Category Archives: action steps

PERSPECTIVE, and ADVICE FOR NEW BLOGGERS

Two pieces of advice you should might want to practice regularly. (I’m trying to cut back on telling people what to do….)

A few weeks ago, I was talking with an artist who had just started blogging. Or rather, blogging regularly and with intent. (As opposed to, “Open Studio Today!” stuff.)

She was complaining that she still hadn’t acquired much of an audience. I’m afraid I laughed out loud.

I hastened to assure her I was laughing AT her. I was just thinking of the early days of my own blog.

It was very much like the day I set out my very first bird feeder.

My husband and I had our very first apartment with a backyard–what a luxury! We’re low-level bird nuts, so I decided I would immediately set up a feeding station for the neighborhood birds.

I found a spot where we could sit on the back porch and watch the activity. I bought a bag of generic bird seed from, oh, I can’t remember, KMart? High quality stuff, I’m sure. (NOT.)

I didn’t have a bird feeder, so I took the lid from an extra garbage can and set it on the lawn. I filled it with the bird seed, put out a bowl of water, and took my seat on the porch.

Half an hour later, I wandered into the living room where Jon was reading. “It’s not working,” I said glumly.

“What isn’t working?” he asked cautiously. (Because when your girlfriend says something like this, the ensuing conversation could go ​anywhere​.

“The bird feeder!” I said. “I’ve been watching for thirty minutes, and not a single bird has tried it out!”

After making a funny noise that sounded suspiciously like a smothered guffaw, he patiently explained to me that birds don’t just smell food and come running. They discover feeding stations, slowly and cautiously, building a routine that takes them through a circuit of opportunity. “It could take weeks, even months for them to realize you’ve provided them a new source,” he explained.

Weeks? Months?? Wow. This bird feeding thing was more complicated than I thought.

Eventually a few crows and house sparrows found our lode. Then the raccoons found it, too, and that was the end of our bird feeding ventures. (Until Jon took it up again a few years ago, with much more forethought and dedication.)

My point, I explained to my friend, is this: Be patient.

A website, or a blog, is just a billboard on the information highway. Actually, it’s more like a sign on a back road in a rural area. For awhile, the only people who will really see it are the people who happen to live there. Or people who drive by when they’re looking for something else.

Eventually, your customers and collectors will realize it’s useful for them to check in regularly. And as you find your voice, other people willing–even hungry–to listen to what you’re saying will drop in, too.

Write what is in your heart, write about the things you really care about. The people who also care about those things will find you.

Some will stay, some will move on. But your numbers will grow.

In short, these things take time. That means being patience. Sometimes, perspective helps grow patience.

I told her that, almost ten years later, my total “regular” readership is probably somewhere around a thousand. But my first few years, I was lucky if a hundred people even knew I had a blog. (Okay, I confess. I think seven people have read my very first blog post. (You can read my very first blog article from November 29, 2002 here: ​Holding Onto “Facts” That Hold You Back​

Now for the perspective.

Re: the numbers…..I try not to check my stats. It’s like constantly asking people what they think of your work. It’s tempting, but ultimately not healthy for your creative spirit. I write because I have to write. I have something to say, that I have to put out there.

My art, the same. I have to make it. I can’t stop and worry about who else will like it, I have to simply do the work. You know, the Martha Graham thing….

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.

As spoken to Agnes De Mille

The two pieces of excellent advice?

1. Read that Martha Graham quote at least once a day.

2. The next time you’re tempted to read your blog stats, if you absolutely can’t resist, then try this: In the “At A Glance” bar graph, switch from the “daily” total to the “monthly” total.

Oh, gosh, the numbers are so much more satisfying!

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Filed under action steps, art, creativity, inspiration, mental attitude, perseverence

ASK THE TURTLE

Years ago, I was driving along a New Hampshire highway, and spotted a turtle by the side of the road.

From the tomb of King Tut, one of four guardian figures believed to be modeled after his mother. I see protection, gentleness, peace, love and serenity.

My heart went out to it. So many times, you see crushed turtles on the road. They simply can’t move quickly enough to escape the rushing traffic.

Now, on the other side of the highway was a lake.

Clearly, the turtle was confused, and needed help. So I pulled over, picked up the turtle, and took it to the lake side of the road.

I was so proud of my good deed. I patted myself on the back for taking the time to help a little turtle.

Imagine how embarrassed I was to learn, years later, that I had done exactly the wrong thing.

Turtles don’t get lost.

Female turtles have powerful drives to do exactly what this one was doing. They travel long distances to a safe, dry place away from their watery home, to lay their eggs. When they’re done, they return to the water.

I had simply prolonged this poor turtle’s journey. And forced it to cross the dangerous highway again.

I read an article about our nation’s tendency to offer international aid, with good intentions. But we often neglect to let each country determine what aid it really needs. The author used the same example of giving misguided ‘help to the turtle. “Ask the turtle,” she admonished. “The turtle knows exactly what it needs.”

I love this story, though I still feel bad for my own turtle.

I had a phone consultation with Lyedie Lydecker a few days ago. With a messy studio, new projects looming, new work I want to do, small orders I need to fill, upcoming knee surgery and the resulting loss of income (I can’t do my big League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair this year), I’ve been overwhelmed with how to best use my remaining non-invalid time. I’d ask Lyedie to help me sort it all out.

She listened, which is a blessing in itself. So many people listen, but then try to fix. (I do that!) I was listened to with exquisite care.

But the best insight was how to approach my studio.

It’s such a mess, and the thought of cleaning it now is overwhelming.

Now, about our studios…. Lyedie firmly believes that our studio isn’t just a physical space to work. It’s a partner in our creative process.

