Category Archives: art

ASK THE GURU (NOT!)

Why a tree picture today? I have no idea. It just felt right.

Why a tree picture today? I have no idea. It just felt right.

Way, way too many days ago, I received a letter from a reader, begging for advice.

It’s ironic, because in her story is a lot of heartache, a ton of perseverance, a long journey of pursuing her craft despite loss, setbacks and disappointments and one simple request: Would I give her one word of advice about her next big step? (Which, by the way, she’d already thought out and which also sounds pretty darn marvelous.)

I promised her a response and here it is:

I am not the wise woman you’re looking for.

And of course, because I am me, and why use one sentence when a couple hundred will do, there are many threads behind that response.

The first thread: I truly am not a wise woman. I have some life experience, but nothing that gives me the moral right to say anything about yours. I love to tell people what to do. But I’m also terrified that someone will do what I say, and suffer for it. (So I’m a bossy coward, I guess.)

Second thread: You already know what to do. I will share what someone told me years ago. Actually, what several people–okay, many people–have told me over and over throughout my life:

“Everything you need to know is already in your heart.”

They didn’t mean my heart can tell me how to perform brain surgery, or fix a sump pump, of course. But when it comes to making decisions, making good choices, taking even sought-after advice, it either feels right or it doesn’t. It feels good, or it doesn’t. And even if you do what you think is right, and it doesn’t work out, well, sometimes the wrong decisions get you to the right place to make a better decision.

Example: I went to University of Michigan not because it was good for my art career (it wasn’t) or because they offered me a good financial package (they didn’t) or because it was my first college choice (it wasn’t.) I went there because my boyfriend went there. The self-absorbed, emotionally abusive boyfriend who broke up with me half a dozen times, in cruel ways, before I finally wised up. (See? I’m actually a slow learner!)

But years later, that’s where I met my husband, who is wonderful and loyal and supportive, and we’ve now been together 35 years. A bad decision got me to a better place.

The third thread is, we are the story we tell about ourselves. Take that story about college. I could tell you about the sorry-ass people I dated, the dreary jobs I held (and the crazy bosses), the depressing living situations I put up with, how I couldn’t get into art school, how sad and needy and frightened I was, etc. (A beloved neighbor, an elderly woman, was murdered by a serial killer. That haunted me for years.)

Or I can choose to tell you the story of how the wonderful art history classes on prehistoric art became the foundation for my art later in life. Or the story told by an inspirational English lit teacher, whose retelling of the Battle of Hastings in the Norman Invasion forever etched the power of stories in my heart. Or the story of the friendships I formed there that have lasted a lifetime, the dogs I met that captured my heart forever, my first experience with volunteerism, and my first big, empowering, grownup decision to go to graduate school. And how that neighbor’s death inspired me to create a powerful grief writing exercise years later.

You, too, have choices on how to tell your life story. You can drown in the sadness and despair that life entails, or you can recognize what Jane Mcgonigal calls the gifts of post-traumatic growth.

Which this reader has done. And is doing.

The fourth thread is about the five regrets found at the end of life. (Were you surprised that the five regrets are the antithesis of the five gifts of post-traumatic growth? I was! And you thought I was wise…!!)

The fifth thread is what faith means to me: We never truly know the impact our decisions, our choices, our very presence in the world. When I receive a letter, like the one I got from Lorri, it is always out of the blue. It’s usually on a day where I’m feeling pretty frumpy, or useless, or negligible. It always says that something I said, made a difference–for a moment, for an hour, whatever.

And I know when I tell others who have made that difference, for ME, they say the same thing–that they don’t even remember saying that, or telling me that, or writing that.

Such is the nature of our presence in the world. Sharing our gifts with the world is an act of extreme faith in….something beyond what we can see or measure.

So Lorri, give it your best shot. If it means something to you, don’t give up. Until you feel it’s really time to give up and do something else. Maybe you’re thinking of something you’ve never heard of before. Maybe that’s because it really is new, and fresh, and creative.

Don’t wait for me to tell you it’s all right. I don’t know! But I cheer you on anytime you tell me you’re thinking about something wonderful, something you care about, something that makes you perk up and feel truly alive. Something that’s calling to you.

I’ve never regretted following that call. The few times I haven’t followed, that’s what I regret.

My one word of advice? Believe.

Because real faith comes from believing in yourself. Believing that you bring something to the world. That you are worth believing in.

Even if you fall flat on your face.

I remember Anne Lamott, I think in Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, saying when she prays, all she asks is for a light to shine at her feet, to show the way for one step. Just one little step forward. Because that’s all we need to make our way in the world. One little step at a time. (She also says her favorite prayer is, “Help me, help me, help me…”)

A truly wise woman told me recently, “You are a wise woman who creates your own wisdom. That’s a wonderful thing.” Everything I write about is just that–finding the wisdom, the blessings, in the ordinary things–good, and bad–that cross my path.

And so, Lorri, 900 words of advice. Or one. Whatever helps you get on your way, today. And I am truly humbled by the fact that you asked me. Which is precisely why it took me so long to get back to you.

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MORE TALES OF THE BUNNY and More Lessons from the Move

The excitement of our anticipated move to California is wearing thin, as the stress of culling and packing piles up. I’ve had an indoor/online tag sale and a yarn sale. With the help of my good friend Roma Dee Holmes, the process was manageable and profitable.

But now comes the studio. And things are getting really, really hard.

Compounding the agonizing and confusing process of what goes and what stays is my upcoming Open Studio. I need to have my studio still look like…well, my studio, not a FEMA-worthy disaster site.

And of course, there is the Big Question yet to be answered:

What do I do with Bunster?

Bunster in her youth, with the run of my studio.

Bunster in her youth, with the run of my studio.

Bunster is about 129 in bunny years. She used to have the run of my studio, sitting at my feet ready to chew the hem of my jeans if she didn’t get enough attention. She would follow visitors around, knowing I’d given them Cheerios for her. She kept my friend Russ Moline of The Moses House in business by chewing through power cords for my sewing machine, my computer, and my work lamps. (He keeps my sewing machines repaired and happy.) He always had the same advice for curbing her chewing habit. “Hasenpfeffer!” he’d say cheerfully.

A few years ago, I realized I didn’t see as much of her. She hid. A lot. I realized she was losing her sight, and her hearing. She was stiff and moved more slowly. She stopped using her litter box. I hated to do it, but I set up a big cage for her with hidey boxes, a heat lamp and plenty of food and treats. She’s comfortable there, and I try to spend time with her every day.

Some days I look at her and think, “Not much more time.” Other days, she aggressively snatches a Dorito out of my hand with the same piggy grunt and runs off to happily munch her salty snack. (She’s 13, we think, and I now let her eat anything she wants.) She lets me hold her now, and I do so as much as I can.

But will I be able to bring her to California with me?

It’s one thing to have a huge cage in our mudroom. It’s another to have one in a small apartment (which is all we can afford in Santa Rosa). It’s one thing to to have her here with me today. It’s another to try to travel cross-country with two dogs, a cat and an elderly rabbit.

I’ve decided not to worry until it’s actually time to make a decision. But it’s still always on my mind.

Today I finished clearing off a huge work table in my studio, where I pile up the fabrics I’m working with. When I cleared out the space UNDER the table, I found Bunster’s last stash of….

See how Bunster turns an ordinary piece of fiber into a million tiny pieces.

See how Bunster turns an ordinary piece of fiber into a million tiny pieces.

Well, I don’t know what to call them. Except she does a beautiful job of chewing ordinary fabric into teensy-tiny frayed fragments.

Each tiny scrap is beautiful!

Each tiny scrap is beautiful!

