of-hearing, try this simple trick: Get closer! Move so you can speak directly into their ear. Often this is all they need, and you may not need to speak any louder.

If you do have to speak louder, go up in increments. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen visitors and staff go from normal voice to YELLING. It always startles the client (and me!) so much, they nearly jump out of bed.

SING

Or hum, or bring a CD of their favorite music. This is especially nice if someone is non-verbal. Our brains are hardwired for music (and art, by the way.) If you don’t believe in miracles, test yourself by watching this short clip of an elderly man restored to himself through the power of music.

Don’t be afraid to be silly. One client was only conscious a few minutes each day, and spent most of her time semi-conscious or asleep. I’m not good with remembering lyrics, so I sang the only song I could think of: Come Away With Me, Lucille, in My Merry Oldsmobile. In my defense, I was in a lot of gay ’90’s (that’s 1890’s!) musical revues in high school, and I love the word “automo-bubbling”….

Janey (not her real name) roused, opened one eye and glared at me. “Just how old do you think I am?!” she asked indignantly.

TURN OFF THE TV

I don’t think I need to explain this one. You think the electronic babysitter is just used on kids?!

It’s especially heartbreaking to see how deeply affected clients are by having non-stop soap operas blasting all day. Some of the actually incorporate the dialogue into their dreams and memories. One day a poor gentlemen told me that people were angry at him, and yelling. He’d confused the the evil plots and cruel machinations of a daytime soap with real life.

PICTURES ARE WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS

If you have pictures of you and your friend together, bring ‘em! Or ask them about the photographs they have on display. Usually these are ones they cherish and brought with them, or they are important photos their other friends and family have brought. Photos can be powerfully evocative.

NO GUESSING GAMES

Even people with plenty of cognitive aptitude can get confused. Poor eyesight, compromised hearing, being roused from sleep….Have mercy! Good Lord, no one likes it when a stranger turns up at a party and says, “Do you know who I am?” or “Do you remember me?”

Don’t ask them to guess who you are–tell them! “Hello, Frannie, my name is Luann. I’m Mary’s oldest daughter, the one who lives in New Hampshire.” Or, “Hello, Mrs. Brown, I’m Bill Meyers. I was your student when you taught second grade at Houghton Elementary School. I’m the boy who brought a snake for show-and-tell, and it got loose in the classroom!” Trust me, she’ll remember you.

For more great suggestions, visit JazznJewelry’s excellent comment to my previous post.

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