She said, “Ask your studio–your beloved partner in your creative process–what it needs.

As I look over the notes I took of our conversation, I flashback to an article I wrote almost eight years ago. As I reread it, I’m astounded by what I wrote that day.

Because it echoes Lyedie’s words so clearly, it’s eerie.

I firmly believe that we already know what we need to know. Sometimes it takes someone else to tease it out of us. And sometimes we just need someone to tell us.

So how do I ask my studio what it needs? Hmmmmmm……

Someone once told me how to do just that. The universe will give us everything we ask for, she said, if we would ask the right way.

You look down and close your eyes, droopy. Then expand and stand tall. Raise your face to the sky, turn your hands out, and ask. Out loud. Ask for what you want with your whole heart. (I did it a few times, and it worked so profoundly, I was scared to ask any more. Mistake!)

Now what does that remind me of??

I realize today I’ve seen this posture before.

You can see it in the figure above, one of a group of four female figures I saw in the King Tut exhibition in Toronto many, many years ago. They are guardian figures (of Tut’s sarcophagus?), believed to be modeled after his mother. They protect the remains of her beloved son, with serenity, with peace, with gentleness and love.

So that’s what I did this morning. I entered the studio today as a supplicant, as a loving partner, eager to restore my beautiful relationship with my beloved space.

I asked my studio what it needed from me.

Because I was willing to see, to listen, to feel, to love, I heard what my studio needs.

And it was not what I thought it was. It doesn’t want much. There are no demands, no resentment, no punishment or resentment. Just a few gentle requests. All things I can manage, and all things that will return tenfold in joy.

Today, I asked the turtle.

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Filed under action steps, art, cleaning the studio, craft, living with intention, mental attitude

PARKING WOES IN KEENE NH

January 26, 2012

City of Keene
Keene, NH 03431

To Whomever Makes Parking Meter Purchase Decisions:

I am not enjoying the new parking meter system in downtown Keene. And if we can judge by the unusually high number of empty parking spaces in that area lately, I have a lot of company.

I’ve had to wait in line at the kiosks, even when I simply need 6 minutes to run an errand.

No matter where I park, I have to detour to go to the kiosk. In fact, this system completely eliminates the concept of a “great parking spot.” It’s no longer in front of your destination store, because you still have to go out of your way to get to the kiosk. When the weather is lovely and my arthritis isn’t acting up, and now that I no longer have small children in tow, a detour to a kiosk is no big deal. But when snowbanks are piled high, when it’s raining or freezing out,when sidewalks are icy, when I’m in a hurry, when I’m carrying a child or two, when I’m recovering from yet another knee surgery, that extra trip is just a pain, literally and figuratively.

The kiosks don’t accept debit cards or credit cards. So we’re still stuck fumbling for change. However, it looks like it will be lucrative for the city, because when the kiosks misfire and refuse to accept change, you have to put a dollar in no matter how little time you need. And when it refuses to make change, well, we lose again.

But who really loses? Downtown merchants. This morning I went to Prime Roast for coffee. The row of spaces in front of their store was completely empty, except for one car. I haven’t seen the street that empty, on a weekday morning, in 20 years.

If you make it a hassle for customers to patronize downtown businesses, they will go somewhere else to shop.

I’d rather have the old meters back. Simple and quick. Or better yet, a meter (NO KIOSK, please, God) that accepts change, dollars and debit/credit cards. Or a parking pass card, like EZ pass. Pay a monthly or annual fee, get a car sticker or a swipe card, and never worry again about how many quarters I have.

Please—just make it less annoying to shop downtown, okay?

Luann Udell

cc: The Keene Sentinel

I think the 'love' stamp adds just the right balance, don't you?

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Filed under action steps, art, life

CLEANING THE STUDIO Redux

Lord, I hope “redux” means “revisited”…. Just checked Wiki–yes!!

It all started when we cleaned out our daughter’s old room. She came home to help. I had visions of the two of us cutting a swatch through the piles o’ stuff, filling bag after bag of stuff to be tossed, given, moved or….or….what else do you do with a 1942 manual on identifying enemy planes?

Instead, we spent a leisurely afternoon of Robin browsing through old journals, school notebooks and yearbooks. We tried on the hats we bought on family trips to Boston. (We once defused a family spat by stopping in a little shop on Newbury Street called TOPPERS. We all bought hats. Now it’s a family tradition.) Finally, after hours of delicate sorting, Robin announced she’d salvaged everything she wanted. I was free to take care of the rest. (My professional writer voice is calm and dignified. My mother voice is about to scream.)

From there, I’ve managed to keep up with my goal of removing one bag o’ stuff a day from her room, the attic and my studio. It feels like truly sisyphean task. I comfort myself by doing the math. If I keep it up, in a year I will have removed 365 bags. Not too shabby, hey?

This has all happened before. It will all happen again. (Who says you can’t learn something important from Battlestar Galactica reruns?

Sometimes it helps to know how you did it before. Other times, knowing what’s in store can add to the overwhelming nature of the task. (The first words out of my mouth when I tore my ACL the send time were, “Oh, NO, NO, NO, NOT AGAIN!!!” I knew I was in for another surgery, I knew I was in for at least six months of recovery, I knew it would be at least a year before I felt back to normal.

I couldn’t face it. But….

I did it anyway.

So today as I dig in once again, I share with you three thoughts and resources that are helping:

1) “Leave it for someone else.” Too many of my clutter–er, collecting–impulses are fueled by the thought that I’ve discovered something wonderful, and I need to save it from oblivion in the thrift shop.

But now I ask if I truly love it or have a use for it. If not, I know it will be found and cherished by someone else. So….I leave it for someone else.