In fact, the first time she found a fabric stash, I freaked out. Until I realized she’d shredded a piece of fiber (a kilim rug scrap) into tiny beautifully-frayed “dots”, something I couldn’t do myself. Her teeth give the perfect aged time-worn look to new and vintage fabrics. Early on, I realized they were the perfect size for little pops of color in my smaller fiber pieces.

There are some squares (how does she know??) but also delightfully free-form shapes.

There are some squares (how does she know??) but also delightfully free-form shapes.

She taught me that what’s in her nature–chew!–could be seen as a destructive force or a constructive process. Or better yet, a transformative process. She turns something ordinary into something else. Something with the look of antiquity.

Okay, just so we don't go too far with the woo-woo....She's also not too discriminating about WHAT she turns into tiny pieces. Like this plastic bag.

Okay, just so we don’t go too far with the woo-woo….She’s also not too discriminating about WHAT she turns into tiny pieces. Like this plastic bag.

My husband found me on the floor, picking up these last tiny Bunster-chewed scraps. He asked what I was doing, and laughed when I told him. Then he stopped. “You’re serious?” he said. “You’re really saving those little pieces?” Yes, I told him. I knew exactly which fabrics they were from, how little I had left of those special colors and textures, and they were the perfect size.

Yep, that's a Bunster-chewed scrap!

Yep, that’s a Bunster-chewed scrap!

And as I gathered them up, I realized this might be one of Bunster’s last gifts to me. I’ve learned so much from this fearful yet fierce, frail yet resiliant little creature.

Yes, I’ve given her a home, love, warmth, wonderful food. She’s given me so much more. Tiny scraps of color for my artwork. Lessons on letting go. Stories that help me find the blessing in even the smallest of life’s set-backs. The sure knowledge that there is a place for me in the world.

Beautiful stories are everywhere around us. If only we take the time, and open our hearts, to see them.

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Filed under art, Lessons from the move, life with rabbits

GOOD THINGS COME IN THREE’S

Wow, what a day!

This morning I was dee-lighted to see I was featured on Cynthia Tinapple’s well-curated, internationally focused polymer art website, Polymer Clay Daily. It’s an honor!

Melanie Plenda, freelance journalist, wrote a great article about me and the inspiration for my work for the March 4, 2014 issue of The Union Leader. But I’ll to photo the article for you because I can’t find it online. Thank you, Melanie!

And I’m almost ready for our next/last indoor home tag sale this Saturday, from 10-1! I’ve staged two downstairs rooms full of furniture and wonderful accessories: Vintage dishes, vintage pottery (McCoy!!), silverware sets, pillows, artwork, antique and vintage furniture such as a dining room table, chairs, book shelves and book cases, a child’s antique school desk (I almost wrote “antique child” and that made no sense), vintage glassware, vintage stemware, a very cool doll house, candlesticks, and tons more. Take a peek at my online gallery and check out my special Facebook page for updates. Come if you can, buy right off the virtual site if you can’t come (just email or call me for the items you can’t live without–or just WON’T live without!), and tell your friends, too!

If you stick around, we’ll open the wine!

It's the shiny things in life.....

It’s the shiny things in life…..


And the little things.....

And the little things…..

And the funky things!!

And the funky things!!


I'm having WAAAAAAY too much fun staging things!

I’m having WAAAAAAY too much fun staging things!

It's felt pretty scattered around here lately, but now I feel like I'm home again.

It’s felt pretty scattered around here lately, but now I feel like I’m home again.

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Filed under art, event

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Assumptions Hold Us Back

I was so wrapped up with my indoor moving sale, I forgot to tell you about my latest Fine Art Views column!

You can read LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Assumptions Hold Us Back.

You can see another view of the moving sale as an event on Facebook.

Love how the sunshine makes this glow so richly!

Love how the sunshine makes this glow so richly!

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20140302_102852 (576x1024) (2)

20140302_093208 (1024x554)

Hugely collectible California Pottery "Poppy Trails", with its fabulous rooster motif.

Hugely collectible California Pottery “Poppy Trails”, with its fabulous rooster motif.

Looks like someone's ready for a trip to the north woods! But not us. We're off to California, and some other lucky person can own vintage (working!) snowshoes.

Looks like someone’s ready for a trip to the north woods! But not us. We’re off to California, and some other lucky person can own vintage (working!) snowshoes.

A rainbow of vintage glass pitchers for your table!

A rainbow of vintage glass pitchers for your table!

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Filed under art, Fine Art Views

STORIES FROM THE TAG SALE

There's more to this little guy than meets than meets the eye!

There’s more to this little guy than meets than meets the eye!

Change is hard. Moving across the country and rebooting your life is really hard. Moving from a large house to what will most likely be a very modest apartment when you’re a hoarder avid collector is really, really, really hard.

So we’ve begun the process of whittling down my unbelievable pile of stuff huge collection of amazing things. You can see what’s for sale at my online tag sale . There will be an actual in-house tag sale this Saturday. (Please! Tell your friends!)

But the virtual online event is so popular, I may continue it after the real event!

I’m learning a lot about how things work in today’s housing market, and how much the internet has changed the process. I’m learning what I have to put up with, and what I don’t. I’m learning to let go.

Today let me share with you the lesson illustrated in this little cocker spaniel flower pot.

This is a mid-century Royal Copley planter. It’s adorable, yes. It’s collectible, too. Yes, you can find a small one on Ebay for $3. (But don’t overlook the $15 shipping charge!) Most of them are listed much higher, $30 and up.

But this isn’t about how much money I can get for him, or what condition he’s in.

It’s about the story. Why he appeals to me so much, why I own him, and why I’m letting him go.

My grandmother had this planter in her kitchen window. It always held an ivy plant. She didn’t have many nice things. She and my grandfather had nine children instead. But every Sunday after church, and at every holiday meal and family get-together, I saw this little fellow in the window.

When my grandparents died within a year or so of each other, my father’s oldest sister Edith got the spaniel. And it sat in HER kitchen window. Aunt Edith was one of my favorite aunts, and I visited her often. So again, I saw the planter often.

My Aunt Edith didn’t marry until late in life, her mid-fifties. (And not for long, for her husband died within ten years.) She lived with my grandparents for many years. She never moved away from Gladwin. She never had children.

She was also my fourth grade teacher, and one of my greatest difficulties was calling her “Mrs. Hamilton (her married name) like all the other kids in class. But at least I got to see her every day.

That’s when I learned how much she had traveled. I think my new uncle belonged to a religious group, full of people who opened their homes to other members who traveled. So for ten years, she traveled extensively across the U.S. I remember her telling me she’d been to almost all the 50 states, including Alaska. And she brought back tiny treasures from each state. I was enamored of her small colored sand paperweight depicting a desert scene in Arizona. I inherited her tiny carved ivory dog from Alaska after she died.

I also got the spaniel planter.

Every time I look at it, I think of these women. We weren’t really a warm and fuzzy family. But I loved that connection.

So here’s the lesson: I know exactly what Aunt Edith would tell me about what to do with this planter.

She’d tell me to embrace change, no matter how late in life it finds you.
She’d tell me that having a loving partner is precious.
She’d tell me that memories mean more than mementos.
She’d tell me to move it on to someone else.
And she’d tell me to move to California.

Soon this little guy will sit in someone else’s kitchen window.
I hope it continues to create precious memories wherever it goes.

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RETURN TO ME (NOT!)

Oh, just give it away!

Oh, just give it away!

A few years ago I wrote a series of articles about selling your work in stores and galleries. I covered all the ins and outs of consigning and wholesaling, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

There’s one thing I didn’t cover, and that is returns–when the store wants to return certain items of your work.