2) “Would I buy this again today?” I can’t believe how much this helps me decide what will stay and what should go.

3) This website, Clutter Buster, by Brooks Palmer.

I can’t remember where the first two questions came from, but will credit them when I track the source down.

In the meantime, I need to go fill another bag.

What strategies help YOU clean out?

Happy spring cleaning!

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Filed under action steps, art, cleaning the studio, craft, perseverence, recycling tip

TRAINING CATS TO DRINK WATER

To achieve new heights, we have to acquire new habits and tell ourselves a different story.

Stay with me, there’s a point to this drinking water thing.

We’ve always had cats. If you have cats, you know what happens.

Cats train you to do some really funny things. They get us to act in ludicrous ways, irrational ways. And we end up believing in the idiocy, too. We even believe it’s natural. “Cats are like that–they’re finicky!” we say.

It starts out very innocently. Maybe the cat starts playing with water coming out of the kitchen tap. Soon, every time you turn on the tap, the cat is there to play some more, and maybe take a few sips.

After a while, you begin to notice that the water level in his official water dish, stays the same. “Oh, no!”, you think. “The cat isn’t getting enough water!” So you turn on the tap. He jumps up and gratefully starts drinking.

Before you can say, Holy Catfish! you have a cat who will only drink out of the faucet.

Eventually, you even have to adjust the flow of water to just the right speed–not too fast, or he’ll be frightened. Not to slow, or he’ll walk away in impatience.

It will seem very normal to you, too. You will simply accept the process as what you have to do to get him to drink.

Until you see someone else doing this in their house, with their cat. And then you see how ridiculous the situation is.

For us, it was when we visited a friend with a cat. He had half a dozen caps from cans of shaving cream arranged around his bathroom floor, each cap filled with water. He told us (in total seriousness) he had to do this so his cat would drink water.

I burst out laughing. Because, you know, I know, and Pete knows….

No cat dies of thirst because his water is in the wrong-sized container.

No cat starves to death because his food is not the right brand.

Your teenager isn’t going to starve because you don’t make his sandwich the right way, with the right bread.

“Finicky” goes out the window when you’re hungry enough, when you’re thirsty enough.

“Finicky” goes out the window when you want something badly enough.

I was thinking about this today. Oh, all right, I admit, because I now have a cat who will only drink water who has trained me to think she will only drink out of the bathtub faucet.

As I watched her drink this morning, it suddenly occurred to me…

I wondered what have I trained myself to do….
What story have I told myself….What story do I ‘know’…
That’s getting in the way of getting what I really want in my life?

I’ve been fearful of “not doing it right” with an upcoming workshop I’m teaching–to the extent that I wanted to cancel it. I want to do it badly. But I think I can’t do it unless I do it perfectly.

I have a project dear to my heart, something I’ve been dreaming about for six years. I have a million reasons ‘why it won’t work’. Today I wrote in my journal all the excuses I’ve made up for why I shouldn’t do it: ‘I know’ there’s no way to exhibit it. ‘I know’ there’s no one who would buy it. ‘I know’ I shouldn’t start it til I have the whole concept figured out perfectly.

Well, duh, who cares??!!

I want to do it.

And the only thing holding me back is the story I’ve been telling myself, and all the ridiculous reasons I’ve made up about why it won’t work.

So giggle a little at the thought of Tomcat Toes drinking daintily out of a lovely assortment of plastic cups. Smile at the thought of chubby Chai shlurping heartily from the bathtub faucet. Let’s tease my sister not wanting her son to go to California years ago because he would never make himself a sandwich and so he would go hungry….

But the next time you have a project, an idea, a glimmering of something that makes your heart beat a little faster….

Listen hard for the imaginary can’t/shouldn’t/no-way thinking that could have you drinking out of a shaving cream cap within a few weeks.

Won’t that look silly?

Now go to your studio. Write that song. Start that video. Get out your brushes.

Me? I’m gonna go dust off my sewing machine.

And yes, I will share my big project when it firms up a little more. Just keep those cups of water outta my sight for awhile, okay?

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Filed under action steps, art, business, courage, craft, creativity, fear of failing, inspiration, life with pets, mental attitude

HOW TO BE MORE PRODUCTIVE Part 2

Part Deux in how to raise the art of procrastination to a fever pitch, my column in yesterday’s Fine Art Views newsletter.

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Filed under action steps, art, business, craft, creativity, procrastination

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

Used to be, when the new year rolled around, you’d find all kinds of articles in the news about resolutions.

Nowadays, it seems like you see just as many about why we never keep those resolutions.

I started to set my own “usuals” this week: Be more productive with my artwork, get organized, exercise more, eat less.

Then I read those darn downer articles, and wonder why I bother?

The answer came to me last night.

Yes, it’s hard to maintain those good intentions.

But I love the place of hope they come from.

This year I’m going to enthusiastically make those same ol’ resolutions, with some new additions.

I’m considering the lessons of my hospice training, and thinking about the difference between “curing” and “healing”. Between “fixing” and “truly listening.”

I’m going to take my passions–riding, martial arts, tai chi and yoga–and dig in a little deeper. I may restart a little chubbier than usual, but I know I’ll feel better for simply showing up and trying.

I’m positioning my artwork right where it belongs–as something I do for myself, and then share with the world. With no regrets and no measuring. It will go where it will, perhaps only a small pebble in a very big ocean. But even a small pebble makes ripples. I may not be able to see where they go, but I know they are there.

I intend to write something every day. Not all of it will be earth-shattering or special. But I want to make writing as daily a habit as…..cream in my coffee.

I will NOT give up cream in my coffee. Maybe in 2011…..?

Oh, and to remember to be grateful for what I have and for all the people in my life. All of ‘em, even the highly annoying ones, bless ‘em. I have something to learn from them all. And…grateful to just be here.

Some of these intentions will stick. Most probably won’t. I get that.

But I won’t give up on myself.

I kinda like the fact that I still believe I could be a better artist, a more successful biz owner, a kinder, healthier person, a better friend, if I try.

What do YOU resolve in 2010?

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Filed under action steps, art, choices, craft, gratitude, inspiration, life, living with intention, mental attitude, perseverence

TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS #12: The Muse Never Falters

MYTH: Creativity never sleeps. If you hit a wall, then you aren’t a real artist.

Truth: The Muse will come and go, but give her half a chance and she will always return.

Today’s myth was inspired by a blog post from Danielle LaPorte, whose website White Hot Truth…because self realization rocks is becoming one of my favorite reads.

“Life balance” is an insidious myth. Picasso, Oprah, Steve Jobs, Einstein, Maria Callas – they weren’t aiming for balance, they were aiming to rock their genius, and they’ve all had periods of burn out.

This was a little spooky. Okay, a LOT spooky. Because I got the old synchronicity thing going again.

Because a few days ago, for the first time in like two years (or more???), I sat down and began working on a new series of fiber work.

Danielle’s post today was actually the third or fourth synchronistic thingie. The second was her post from a few days ago, about kissing up to your muse.

I woke up in the middle of the night a few days ago with a great idea for next month’s column for The Crafts Report. At first I rolled over to go back to sleep. I’d just sent in my column and had a few weeks before the next one was do. I was sure I’d remember the great idea.

But something in me said, “No. Get up NOW. Just go write it.”

I went with it. And wrote almost the entire article in one sitting.

The spooky thing about that? It was the night before her post on don’t-dis-the-Muse. (Cue Twilight Zone music…)

The synchronicity thingie piece before that happened at dinner out with friends last week. Turned out one of our dinner companions is the daughter of another good friend who’s a painter. Her dad has a new series of artwork on exhibit, after a hiatus of many years from painting.

I mentioned I’d tried to buy one of his paintings a few years ago and he wouldn’t sell me one. She said yeah, he had a “thing” about not selling any until he had a body of work produced, even though he hadn’t even started his new phase when I’d tried to buy one. “He’s funny that way,” she mused. (Pun intended.)

Funny? Hmmm….. He wouldn’t sell his old paintings…. He’d stopped painting…. Now he had a new body of work.

It hit me like a ton of bricks.

I hadn’t made any new fiber work because it had stopped selling a few years ago. I don’t care what the newspapers say, artists and craftspeople know the recession started a lot further back than last year. Oh, I sold a few, but it was tortuous.

When people stopped buying, it wasn’t exciting to make more. And as they sold (slowly), I unconsciously held on to the ones I had left.

So that, if the muse never came back, I’d have something on hand to prove I really had been an artist.

I know it’s it’s desirable to grow and change as an artist. But change for change’s sake was not desirable (for me.) I was stuck.

Awhile ago, I realized that even if my fiber work remained what it was, and I never had a new idea, well, having that one really great theme in my life would be “good enough”. That cracked the door open again.

The remark that made me realize I was hoarding my old work opened that door a little wider.

Getting up in the middle of the night to write blew it open. Danielle’s post was like putting a door stop in it, to keep it open.

And then I sat down at my sewing machine and thought, “What if I just do some simple little pieces….? Just for me.”

Her post today was the final nail in the coffin. Er, door. Should doors be nailed open?? Okay, forget that metaphor, it stinks.

So being willing to be a “not very good artist” again (making the same old work) and realizing what I was holding on to (“I was once a pretty good artist!”) was enough to get me in front of my sewing machine once again. (Which is when I also sewed through my finger, but I’m not going to let that stop me, either, though I worry that my machine has now tasted blood.)

Danielle’s observation–that the muse may come and go, but if we care enough, we will just hang in there–was powerful. Letting go when the inspiration wanes, knowing we will come back, somehow, some way, even though we have no idea what that will look like, that feels like jumping off the edge of the world.

But now I know, as long as I persevere, it will indeed come back.

Because it has to. Or I’ll die.

It may be the same stuff. If so, then I will keep making it. I will rejoice and be grateful I had at least one really good thing to offer the world.

It may start the same and change. That’s okay, too. It will be what it will be.

What’s important is–it’s back.

I don’t care what it looks like anymore. I don’t care what other people think about it anymore.

I just have to do it.

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Filed under action steps, art, body of work, cancer, choices, craft, creativity, fear of failing, gratitude, inspiration, life, mental attitude, myths about artists, writing

TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS: A Segue

oooh, I’ve always wanted to use the word “segue” in an essay!

In my last “Myths About Artists” post, a reader said there are some people who , feeling entitled, simply want to simply “be” an artist, with all the fame and glory and controversy they think automatically comes with it.

Several themes came to me after reading his thoughtful comments.

First, as a parent, a former teacher, and even a former child (yes, and please, no comments about not having enough fingers, toes or other digits to compute how many years ago that would be), this sounded very familiar.

We all have a desire for our work to gain some attention and respect in the world. And if you’re like me, you probably wish we didn’t have to constantly work so darn hard to get there.

This is a very human trait, after all. Yes, some people work very hard at becoming excellent at their craft, whatever it is. But many of us start out dreaming of an effortless success.

When I dreamed of horses, and of riding horses, I pictured myself riding fearlessly a beautiful horse, galloping wildly across a boundless plain under an open sky.