The way returns are handled is what separates consignment from wholesale. In consignment, your work is placed in the store and you don’t get paid until it sells. In return for waiting, you usually get more than 50% of your retail price than you would by selling to the store outright (wholesale). The traditional split is 60% (artist) and 40% (store). When things got rough in the economy while back, this sometimes dropped to 50/50.

In consignment, if unsold work is returned to you, you aren’t out any money. You may be out time of course (waiting to see if the work sold) and you may be out the opportunity to have placed the items somewhere else where they might have sold quicker/better. But you don’t “owe” the store anything. You just get your stuff back.

Wholesale works differently. You sell your work outright to the store. You are paid upfront for your work–usually 50% of your retail price. (if you’ve figured your costs and pricing correctly, there is still profit there for you.) In essence, the store (usually) gets a slightly better price from you, in exchange for buying on the spot.

But store buyers are not infallible. Sometimes they pick stuff they love, but it just doesn’t sell. Sometimes the “sure sale” thing doesn’t work. They’re stuck with inventory that doesn’t move. Your work is money sitting on their shelves, taking up space where other more sale-able items could be.

At this point, your buyer now has several options:

1) Put the item on sale. Mark it down and move it out!

2) Donate the item to a charitable auction/fundraiser/non-profit and take a tax write-off. (I’m not sure if they can claim what they paid for it, or what they could have sold it for. Either way, it’s more than you the artist would get. If YOU were to donate the exact same item, you actually can only write off the actual cost of materials.)

3) Give to someone as a present. (“Look what I got you!”)

4) Try to return it to you.

We all have different ways of handling wholesale returns. Some artists won’t, period. Others take returns happily–it’s product that can be resold somewhere else.

And some of us who are way too nice, had to learn the hard way. Accepting returns can be a bottomless pit if you’re not careful.

It starts small. In my experience, the store owner/manager opens the dialogue during a follow-up sales call. They pick an assortment of new items. You are happily writing up the sales tally. Another great sale! Things are great! Until….

They ask if they can return a few things that just didn’t sell.

There are problems with accepting returns you need to consider:

1) It usually starts small, but gets bigger and more complicated quickly.

They say, “I have a couple items that just aren’t selling. Can I exchange them for different ones?” You say sure, no problem. Happy to oblige!

Soon there are way more than “a few things”. In fact, they are now returning a lot of stuff. Maybe even more items than they’re actually buying.

2) It leaves you in a position where YOU owe the STORE money.

I had one client who returned so much inventory at each reorder, I could barely keep up with what was going out and what was coming back in. At the end of a year’s worth of transactions involving thousands of dollars, I realized I’d only made a profit of less than $500. And that didn’t include the shipping costs. I was so excited by the big sales, I’d neglected to factor in the big returns.

3) The returns are no longer in the same condition. Sometimes the returned items are shopworn. Or they don’t go with your newer product lines. Or they’re now hopelessly off-trend or dated. Silver tarnishes, items come back in bags and packaging that aren’t yours, that particular style doesn’t sell anymore.

4) Once you start, it’s really hard to close that door. (See #2 below.) (I know, I have a lot of lists in this post!)

It can feel like you and your work is being disrespected. Sometimes, this IS the case. A few of my first clients tried to make me feel like the returns were substandard in some way, that it was my fault they hadn’t sold. I refrained from mentioning that they had hand-picked each item. And that displaying them on a shelf 6″ above the floor or in a basket under a table was probably not conducive to selling them.

Sometimes it’s a person who doesn’t have a lot of retail experience. They simply buy stuff they like, with no consideration or knowledge of their clientele, the right audience for the work, or the right price points for their store. This was the case for the buyer in #2. When I described the situation to a friend in the business, she exclaimed, “That’s just a personal shopper with a store budget!” In fact, the only reason I’m not more embarrassed about admitting how out-of-hand this got, is how it ended. (See #9 below.)

But some buyers are simply in a bind. They have money tied up on inventory that isn’t moving. Every time they look at it, they see a little pile of money that could be put to better use.

Understandable, to a degree. On the other hand, most “regular” stores buy inventory from much larger businesses who do NOT accept returns. That’s why some ready-made frames at frame shops are on sale. Why summer clothing gets marked down in August. Why specialty food items have a ‘sell by’ date. They can’t return stock three months later to these suppliers. So why do they ask us?

They ask us because there’s a chance we might. So it couldn’t hurt to ask, right?

Yes and no. I want to be a good vendor. I want to be professional. I like having a genuine relationships with my buyers. I want to work with them. I want to know what sells for them, what they’re customers are looking for, and what their needs are. That’s win-win for both of us.

Unfortunately, this attitude also makes me “too nice” sometimes. I had to learn to say no. And it’s important to know that you can say no, whenever you like.

And you can make exceptions. You don’t have to say no to every buyer. You can make exceptions to those who don’t abuse the privilege.

If you decide to take returns, have a policy, and a plan.

1) You can put a time-limit on returns. (“No returns after 30 days.” Or even 10 days, if you think you’re dealing with buyer’s remorse.)

2) You can accept returns for exchange only. (Actually, this should be written in stone! Who wants to write a check to the store?!)

3) You can put a limit on the amount or the number of items returned.

4) You can limit the number of times you accept returns. Maybe just once a year. Or maybe even just once, period.

5) You can charge a restocking fee. This will help cover your time for returning the item to inventory, the time for doing the necessary cleaning/repairs/repackaging, and the time spent to sell it again. It’s also a general “nuisance fee” if the buyer gives you grief about your “inferior word” or your “unprofessionalism”.

6) You can refuse to accept any shopworn or damaged items, period.

7) For stores you deal with at a distance, you can request they get pre-authorized for any returns. They have to check with you before they just send stuff back.

8) Any or all of the above.

So you can actually say you only accept returns in a calendar year, maximum 10 items and/or totaling less than $200, with a 20% restocking fee, and no exchanges on damaged or shopworn merchandise.

9) You can always change your mind. It’s your business. You get to decide.

In fact, I did just that. After I tallied up my sales and returns for this buyer, I changed my policy. Soon after that, I received a lot of inventory–unauthorized–in the mail. I wrote them and told her of my policy change. I gave them two options: I could mail the returns back to them. Or, if I didn’t hear back from them with 30 days, I was donating all the items to charity. I never even heard back, which means their accounting/accountability was even worse than mine.

10) You can have different policies for different buyers. Just make sure your strictest policy is your stated default. If you have someone who never abuses the privilege, you can state your regular return policy and then make exceptions for them. This is a lot easier than trying to rein in someone you’ve been lenient with.

What you DON’T want is a revolving door of sales and returns that wastes your time, your energy, and your patience.

Is there an upside to accepting returns? Yes!

1) It encourages the buyer to try new items they’re not sure about. Although it might make more sense to CONSIGN items like this. More paperwork, but at least money isn’t going back and forth.

2) When the privilege isn’t abused, it’s a good way to build rapport with a buyer. They know that you understand how hard retail is, and that you’re willing to work with them. Nice rapport!

3) The product really isn’t up to snuff. Sometimes there’s something about your item that needs work–a difficult clasp, an awkward length, a lack-luster presentation. Use it as an opportunity to improve your product.

4) Sometimes you get stuff back you can resell for MORE–because you’re prices have gone up!

A final word: The worst thing about returns is, the negative energy. The bad, sad place it puts you in (if you let it.) It feels like the store–and the world–is rejecting what you make. Especially if the buyer is a jerk and uses that against you. (It happens.)

Don’t go there. Don’t waste your good creative energy.

I still stumble. But I’m constantly learning.

Know your tolerance level. Be prepared. And if necessary, simply move on. Not every opportunity is a good one.

And say good-bye to the bad returns!

6 Comments

Filed under art, half-wholesale, wholesale

LUANN’S E-BOOKS!

LUANN'S E-BOOKS!.

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GOOD ENOUGH: More Lessons from “The Move”

Here’s my column for today at at Fine Art Views column, on being “good enough.”

Too, too often, waiting for doing it “the right way”, “the best way”, “the perfect way”, “the professional way”, results in just “not doing it at all.” Don’t let your desire for perfection hold you back. Do what you can. When you can do better, then do better. Yes, some things deserve your best. But you’d be surprised how many things simply need “pretty good” or even just “okay”. [...]

And here’s the subject of the column, the 1930′s faux cheetah-skin sofa that resides in my art studio.

Can you spot the patches? (How about the dog?) (How about the second dog?)

Can you spot the patches? (How about the dog?) (How about the second dog?)

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Filed under art, Fine Art Views

THANK YOU, ALLIE BROSH!

One of my favorite blogs in the whole wide world is a totally idiosyncratic creation called Hyperbole-and-a-Half by Allie Brosh. (Idiosyncratic is a good thing, because Allie is totally, hysterically, wonderfully herself.)

Allie disappeared from view a couple years ago. When she returned, she wrote poignantly about her struggles with depression.

It is one of the funniest, saddest, most powerful, most truthful descriptions of depression I’ve ever read. And of course, since depression affects almost all of us, at one level or another, at one time or another in our lives, it really hit home.

I totally recognize that spiral deathtrap of wanting to be nice, and doing nice things, and suddenly realizing I’m not doing nice things because I’m nice, I’m doing them because I want to be a nice person, and I want other people to think I’m nice. Even though the thing I really want to do is scream at some difficult person and say, “You are a self-absorbed idiot and I hate you!”

That spiral comes from intensive self-awareness. Not a pretty sight.

Allie transformed the spiral into something incredibly readable. Entertaining. Engaging. Even educational. (I’ll just say it has a long list of things NOT to say to a depressed person, and the list involves fish.) A true creative act if I ever saw one.

I wanted to write to Allie, to thank you for her honesty, and insight, and….well, for being her.

If I were to leave a comment, I would say, “Allie, I am grateful you are in the world. I’m grateful the internet provides you with a forum, a platform to share your delightfully silly drawings and your searingly honest self-awareness. I’m grateful because, in sharing your inner self, you’ve made us all feel better about being human. You’ve made it safe for us to realize being human isn’t about BEING good. It’s about making choices, very tiny choices, to be BETTER. Even if our reasons for making those choices is based only on the desire to appear good.”

Because being human being, and being a half-way decent human being, is in that real desire. And how good we actually are is an accumulation of all in those very tiny choices.

Sometimes the choice is easy, such as the time I opened a grief writing workshop with a quick discussion of the group rules, and one person volunteered, “No hitting?” Yes, not hitting people is a good rule, and a good choice.

Sometimes the choice is hard, like not giving in to envy of other people’s successes. Or not giving in to resentment at someone else’s lack of gratitude when we do something nice for them. (Oh, yeah, we SAY we don’t need to be thanked, we were happy to do it. But…..!!!)

And sometimes the choice is REALLY hard, like when you realize you must confront someone on their behavior that is racist, or sexist, or homophobic, or classist (discrimination based on social position), knowing full well that person will not react well.

Allie has made a hugely important and brave decision to share her life stories. She’s made herself vulnerable, a condition we are only just now recognizing as a very important human trait.

Yes, they are also hysterically funny, such as the one about basic concepts dogs don’t understand. But others are profoundly personal and don’t necessarily showcase herself at her “best”, as in her story about destroying her grandfather’s birthday cake.

By sharing these stories, she has deliberately made herself vulnerable. And in doing so, incredibly loveable, and forgiveable.

In doing that, she makes it easier for us to be vulnerable. And easier for us to forgive ourselves.

In short, Allie Brosh is one of my life heroes.

As for leaving a comment like this, it’s kind of hopeless, because she has hundreds of thousands of other fans who adore her writing, and hundreds–no, thousands–of comments on her articles and her Facebook posts. Mine would be a tiny drop in the ocean of people who appreciate her.

So here’s a bigger drop of water for the ocean today, for Allie.

Allie Brosh….THANK YOU!!!

P.S. My daughter bought me Allie’s brand new book for Christmas. It is perfect, except that it’s missing one of my all-time favorite Hyperbole-and-a Half stories, Wolves. But I’m hoping that will be in Allie’s next book.

Is it a coincidence that my dear hubby suggested last night it was good time for me to get started on my book?? I think not.

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Filed under art, Hyperbole-and-a-Half

HOW TO BE AN ART HERO

For your reading pleasure, here’s a link to my latest column in The Crafts Report, Open the Doors to Your Studio and Your Heart.

My column now runs in The Crafts Report only every other month–6 times a year instead of 12. If you’re a subscriber and you miss me, let them know! (Nicely, of course.)

If you don’t miss me, er….don’t tell them that, okay?

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PERFECTION VS. PRACTICE

Today I read a beautiful post by my artist friend, Kerin Rose, on resiliency.

It’s just what I needed to hear today. I’ve been feeling mopey and wobbly for quite awhile now. Jon says I’m even waking up grumpy from naps. What a waste of a good nap!

I’ve tried to figure out why, but end up in useless mind swirls. Waves of anxiety, bouts self-judgment, exasperation with others (and not knowing how to manage that).

Kerin’s words remind me of what determines how we move forward, and how we get stuck.

Resiliency. (The ability to bounce back.)

I’d add to the list….

Grit. (The belief that we can get through it.)

Vulnerability. (The realization that we are not perfect, and never will be.)

And practice. (Wha……??!!)

Let me explain that last one, because it’s way more subtle than you might think.

Whenever we take up a new skill–piano playing, martial arts, writing–we’re told to practice, practice, practice.

We’re even supposed to “practice” yoga. And meditation. Enlightenment, like everything else that requires skill, takes that proverbial 10,000 hours of practice.

But let’s face it. Most practice is b*o*r*i*n*g. Repetitious. Monotonous. Right?

And many nay-sayers say it depends on what you practice, and how. After all, if you practice an error, you get really, really good at that error.

So what’s the use of practicing?

It’s not what you think.

For example, most Westerners probably think that we should practice meditation because we can empty our brain, and achieve enlightenment. Since most of us may not want empty brains, we think time spent meditating is not time well-spent.

But it turns out meditating–or rather, even trying to meditatehas its own rewards. Even a few minutes a day helps our brain focus better. Being able to recognize a thought, acknowledge it, evaluating it, helps us manage our emotional states better. Our “enlightenment” is actually the realization that much of what we have the luxury of creating in our lives, comes from our emotions and thoughts and perceptions about how the world works. We have the ability to change that for the better. Practice makes it so.

In fact, the value of our practice may be greater than the actual goal we practice for.

I found this in martial arts. Yes, the practice of Tae Kwon Do resulted in me attaining a certain quality of form (for a few years, anyway!) But the real gift was realizing I could get very good at something, even if I didn’t really have a knack or a gift for it. I just loved it. And loving it kept me practicing.

Practicing got me skills, but it also taught me to have more confidence, and trust, in my process and in myself.

(This is why I tell people not to beat themselves up for not “doing it right”, whatever THAT is. Whatever works for you is the right way to do it.)

That’s why we feel better when we actually work our craft. Whether we make art, play an instrument, work in our gardens, sing, dance, whatever our creative thing is, practicing it makes us feel engaged, and more ourselves.

In fact, one of my practices is writing. Lately, I’m encouraging myself to write as soon as an idea hits. This post is a result of that practice. (And guess what? It’s working! I feel better!)

In short, practice is what gives us resiliency and grit.
Practice is what allows us to be vulnerable. Allows us to connect. Encourages us to be open to something new.