I did NOT dream of the long and often painful process of learning how to acquire my “seat”–how to sit comfortably for hours on a horse, how to balance instead of bounce (ow, ow, ow), how to control a horse (because atop a wildly running horse can actually be a frightening place to be.)

I did NOT envision the hours of hard work involved in caring for a horse, including grooming, mucking stalls and tacking up. And of course, boarding fees, vet bills and farrier costs never entered my pleasant daydreams, either.

No, it’s all too human to see the glory, not the grit, in our dreams.

But the person who believes they deserve an easy success? This is not the person I have in mind when I write these essays.

In my mind’s eye, I always speak to the person I used to be–the person who never believed that dreams can come true.

I was lost because I was too afraid to pursue my passion, and suffering because of it. I made the lives of my loved ones miserable, because I could be difficult to be with. (Er…still am, actually.)

In the words of my favorite bumper sticker, “Those who abandon their dreams, will discourage yours.”

Eventually, the pain of NOT being an artist surpassed the fear of failure. And that’s when I took my first steps to becoming not just an artist in name only–but an artist with gumption.

When I had the courage to take those first few tentative steps–and to keep on taking them–then I was truly on the path to becoming a more whole person.

That’s what it felt like, anyway. As my pursuit of art became more habit than daydream, my ability to love more freely, to judge less harshly, to be more fearless, to be more thankful, also grew.

Am I perfect? Heck no. I am still racked often–even daily!–by self-doubt, envy, fear, jealousy and sour grapes.

But I just keep on plugging away. Because I believe trying–making a true effort to attain our goals and dreams–matters.

A good friend sometimes says I make too much of this “thing about the horses”. She makes the case that if my current art changed, if I took up another art form, even if my ability to make any art were to disappear, I would still be me. I am not my art.

I get that, I do. But I am still pathetically grateful I had the chance to make this work, and took it, even so.

And every word I write is with this intention–to encourage even just one more person on this planet to do the same.

I encourage you to take the same journey, in your very own individual, inimitable way (of course!)

To paraphrase another friend’s words, I truly believe our acts of creation, by putting positive energy out there, by becoming a more whole human being….

By believing we can all achieve something good by making something that is useful, or beautiful, or both…

…is ultimately an act of peace, and makes the world a slightly better place for all.

Okay, I know I just quoted a hobbit here, but that’s what I believe.

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Filed under action steps, art, artist statement, body of work, business, craft, creativity, fear of failing, gratitude, horses, inspiration, living with intention, mental attitude, myths about artists, perseverence

HELP SAVE THE BEAD MUSEUM!

If you love beads, especially ancient beads, please help out the Bead Museum in Glendale, AZ.

And no, I’m not talking about my personal bead stash!

The Bead Museum in Glendale, AZ is in danger of closing. An incredible national (and international) resource, this would be an enormous loss to the bead community.

You can read an article about the museum’s situation here.

You can read how important the Bead Museum is in this re-post of a letter from Alice Scherer, Founder, Center for the Study of Beadwork. This post appeared on the Bead Collector Network forum several months ago.

Here are 20 Ways to Love the Bead Museum.

Why should we care about beads? It’s easy to smirk at the idea of little glittery trinkets having much significance in the greater scheme of things.

Except that beads were some of the first things ancient people adorned themselves with. Beads have been around a long, long time.

Beads were used very early for trading and commerce. Just like pottery, the discovery of ancient beads in archeological digs can be used to trace ancient trade routes. They reflect how cultures around the world interacted throughout prehistory.

I wrote this article awhile back, marveling at how long we humans have been at this thing called “adornment” and “fashion”. The desire to decorate ourselves, to distinguish ourselves from others, overlaid with the desire to connect, trade, exchange and adapt with each others’ cultures, fascinates me.

And beads are at the very beginning of that very human phenomenon.

Isn’t it nice when you can buy a nice strand of Zulu grass strand beads for less than $10, and save a true national treasure at the same time?

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A NEW WEBSITE FOR CRAFTSPEOPLE

A shout-out for the guy who gave me my first writing gig–and a link to his latest big project.

Today I’d like to introduce my good friend, Larry Hornung, who has been in the crafts business industry for years. He’s been hard at work on a new online project to benefit all us craftspeople and artists.

It’s called CRAFT SHOW NEWS.

I’ve just started poking around the site, and found this thoughtful (and provocative) suggestion for guaranteeing a good crowd at a craft show. Here’s a link to Pam Corwin’s Business of Craft blog and another link to Quinn MacDonald’s always thoughtful, insightful blog Quinn Creative. Please tell Larry he needs to include a link back to CSN from there…

Show reviews, artist profiles, craft news, artist galleries…it’s all there!

AND….you can add your own news, gallery, show review.

But WAIT, there’s MORE!!

It’s F*R*E*E*, too.

I first met Larry when he headed advertising sales and managed the fledgling online discussion forum for The Crafts Report magazine. We had many thoughtful and hilarious discussions about the industry. We’d run into each other at various shows, and I loved hearing his insights and experiences in the biz.

Larry went on to start his own magazine, CraftsBusiness. He hired me to write my first regular column, An Artist’s Journal.

It was a great magazine, and it was a good ride for three years. Then he sold it to another company (who decided not to publish it after all) and set off on another venture. (That’s when I started writing a similar column, CRAFT Matters for The Crafts Report.)

So what’s Larry up to now? Here, in his own words:

I started craftshownews because I believe there needed to be a place where craft artists — and others – could communicate with others in the industry, promote their businesses and their work, and feel free to make their opinions known. Plus, I wanted it to be a place with resources and information that could help grow their business. It would also be free.

As for me, I am hoping to just manage the site, adding my own content (along with artist supplied content) , and hopefully make the website pay for itself.

I’ve always admired Larry’s intelligence and wit, his integrity, his work ethic, his genuine desire to support and encourage fine American handcraft, and did I say he was funny?

Check out his new site. Let him know what you think–he welcomes suggestions! Participate by adding your own show feedback (if you do shows), or volunteer to add an article or link you think would be a good fit.

Oh, and tell him I said hi!

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25 RANDOM THINGS: Action Steps for Your Artist Statement #3

Continuing with my mini-series about how to use Facebook’s “25 Random Things About Me” to write promotional materials.

The next question is from an artist who wrote:

“Hi Luann,
I was intrigued by your letter today in the FAS newsletter. I just joined Facebook to find out more about the “list” of 25 things about yourself. After you compiled the list, how did you write it into an artist statement? I really feel clueless how to start. You are a very good writer!”

(This was the question I was going to answer first because of the compliment. Always feel free to put those in, btw….!!)

Okay, so first, you can’t just use the 25 Random Things as your artist statement. That would be a loooong statement!

The list is a) a warm-up exercise for learning to write easily about yourself. And b) a source for snippets about yourself that get to the heart of what you do.

Just like musicians might play scales to warm up for performing, this list is a warm-up for more ‘serious’ writing.

It’s also a way to ‘warm up’ to putting more passion into your artist statement.

I picked “artist statement” as an end goal for this warm-up exercise. In reality, artists need all kinds of self promotional materials: artist bio, cv (curriculum vitae, sort of a ‘life resume’ with your art as a focus), artist statement, press releases, etc.

Some of your list items are going to jazz up your statement. Because unless you think people go crazy with excitement reading lists of your exhibits and educational background, you must learn to talk about your art with the same passion you use to make it.

You don’t have to go over the top–no drama major needed. But think about ways to talk about your art that shows why it really, really matters to you–and that it isn’t just “something you do” to fill in your spare time. Even if it is only that, you can talk about that in a way that is more engaging than, “Well, I was bored, so I made this stuff.”

Don’t be afraid to tell people what you care about.

Think of the 25 Random Things as a way to collect these things you care about the most. Some of them will provide you with a jumping-off place.

In my last post on this topic, we left off with the suggestion that a good artist statement should make you want to look at the artist’s work again. Some of you did that experiment with the artists I suggested, and graciously acknowledged that it worked. Yay!

The key to the 25 Random Things is, somewhere in a good list, there is something you’ve listed that might make people “look again”.

If your art is light-hearted, your approach to your 25 Random Things list, and your artist statement might be light-hearted, too. Remember–light-hearted art is not necessarily lightweight art. Laughter is powerful medicine. Humor can be a powerful weapon. Whimsy can still be serious stuff.

You might also choose different approaches (more serious, more whimsical) for different applications. For example, the “About Me” section of my blog has a more light-hearted approach. That’s because I want to entertain as well as inspire. Yes, I’m serious about my writing, but I’m willing to laugh at myself, too. (I just don’t want you to be laughing at me too hard, okay?)

The introduction to my art calls for a more serious, inspirational tone. It’s not that I don’t want you to have fun with my work. But it’s not what you’d call “whimsical”. It’s a different manifestation of what I bring to the world.

My actual “artist statement”, is no longer on my website. I realize I should make room for it again.Here’s the short version of it:

I dream of the cave of Lascaux…

Its beautiful paintings of running horses,
born by the flickering light of torches….
Never meant to see the light of day,
yet brought to light in our lifetime.
Survived ten thousand years,
yet nearly destroyed by the breath of ten thousand visitors…
Too delicate to survive the climate of our modern world,
The cave was closed, and finally, sealed.

Lost.
Found.
And lost again.

The horses now run
in the darkness of their cave
forever.

We do not understand the mystery of these paintings.
We know not what they meant to the people who created them.
Their message was not meant for us.

But their beauty and power create profound echoes
in our modern hearts.

What ancient, yearning dreams of hope and beauty
brought forth these haunting images?

Ten thousand years from now,
Who will know the makings of our hands?
And who will know the mysteries of our hearts?

If you go back to my 25 Random Things About My Biz, you will see the seeds of where that statement comes from.

I know there are other “rules” I’m breaking with this statement. I haven’t changed significantly in ten years.

But every time I think of changing it, someone who reads it for the first time tells me how powerful it it is.

And so I keep it.

Just as it’s hard to present you with a template for a statement, it’s hard to give you a step-by-step model for turning your list into a statement. I’m thinking about how to do that, and present it in more manageable form for you. It’s easier to do face-to-face, using a technique I’ll explain next time.

But for now, write up a few lists. Play around with them. Write some in a humorous vein, make others more serious. Put a star next to the entries that create a lump in your throat, or bring tears to your eyes.

Because…I’ll say it again, because it is so important:

Whatever makes you cry, that’s where your heart is.

And where your heart is, that is your truth.

Don’t be afraid to tell people what you really care about.

If it is honest, if it is heartfelt, it will be…POWERFUL. You’ll know. And your audience will know.

And when you speak the truth, it is so powerful, people will hear it and know it for the truth.

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25 RANDOM THINGS: Action Steps for Your Artist Statement #1

My article about using Facebook’s “25 Random Things About Me” exercise to create an artist statement appeared in the FineArtViews newsletter this week.

People are asking me exactly how to do that–turn that list into their statement. Should they just make 25 Random Things into their artist statement??

Well, you could, but I didn’t mean for you to actually do that. For one thing, that’s one looooong artist statement.

Rather, think of the 25 Random Things as a jumping-off exercise to do an actual statement.

I’ll respond to some of these queries today and in upcoming articles. Maybe some examples will help make this more concrete.