Practice may not make perfect.
But practice is what makes us better. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Now go make something today!

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ME ‘n’ SETH AGREE!

Seth Godin wrote a great post about the value of donating to charity auctions.

Here’s what I wrote almost eight years ago.

And here’s what Seth wrote today about how to raise money better.

I’m in awe of this guy. Because he just connected all the dots for me, from 2006 to today.

Recently I’ve been donating to little causes. They come to me from the Upworthy website. I can pay $3, or $5, or even $50 to support the people and causes that are dear to me.

More and more causes are asking a lot of people for a very little bit of money. Micro-funding or crowd-sourcing is a simple, effective way to make life better for those who need it desperately. All it takes is telling their story.

It also lets us tell ours.

I don’t believe my artwork has to be a “bargain” or a “deal” to serve a cause.
It diminishes me.

I believe making our art plays a teensy part in making the world a better place.
I believe encouraging others to find their place in the world, makes the world a better place.
I believe serving vs. helping….
Encouraging vs. advising….
Listening deeply vs. telling….
Is what lets others move forward.

Thank you, Seth, for letting that be enough to make me participate.
I don’t need the tote bag. I just need the act of giving to be simple.

I just need to know that sometimes giving just a little, can actually change a lot.

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DUBLIN LAKE (revisited)

I took a quick road trip Friday. I hadn’t been to Peterborough in quite awhile, even though it’s only 18 miles east of Keene. I was delivering some new work to the Sharon Arts Center, so I had a great excuse to muddle around a little.

I’d just reached a point of clarity and peace with our upcoming move. Some of my fears were huge–Would we find a new circle of friends? Will people in California like my art? Will I find another studio as amazing as the one I have now?? Others are plain silly. Will we find another place to study tai chi? (Yes, Santa Rosa has at least eleven tai chi studios. Which is ten more than Keene, and we only need one.)

What did this remind me of??

It was a foggy day, so white that when I got to Dublin Lake, I couldn’t even see Mount Monadnock from the highway, which runs along the lake on its northern shore.

Shades of gray...Mt. Monadnock just beyond Dublin Lake, from Rte. 101, looking south.

Shades of gray…Mt. Monadnock just beyond Dublin Lake, from Rte. 101, looking south.

The mountain was less than a mile away, behind a wall of white fog, so this seemed really eerie. And beautiful. This is one of my favorite views in New Hampshire, one that never fails to put me in a state of awe and gratitude.

The fog created a sense of agelessness, as if I and the road had become unhitched from time. And as I drove by the waters, I was reminded of a post I wrote back in 2005, in July, on a day much, much warmer than this chilly November weekend. A moment when I was blessed to see how silly so many of my fears actually were.

And so today, “something old”….

DUBLIN LAKE

When my children were babies, there was a spot on Route 101 that used to terrify me.

It’s a majorly curvy section around Dublin Lake which nestles at the foot of Mount Monadnock. It’s an absolutely beautiful spot. But the curves can be tricky to negotiate, especially in winter. And the water comes right up to the side of the road.

Rte. 101 runs right alongside Dublin Lake (or Pond) for a mile or so.

Rte. 101 runs right alongside Dublin Lake (or Pond) for a mile or so.

I would drive by at night in the dead of winter. I would imagine me losing control of the car, going into a skid, and swerving off the road through the ice and into the dark water below.

I imagined terrible scenarios of me struggling to get my babies out of their car seats, forced to make terrible decisions about who to rescue first. I would lie awake at night trying to figure out if I would have time and the strength to get them both out of the car, and wonder whether they would survive the icy waters.

It used to paralyze me.

Later, of course, as they grew older, drives past that lake tended to be more about yelling at them to quit kicking the back of my seat and not to spill their juice on the floor.

Last weekend, my husband cajoled me into going for a dunk in that same spot. We parked by the side of the highway and scrambled down the small incline to the lake. Soon we were standing in ice cold water up to my knees.

That’s right. Up to my knees.

That horrible stretch of water that haunted me for years is only about 18 inches deep.

As I lie awake nights now, listening to the fearful voices in my head, I wonder how many of those fears are also only 18 inches deep.

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YOU DON’T NEED PERMISSION To Have Your Heart’s Desire

Sudden thoughts on a Saturday afternoon…..

Someone came to my open studio a few weeks ago. I don’t know the person–I know where they work, but I don’t know anything else about them. They’d never seen my studio before.

All I know is,when the person came in, I felt they needed something.

I don’t know why, I don’t know what. It wasn’t a scary, try-to-fill-my-infinite-black-hole kind of need. It felt a simple, healthy desire to have a little room (or a big room, like my studio!) to make stuff, too. A little room. Or a little time. Or a little courage. Or a little permission.

I thought they looked….wistful. (Sorry, I can’t explain it any more than that. Vague stuff, I know!)

I gave them something–a totem animal necklace–and explained why they needed to have it.

It turns out they have a creative dream, something they want to bring into the world. It’s tiny right now, and new, it’s sudden, it’s exciting. I saw a picture, and I agreed.

We talked a little. I encouraged them to just try. Just do it and see where it takes them.

I know it takes me a thousand words to get a simple idea across, but here it is:

Whoever you are out there in the world, reading this, know that whatever is in your heart, you should do it.

You don’t need the world’s permission to have your heart’s desire.

You don’t need to be politically correct to live your dream.

You don’t even have to know what you want to be happy.

You don’t need to please anyone else to make what you want to make.

You don’t have to do it full-time.

You don’t have to be a “professional”.

You don’t have to get an art degree, or do shows, or enter competitions, or get gallery representation.

You don’t even have to sell it if you don’t want to.

All you have to do is get it out of your self, and get it out into the world.

And here’s another tip, if you do decide to make stuff and sell stuff:

Sales don’t necessarily mean you’re making the right stuff. Consequently, lack of sales don’t mean you’re not making the right stuff.

Money, fame, recognition, prizes don’t always mean you’re on the right path. In fact, these things can clutter up your vision if you’re not careful. (For example, every year at the Sunapee air, why do I wish for a best booth award? What does a booth award have to do with my work, with what it means to me, and what it means to other people??!)

And nobody can define your “success”, except Y*O*U.

So today, just go make something. Experiment. Play. Make it better. Give it to someone. Or keep it for yourself, if you want.

You don’t need anyone’s permission, except your own.

Do you need more encouragement? Here’s a wonderful poem by William Stafford…

You Reading This, Be Ready

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now?
Are you waiting for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day.
This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life –

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

William Stafford

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LUANN’S CABINET(S) OF WONDER

You asked for a virtual open studio tour–YOU GOT IT!

Every year, I send out invitations to my open studo.

Every year, I get a slew of emails from folks faraway, wishing they could come.

This year is different. This year, I made a video!
Yes! From the comfort (and safety) of your home, you, too, can visit Luann’s cabinet of wonders..

See! The Jar of Many Big Scissors!
See! The Bunster-Chewed Leopard Sofa!
See! The Blue Bead Drawer!
See! My new Antique Box Series!
and much, much more.

Enjoy!

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MUSEUM CLASS: Observations on Mounts at an African Art Exhibition

December 22, 2012
Saturday

We spent last weekend in Ann Arbor, MI to attend Robin’s graduation from the University of Michigan. She now has a master’s degree from the School of Social Work, aka the School of Social Justice, with a specialty in geriatrics and hospice. So very, very proud of her!

I also had time to visit the University of MI Museum of Art (UMMA), which I practically lived in as an undergrad, and the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, ditto. This time, I not only enjoyed looking at the art and artifacts, I paid special attention to how the items were displayed, and how the mounts were constructed.

It was eye-opening! Lots of thoughts spiraling in my little brain this week….

First, the UMMA. They had a semi-permanent display of a private collection of African art, mostly wood carvings: Masks, sculpture, fetish figures, ceremonial canes, etc. These objects are from UMMA’s own collection, and borrowed from other museums and from private collections.

The exhibition is called “African Art and the Shape of Time”. I bought a copy of the exhibit catalog. Interesting read (though, of course, dense writing and slow going.) Having just spent 14 hours in a car with my daughter, who is extremely sensitive to issues surrounding culture, class and gender, I was struck by the attitudes toward the continent of Africa popular in European and American academia in the mid- to late 20th century. In 1956, one writer states that there simply was no African history before European contact and colonization. In the ’60′s, when a notion of an African oral history was forming, many Western academics still dismissed the idea of an African history prior to a European presence there. All was “darkness”. Of course, this makes sense. If you want to exploit a continent’s resources without regard for its many cultures and people, it’s easier if you refuse to acknowledge them as “real” and instead portray them as “primitive”, “less evolved” and “timeless” and “unchanging”.

I’d never thought of that before. It makes me uneasy, which means my own prejudices and thinking patterns are being nudged (if not outright walloped.)

But that’s a conversation to have with my daughter. For now, I describe some of the artifacts that caught my eye aesthetically, and how their mounts were constructed. Although ribbons of these past considerations show up clearly in how the artifacts themselves are treated when mounts were made.

I’m going to republish these observations and musings in my blog, too, with pictures of my truly awful drawings. (Note–as soon as I FIND my drawings….) No photography was allowed in the gallery, and I’m not sure it’s ethical to even reproduce the images in the catalog. I may eventually contact the publisher (UMMA) to see if I can use the catalog images, but for now, you have to make do with my scribbles.

General observations:
Most mounts were created to “disappear”, as Tom and Brad mentioned many times. Brass rods were painted one color to blend with the object where it made contact, and another to blend into the display background.

Most of the mount bases seemed to be made of wood.

Most astonishing for me was that many of the mount structures appear to be embedded into the wood of the artifact itself! So bizarre to see that, after all our lengthy discussions and readings emphasizing that the artifact we display must be protected and preserved–it is our first priority. First, do no harm.

I also wonder if all the mounts were made created for the exhibition, or if each donor had provided their own mounts. It occurred to me that most of this collection had been procured in the late ’60′s and early ’70′s–around the time one of my art history professors urged us to enter the field of African Art as a specialty, as it was “wide open”. Not much was known about African art, and it was a field we could make a name for ourselves in.

I’m guessing many of the mounts would have been made in a (relatively) haphazard fashion. That is, made by an blacksmith, perhaps, commissioned by the collector(s), but not necessarily with the tenets now held by mount-makers. That could account for the somewhat brutal drilling of the artifacts to accommodate the mounts.

More disturbing was the thought that maybe nobody thought of these objects as important historical relics, but more as attractive, beautiful “folk art” pieces. Just as I might hammer a nail in the wall and casually hang up a strand of antique trade beads….

OTOH, I gained a great idea on how to create mounts for my artwork that wouldn’t compromise the outside of my display boxes. Some of the mounts for smaller artifacts had bases that were screwed into the floor bottom of the display case. Aha! I could attach my mounts to a base, then install both object and mount into the case. No exterior bolts! I could stabilize the interior mount foundation with screws just long enough to engage the box’s wood bottom, but not penetrate through to the exterior. Yay!

The first artifact that caught my eye was a mask depicting perfect female beauty–almond-shaped eyes, delicate nose and chin, lips slightly parted, with braided/knotted “hair” made from what looks like a combination of cloth, string and fur.

The mount was a simple thick rectangular wood block, with an especially sturdy wood upright. This upright held a half-done block. At first it looked solid, like a hat block, but then I saw it was actually hollow. For all the world it looked like half a coconut shell. The upright fit into another wood cross-piece that held the actual dome. It was really hard to tell if this half-dome was part of the mask, or simply supporting the mask. I was the only person in the room trying to peer behind the artifacts, and up into the artifacts, and I got quite a few curious looks….

The second item was a ceremonial carved wood staff just under 4 feet tall. It was displayed in an upright position. The mount seemed to be free-standing–not bolted into the floor of the display case, nor attached to the back wall. It was a painted metal base, about 4″ square and 1/4″ thick, with a single rod upright about 6-8″ tall. The upper set of arms completely circled the staff. The lower set completely circled….a large 2″ “nail” that had been drilled or hammered into the tip of the staff!

This mount was unobtrusive, painted black to blend in with the staff color. But it seemed like this might not be a particular safe treatment in the case of an earthquake or the case being whapped. I know from experience that even a a 4″ square steel base can be knocked over pretty easily, especially if the object is top-heavy (like this staff is, with a carving of a seated young female figure.) My cats do it all the time!

I think a taller upright, with the arms supporting the staff in a couple of places along its length, and perhaps underneath the carved figuring, and a bigger base (in thickness, and in area) might have been better choice….

Another item, a wood headrest, had a beautiful mount. It was a simple T-mount, with the upright modeled to match the shape of one curved leg! It was almost invisible from the front view. The weight of the item was supported by the curved arms of the T crossbar. I thought it was simple, elegant, discreet, and seemed to cause no damage to the artifact.

But the next display was disappointing. To display two carved wood puppet heads (a ram and a hyena), the mount had been inserted right into the wood base of each mask! I kept looking to see if the base was actually a part of the mask, or simply a well-formed wood support. It really appeared to me to that the mount maker had drilled into the wood artifact. Oy.

Another mask mount showed me how even the same set of artifacts (in this case, wood masks) called for unique supports. One mask had a simple painted steel stand (flat square base, single upright.) The topmost arms (the T cross bars) fit into the small holes that were drilled along the back rim of the mask. (I believe these were holes fro either lacing the mask in place on the bearer’s head, or to attach cloth or some other covering so the back of the bearer’s head wouldn’t be seen.) Another arm below the T stretched forward into the face of the mask, so that the mask would tilt back slightly.

I don’t know what to think about this method of display. This is pretty standard in contemporary mask stands. At least no new holes were drilled into the mask. I decided it’s okay. Not the best solution, but not the worst, either.

I have to say, I found that looking carefully at how the objects were displayed, and how the mounts were made, really enriched my experience at the museum. It’s like watching a movie–yes, the actors are the focus of the film. But appropriate costuming, great sets and backgrounds, powerful music and special effects add immensely to the total presentation. They shouldn’t overshadow the actors and the story, but they do contribute heavily to the total experience.

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DRIVING IN THE FOG: Guest Post from Paula

Intuitive and creativity coach Paula Chaffee Scardamalia, that is.
I met Paula years ago, when she wrote an article about me for a magazine. We had a lovely chat–she is certainly an intuitive interviewer!

How amazing is she? Well, during the interview, I inadvertently insulted her medium, saying something like how “everybody was making x and it’s hard to stand out from the crowd when everyone’s doing the same thing.”

How did she respond? She could have been snippy. She could have been defensive. She could have seethed silently, and told all her friends what a bitch I was. Am. Never mind.

Here’s my highest praise for another human being: She did not take it as an insult, but as an observation, and an accurate one at that. She actually agreed with me, saying she’d been feeling it was time to “move on” for some time, and she was glad I confirmed that. Whew!

She said she had something else in the pipelines, something totally different. I was surprised (but not really) and delighted (totally!) when soon after, she announced her creativity coaching practice and writings, The Divine Muse

So today, from an evolved human (Paula, not me), a message that resonated with me today. If you are lost in the fog, too, take heart. Paul has good advice for you!