I was going to first address the question from someone who told me I was a very good writer. Flattery gets you everywhere!

But a comment from another writer should come first. Because this artist can’t even get started on the 25 Random Things.

The artist left this comment on my blog:

I have been confronted with the list a number of times – but find that I am either too shy or just simply unable to list anything because I am changing too often to want to simply put anything down that would be so permanent that I could not go back and add another two millions or so things on a constant basis

Let’s look at the beliefs behind this block, and address them one at a time. (And I don’t mean to pick on this one reader, because a LOT of artists feel this way…including, from time to time, ME.)

Shy I can’t help you with. Except…

Nobody will care more than YOU do, about what you do.

Corollary: If you can’t articulate why what you do is amazing, or explain why we should care about it, you won’t even be able to communicate that to someone you HIRE to do it FOR you.

Here’s an article I wrote awhile back about why it’s important to step up to the plate with your artist statement, your promotional materials, and yes, your 25 Random Things.

It’s not about writing “two million things”, it’s about selecting 25 things.

What would you think if an artist said, “I can’t paint, there are just too many things in the world I could paint. I can’t make up my mind which one to paint, so I just won’t paint at all.”

That’s not a painter with too much to do. That’s a great excuse for not being a painter at all.

We know this person is an artist. We’re going to apply the same principles to getting out and making art, to getting out there and doing the list, and getting out there and writing an artist statement.

You’re selective when you make your art. Be selective when you make your list.

This will help when you do your artist statement, too. Most artist statements are far too long. I saw one once at a show that was a full typewritten page, with miniscule margins in an even minisculer font. (Yes, I know minisculer is not a real word–I made it up!) I tried and tried to read it, and kept losing my place.

Plus it was just plain boring, which is sad because the work was exciting. Plainly, the artist had trouble putting the same passion that drove him to make that work, into his artist statement…. Which brings me to my next point:

It’s 25 interesting things, okay?

More on this in the articles ahead. And why most artist statements sound alike, and how to make your stand out.

Anything you write has to stay that way…forever! (NOT)

Now, I know I’ve stated in other articles that what you say online is there a long time. But the truth is, it will take some digging to find. Your little list of 25 Random Things is not the Gutenberg Bible. It’s not written in stone, either.

When you do those million other things, you can simply go back and change it. Or heck, write a new one. It’s okay–nobody cares how many times you do it!

It’s just for fun.

Nobody is keeping track of how many times you do it. Nobody is keeping score. Nobody is hanging out on Facebook with a judge’s hat on, saying, “Well, he had a good rhythm, you could dance to it, but the lyrics…!! I give it a 5.”

What’s matter-of-fact for you might be HOLY COW!! I DIDN’T KNOW THAT ABOUT YOU! for someone else.

I always think the oddest thing about my martial arts practice(s) is how old I am. In reality, most people are amazed I do it at all. I guess “artist” never seems to go hand-in-hand with kung fu.

Just as the things you’ve done so long or so long ago, they are something you hardly think about, could be a hook for your audience. I never knew my friend Mark was a yoga nut. Or that my friend Judy knows more about football than anyone else I know. It enriches my relationship with them.

Last, I recognize one of the blocks, this because I suffer from this one myself:

Perfectionism.

Here’s a tip: Perfectionism=Stultifying

Perfectionism keeps us from doing anything until we can do it perfectly. When, in reality, practice makes perfect.

The only cure for perfectionism is….

Start where you are. When you know better, do better.

If you don’t want to publish your list on Facebook, then don’t. But write it in a notebook or a journal. Set it aside for now. Pull it out when I write the next article on what to do with those 25 Random Things.

Extra credit homework: A list of some good articles I wrote on self promotion for artists.

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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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TURNING THE TABLES

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

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

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

So what do you do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was actually starting to feel better already.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It boils down to this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t think so much. Just….DO.

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

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

Starting now.

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10,000 HOURS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On it were the four stages of learning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because writing is one of my creative processes.

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

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

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

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SAVING THE ENVIRONMENT from the inside out

It’s funny how one day, I have absolutely no idea what I could write about that would possibly interest anyone. The next, I’m flooded with the same idea over and over and over again.

The last few days, I’ve seen “environment” road signs all over the place. But not the “environment” we usually mean.

I’m talking about our own personal environment.

I saw the first sign yesterday, at an inspirational black belt ceremony in my old dojo. I remember when the candidate began his journey in martial arts. I wrote this article about him in my old blog. To me, this guy epitomizes the powerful and transformative journey to black belt. He is now officially one of my life heroes.

One of the teachers read a speech he’d written about achieving black belt level, about how important our environment is to the process. Everything in our environment–the people we interact with, the support we receive, the choices we make, the food we eat–all contribute to who we are.

If we intend to transform ourselves, we must create the environment that supports our intention.

The second sign was on my way home. I saw a bumper sticker that said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Last night I found the third sign.

It was this odd little book on my dining room table. It’s called As a Man Thinketh by James Allen. It’s been floating around my home for months. I kept picking it up and moving it here and there. I think I know who gave it to me, but I’m not sure. It seems like it just appeared on day. (You can download a copy here for free.)

The premise is, what you think is who you are. We create our own reality, and we see the world through our own filter. Believe your life sucks, and that’s what you see. Believe you can make it better–and incorporate the choices that make it happen–and you will.

I finally started to read it last night. I glanced at the back…right where it says, “Environment is but his looking-glass.”

Which stopped me dead in my tracks.

This metaphor–our environment reflecting us–was suddenly very clear.

Yeah, it took three signs, but I finally got it.