3 Steps to Find Your Way through the Fog
by Paula Chaffee Scardamalia

Emergencies have always been necessary to progress. It was darkness which produced the lamp. It was fog that produced the compass. ~ Victor Hugo

I woke the other morning, and saw that the rich gold of autumn leaves was dimmed by a thin layer of fog, a not unusual occurrence here.

The interesting thing about fog is that even though it is considered a type of stratus cloud, it is a cloud that is low-lying and its moisture is usually generated locally from lakes and oceans or other bodies of standing water like marshes or moist ground like swamps. And it often occurs when cool air meets warmer water.

Because I live in the back of beyond, driving in a fog at night can be a real challenge. There is nothing so dark as an overcast night in the country where houses are stretched out over miles instead of blocks, the infrequent car is going the other way, and visibility is down to 20 feet ahead.

Have you ever had that experience? Remember the feeling of alienation and hand-clenching stress? Time slows. Distances seem to stretch like taffy. And you wonder if you’ve accidentally driven off into a new episode of the Twilight Zone.

You can’t say you’re lost, because when you hit the fog, you knew where you were going and you do, really, know where you are, even if in the halos made by the car lights, and the narrow field of vision makes everything look suddenly distorted and unfamiliar.

Have you ever had this experience with your book or other creative project, or even your creative career?

As a writer and a creative entrepreneur, this is not an uncommon experience for me, but fortunately, because of where I live, I’ve had plenty of opportunity in the physical fog to teach me what to do in my creative fog.

Slow down!
Sometimes we get into a creative heat where words pile upon words. We’re speeding along, eating up the miles and suddenly… fog. If we don’t slow down, we run the risk of crashing. When this happens, it’s a good idea to take a deep breath and slow down. But don’t stop, either. Someone could ram into you from behind.

Dim your lights. I know this seems counter-intuitive. When our visibility is diminished, our instinct is to brighten the lights to pierce the gloom. In normal darkness, this would work, but in a fog, all those droplets of water act like mirrors, reflecting back light and making the fog appear even more dense. If we want to increase visibility in the fog, we have to be willing to dim the lights, to release the desire to see farther and more clearly. We have to be willing to allow things to get fuzzy for a while, to only focus on what is just in front of us instead of further down the road.

Keep your eyes on the road not on the shadows.
Because of the nature of fog, shadows can take on a 3-dimensional quality, distorting reality and perspective. If you take your eyes off your road to focus on those shadows, you could run off your road or not see other hazards coming up. Our fears about our creative work can turn shadows into 3-dimensional monsters, throwing us off our path and causing real damage if we aren’t careful. Another reason, too, for dimming your lights. Those shadows won’t appear so large and intimidating.

Making it safely home, moving through the fog to reach the end of your creative journey requires patience, presence and faith that you can and will get home…

Keep the image of your goal firmly in the forefront of your mind and just keep going. Don’t stop.

© Copyright 2009-2013 Paula Chaffee Scardamalia, all rights reserved.
About Paula: Paula has a passion for helping writers and others tap into their creative power and bring their creative gifts into the world. Using her unique blend of the ancient tools of dreams, tarot and other intuitive tools, Paula helps writers, creatives and spiritual entrepreneurs get inspired, break through blocks, and write that book or create that product or special event. For a free 15-minute consultation with Paula on how you can move from Inspired Idea to Creative Action, email Paula at paula@diviningthemuse.com

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REVIEW OF THE RE-DO OF THE TO-DO LIST

Not as silly a title as it sounds. Okay, it does sound silly.
I’ve reprinted an article I published nine years ago, and it still holds true today…
Today’s comments are in boldface.

RE-DO OF THE TO-DO LIST originally published October 1, 2004

I start most mornings with my schedule book (a student composition book with daily to-do list) and my journal. I try to start with my journal, because as I write, the process helps me sort through the to-do’s and establish real priority.

A to-do list is great for making sure you accomplish what you set out to do in a day, but they have a few drawbacks.

First, it gets cumbersome to constantly move unfinished tasks to the next day. It doesn’t allow you to easily set daily goals vs. weekly, or even longer-term goals. Everything seems to have the same urgency. “E-mail Tiffany about wings” (Note–this one TOTALLY baffled me today–Tiffany? Oh, she’s Teo now. Wings? Wha….?) until I read through.) seems as crucial as “mail past-due insurance premium.”

Also, no matter how much you accomplish, there’s always something you didn’t get to. So you never feel you really “finished.”

And then there’s the feeling that tomorrow, it starts all over again.

This morning I wondered if I instead I could view the day as an opportunity to fill certain “cups” of my life that need care and attention.

One cup, “family”, was easy. Jon and I had had a great morning. And I needed to make sure I spent time with my kids later after school. “Make chili with Doug and Robin” (they love to help me cook) and “movie night!” went at the top of my list. (You know you need to cook more often when you make a pot of soup one weekend and both your teenage children THANK you profusely….how embarrassing!)

Under “friends”, I made a note to e-mail my friend Tiffany to see if she could meet for wings and a beer (oh, those wings…!), our weekly Friday ritual. And to call another friend I hadn’t seen in a few weeks, to see if we could get together.

“Professional” cup next. “Clear a space so I can do card project for Katherine’s book”.

I stopped and looked at that entry. “Clean the studio!!!” has been on my to-do list for weeks. (Actually, I write about cleaning my studio a lot….!)

Breaking down “Clean the studio!” into a smaller step (“Clear a table”) was a good strategy. But I needed something else today. Life’s been overwhelming lately, and I just wondered if there was another way to look at all this.

Actually, the main reason I "borrowed" my friend Gary Spykman's wood studio to work on boxes? There was no room to do it in MY studio!

Actually, the main reason I “borrowed” my friend Gary Spykman’s wood studio to work on boxes? There was no room to do it in MY studio!

I remembered the “Handmade, High Tech” conference (see the article CRAFT IN THE DIGITAL AGE from April 2004.) One of the speakers, Lynn Martin Graton, Traditional Arts Coordinator for the NH State Council on the Arts, talked about how differences in how language is used can reveal fundamental differences in culture.

She said, “If I want to say, ‘Warp the loom’ in Japanese, it actually translates to something like, ‘In order for the cloth to be woven, the loom will be warped.’ It’s a totally different way of viewing the action needed and the person who acts. The loom has its own importance, its own part to play. It’s not just about YOU, the artist.” (paraphrased greatly)

AHA!

If I say “Clean my studio”, it’s a huge task that lies on me and me alone. I must accept total responsibility for doing that. There may be very American, can-do solutions: I can suck it up and do it myself. I can get friends to help (barn-raising!) I can hire someone else to do it, putting a value on my time and/or deciding how I want to spend my time. And my favorite, ‘you can accomplish anything–even eating an elephant–by taking many small bites one at a time.’ It’s how I’ve accomplished everything I have in the last five years, breaking every monumental task down into more manageable little steps.

But what if we’re in a place where even these strategies just seem too overwhelming?

What if we could speak Japanese sometimes? What if we could tap into an even softer, Zen, wholistic, mindful approach occasionally?

What if I recognize that, if I do my part, then the creative “thing” will do its part? What if I could trust that process?

I rewrote the task: “If the cards are to be made, a space must be cleared.” (Even better, “If the cards are to be made, the space will be open…”

It’s still the same action resulting in the same conclusion, but the perspective is different.

It’s still up to me to take the action that makes it happen. That table won’t clear itself! (Oh, I WISH!!) But now I have a partner in the process, so to speak.

I started with the analogy of a baby, but that got too labored (ouch! Sorry…) But like a baby, certain things have to happen in order for the baby to appear. Once started, the baby pretty much develops and grows on its own schedule, and appears in its own good time. But certain things have to happen, and a place has to be made.

Martha Graham’s famous quote, in part, acknowledges this: “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 be lost.”