Our personal environment is powerful. The environment we create will either support us in positive ways, or in negative ways. You can turn your life around and make it all the way through to black belt. Or you sit around, confused, overwhelmed and troubled, wondering where you lost your way.

Either way, it’s our choice.

I’m sitting here realizing I’ve let my environment slip.

I got a great start creating a better workspace, as you can follow with my series of articles on Cleaning the Attic.

I’ve added yoga to my activities, which has had huge mental and spiritual benefits.

But I’ve let other things slide.

I’ve made it entirely too easy to make unhealthy food choices, and hard to make healthy ones.

I’ve been lax on creating opportunities for daily workouts.

I’m still too quick to volunteer my time and energy to things that either hugely annoy me or endlessly distract me.

I still agonize over whether I spend time with people I “ought to” vs. people who will inspire me and support my artistic vision.

Or maybe even “no people at all.” Years ago, I remember being stunned when an artist said she let days go by where she wouldn’t even answer the phone–because she needed to protect her creative time. She was an amazingly self-absorbed person, but she was also an amazingly talented and productive artist.

I want to be a good mom/daughter/friend/wife/citizen–but I also want to be an amazing artist. I need to find that good balance point again.

So I’m realizing that “protecting our environment” can mean many things for me right now.

I need to be selfish with my time, sometimes.

I need to make sure I have salad greens in the fridge, and I need to make sure there’s no more Halloween candy in my studio.

I need to make just as much time for working on a fiber piece as I do for folding the laundry.

I need to limit the time I spend with people who would be happy to suck up every spare minute of my time and emotional energy. But I’m still hopelessly addicted to “being nice”, so I gotta work on that.

I need to find something, some activity, that demands I work out hard, for at least an hour a day. My fitness has suffered greatly since I left behind my almost-daily kickboxing practice. If I can’t find the self-discipline to do it myself, I have to find a way to have someone else make me do it.

I must decide where/how I can study martial arts, where IF I ever make it to black belt, I can be an asset, and not an embarrassment, to the school.

A friend said once, “When you feel your prayers aren’t being answered, see what’s in the way that blocks them from being answered.” I’m thinking about this right now. Because that blockade is part of the environment we’ve created for ourselves.

I don’t have it all figured out yet. It’s an ongoing process, my biggest “work in progress”.

But that’s what I’m thinking about right now.

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GETTING UNSTUCK

I posted a brief answer to a question on an art forum and realized (as usual), it also applies to moi.

It was about being stuck, and not knowing how to get back to making more artwork.

There are two easy questions to ask yourself when you get stuck.

1) What do I need to do/have/find out in order to finish this piece?

I kept sitting down to my jewelry table to make up more earrings for an upcoming show. (It’s a show where only my lower-priced work will sell, so I need to make product to fit that niche.)

But I kept finding myself wandering around the studio, focusing on other little tasks instead.

I realized when I was actually making the earrings, I’m missing some critical beads for that design. But once I got up, I forgot I need to order more.

To be specific, they’re going to take some tracking down, and that’s the part that’s creating an obstacle.

Today I realized I’ve got to dedicate some time to finding them. I’ve contacted my regular suppliers, sent samples to an African bead trader, and did a quick search online.

Just knowing I’ve done what I need to do to move forward has increased my interest, and energy level.

IF that doesn’t work, ask yourself this question:

2) Do I really need to finish this piece?

If not, guess what–you don’t have to! You can simply change your mind and set it aside. (Unless it’s a special order, in which case, hunker down, sister!)

And about here it dawns on me, the other reason I’m having trouble settling down:

I do have special orders to take care of! In the frenzy to clean my attic and studio so I could work and host an open studio, I forgot I have a few orders to take care of. Well, duh.

Now I can settle down to work, knowing I’m focusing on the right task.

And I’m relieved knowing the other task has a solution in process. When I’m ready for it again, it will be ready, too.

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CLEANING THE ATTIC #19: Take Out the Empties

As I enter into the last 24 hours of cleaning frenzy (assuming I don’t stay up til 2 a.m. for the next two nights, which I’m not saying I won’t, mind you, but at my age, it’s hard) there’s one cleaning tip I come back to again and again. It’s ridiculously simple, but perhaps the most single most helpful tip I’ve found.

When I enlisted the help of my good friend Carol Laughner, the second thing she advised me to do seemed kinda silly at the time. (I can’t remember the other two right now. If I do, I’ll share those, too.)

As I empty storage containers or organizers, she said I should gather them up and set them aside, in one big pile, in an out-of-the-way area.

I nodded my head obligingly when she told me this. After all, she was helping me. I wasn’t going to argue with her. But I couldn’t see why this was one of her “big three” organizing tips.

Well, guess what? It works.

It turns out that keeping them in your line of sight as you work creates a visual distraction. I’d find my eye roving around the room, thinking of what I had to do next. I would see an empty rolling drawer cart, or a magazine file, or a box, or a jar. Then I’d have to think, “Oh, it’s empty, I don’t have to do anything with that.” Except, of course, step over it, move it out of the way, push it aside or stack it on something else.

Also, when I’d get ready to reorganize a space, I’d think of a perfect “thing” to use–but then I couldn’t remember where it was. I’d spend several precious moments looking for it. And sometimes I’d realize I’d already commandeered it for another spot.

About the eleventh time I stepped over an empty plastic tub, or searched for a basket the right size, I realized Carol was right.

I set the “empties” in a pile near the door to my barn attic. Several times a day, I took them upstairs to the “master pile”.

I instantly had more walking-around space. And fewer distractions to boot.

I could then judiciously add some of the containers back in as I needed them.

I don’t know why this works so well, but it does. So listen to Carol and move those empties to a staging area while you work on your mega-mess.

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