Blocking the creative act can be as simple as not making a place for it. The creative process is a dance between you (a conduit and a source of action), and a partner (the creative force that needs to appear). The result, whether its a card project, a song, a poem, a garden, a painting or a child, comes from that dance.

Once that creative thing is in the world, it takes on a life of its own. It can be seen and experienced by others in their own unique way. Some people will be inspired by it, some will be angered. Some will be moved to tears and others will wonder what all the fuss was about. That’s why the rest of the quote goes on to say it is not the artist’s place to judge it, just to make sure it gets out into the world.

So take another look at that to-do list. Look at the ways you may have unconsciously taken on more than you need to handle with your art. Start with the small but critical step of making room for it, literally and figuratively. Then step back and see what happens!

I’m off to clear a table now. (And on that happy note, I am off to help a table be cleared.)

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Filed under art, cleaning the studio

SIXTY-ONE

My birthday card from Amy Johnson...

My birthday card from Amy Johnson…

And the great punchline...one month after Jon found a VERY drunk person passed out on our tree lawn. (It wasn't me!!)

And the great punchline…one month after Jon found a VERY drunk person passed out on our tree lawn. (It wasn’t me!!)

A la Bilbo Baggins, I so wanted to use “ELEVENTY-ONE” as today’s post title. But a desire for accuracy won the day. And so, a reflection today on my sixty-first birthday.

Here I sit. Sixty-one years old. There is a storm around me, one that’s raged for over fifty years. I’m feeling as unmoored and estranged as I ever have. And why does Spellcheck say “unmoored” is not a word???

A friend said recently, “The most dangerous people in the world are people who don’t know what they don’t know.” Sadly, very true.

All I can do is look back, to see how far I’ve come.
I can look ahead, to see how far I can go.
And I can look at the end, to see what is of value there. (Thank you, Quinn McDonald, for these words of wisdom!)

When I look back, my gratitude list is long. In fact, after the Year of Endangered Children and Near-Death Experiences, I’m truly grateful for what I learned. What I found. And mostly for what I DIDN’T lose….

I see that sitting with discomfort can open many doors. And close some, too–maybe ones that needed to be closed. Or that were never open in the first place.

When I look ahead, I see that being able…and willing…to make a major change in life, with a willing partner at my side, will be an amazing adventure. I’m pathetically scared. But at least I know my fear is pathetic. It will be daunting, and exhausting. But also exhilarating and exciting.

When I look at the end, it puts it all in perspective.

My greatest joy? Every day, I’m learning more about life.
My greatest fear? The day I finally figure it all out, I’ll be 73 and drop dead before I can really put all my wisdom to work.

The reality? We’re all hear trying to do the best we can. Trying to figure it all out. Some of us are open to learning. Some of us aren’t. Their journey is not my journey. And that’s okay.

My goal this year? To kick the “good girl”–the one who feels she has to make nice, to be “good”, whatever that means–to the curb. And let out the “bad girl”–the bitch who speaks her mind and asks for what she wants–a little more often.

What am I doing for my birthday today?

Maybe I’ll clean my studio so George can fix my lights.
Maybe I’ll do a little more reading on issues of social injustice. I’m embarrassed at how much I don’t know. But grateful I’m willing to KNOW how much I don’t know.
Maybe I’ll go to t’ai chi tonight with Jon.
Maybe take the afternoon off and read a book for HOURS. And fall asleep on the couch with the cat and a dog or two.
Maybe I’ll sit and think. Or just sit.
Maybe I’ll go out and watch the clouds for awhile.

I’ll try not to worry about how I’ll ever pack up and move my neutron-star-dense studio across the country. And whether I’ll ever find a good-enough space to set it up again.

I’ll try not to worry about earthquakes.

I’ll try not to worry about giant millipedes.

Hmmmmm….. Maybe it’s time to go out and look at some clouds.

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Filed under art, life lessons

NAMASTE

“I like to think that everybody is trying to do the best they can.” Something Teo Tyler said to me years ago, when I wondered why she was cutting an obvious pompous idiot so much slack….

Why a picture of a tree?  Because it's just a tree.  And that's all it has to be.

Why a picture of a tree? Because it’s just a tree. And that’s all it has to be to be beautiful.

I’m back, and sloooooowly recovering from, the League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Craftsmen’s Fair at Mt. Sunapee (aka, although misleading, the “Sunapee Fair”. Misleading because there’s another, much smaller local event also known as the “Sunapee Fair”. Oh well. It’s hard to confuse us once you’ve seen us both.)

As usual, a lot of beautiful and powerful moments at the Fair, lots of validation for an artist, and great sales, too. And also as usual, lots of exhaustion, frustration, nerves and angst.

And as usual, over the next few weeks, I’ll strive to put the latter into prospective, and the former into the forefront of my heart.

Today, though, I write about a thought I had as my head hit the pillow last night, a thought that stayed with me til I woke this morning:

I’m thinking how desperately we want to be seen.

Not just noticed. (“Look at that woman’s funny red hair, mama!”) Not recognized (“She’s the artist!”) Not just acknowledged. (“Madam cashier, may I interrupt your conversation with the bag boy to introduce myself? I’m your paying customer!!!!“)

We all want to be seen as the person we believe ourselves to be. The person we want to believe ourselves to be, that is.

We don’t want to be seen as needy, or pitiable, or desperate. We don’t want to be seen as crazy, or nagging, or pathetic.

We all want to be seen as a person who is doing the best we can.

At this moment, right now, with everything we have on our plate. Plates. Plate??

Oddly, my thought about this is, sometimes the best way we can show someone we truly see them is to listen to them.

So if someone wants desperately to be seen as smart, and quick, and capable, then I have to tamp down my lizard-brain reaction to say, “Well, I’m smart and quick and capable, too!” I have to try really really hard to just shut up and watch. And be amazed that, by golly, they are smart, and quick, and capable. And that fact doesn’t diminish me one little bit.

I have to understand that if someone is trying desperately to impress me with their wit (even if it’s at my expense) and their brilliant conversation (even if I can’t get a word in edgewise), then I have to smack down my lizard-brain reaction for a few minutes. Just sit back and let them do their dance. And be amazed that, by golly, they are witty, and brilliantly conversant. And that fact does not diminish me one little bit.

I have to understand that if someone is trying really, really hard to do the right thing, because they really don’t want to be “that guy”, and they want their efforts to be acknowledged (even if what I want is an apology), then I have to lose the judge-y-ness and the righteous indignation, and give them some credit. And be amazed, by gosh, that they really are trying to do the right thing–because they care.

It’s hard. It’s really hard.

Because like the proverbial one-finger-pointing-at-you, three-finger-pointing-back-at-me thing (Try it. Point at something. See?), all these things that piss me off? I’m more guilty of them than anyone else.

And that’s why I, of all people, should understand where that impulse is coming from.

Because I want to be seen as smart, and quick, and capable, and witty, and brilliantly conversational.

Because I’m usually the one rattling off a mile a minute, not letting you get a word in. Not letting you be right, for a change. Not accepting, or understanding that you, too, are simply here, trying to do your best.

And in showing you just how effin’ brilliant I am, I am not letting YOU shine.

So today I continue my little brave exercises, exercises I hope will atrophy my over-worked lizard-brain a little, and strengthen my better-intentioned heart.

When I’m tempted to put you in your place, I will bite my (very sharp) tongue instead.

In place of a retort, I will strive for the gentle rejoinder. Better yet, I will try for the respectful silence.

I will gaze at you with love, and awe, and respect for the person you already are. I will honor the person you don’t have to prove yourself–not for one minute, not to me–to be.

I will see you.

(With heartfelt apologies to Jon, and Jen, and Nancy. And with deep gratitude for all you do, with delight and amazement for who you are. Namaste)

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