Category Archives: change

EVEN GOOD CHANGE SUCKS

If I had to choose one word that describes the last year of my life, it would be “change”.

At first I thought it was “transition”. My daughter transitioning from “single” to “engaged” and then “endangered” and now “safe.” Even “happy”. My marriage transitioning from “good” to “awful” to “problematic” to….well, “transitioning”. With glimmers of “hope” and “even better”. (I hate picking just one word.) My son from “independent” to “nearly died” and now “healing”. Oh, and even better, “OMG, has a girlfriend”. (See? I needed four words to say that.) My health transitioned from “pain” to “painfree”. My art/business from “stalled” to “energized”, my cash flow from “steady” to “nada”, but now “increasing”.

But then I realized transition is just another word for “change”. And frankly, change sucks.

Change is hard. Even when good things come of it, it’s still hard. You just get things figured out, you just find a way to get through life smoothly, everything is in its place and that’s that. And then the applecart gets upset. And you have to start all over again.

A reader posted this comment on my blog a few days ago:

I have always been fascinated by loss and “the breakdown before the breakthrough.” as it is called in certain circles.

The breakdown before the breakthrough…. That just about sums it up.

It seems I still have to learn these same lessons over and over again. So many times, the things that seem awful, or stupid, or thoughtless, are still based on good intentions. We have to learn not to assume, but to check out our assumptions.

Sometimes the things that seem problematic, turn out to be the best possible solution after all.

Sometimes, that solution is right under your nose. You just can’t see it til you’ve run through all the other possibilities. And you run through all those possibilities, considering this one, objecting to that one, despairing and lost, until your brain finally goes, “Oh. OH! Yeah, that’ll work!” And sometimes it takes a second person (oddly, who’s also the person you’re arguing with) to see the simple solution.

Sometimes you have to clear the deck (or it gets cleared FOR you) in order for something else, something better, something wonderful to get through.

Changes in marriage suck. But marriages aren’t static. They evolve. They grow. they change. Sometimes things get hard. But sometimes, they get easier, too.

Changing how many dogs are in the house is hard. The idea of managing four dogs for a few weeks seemed insurmountable. And now we find four dogs are actually easier to deal with than just one bored dog. (He’s way too busy to chew our furniture this week!)

Sometimes we lose something we think we can’t live without. And if we’re lucky, we find something even better to replace it.

So I’m sitting here writing this on a Friday morning. Today looked so awful from yesterday’s viewpoint.

And it looks so different now.

Yep. Someday I’ll be able to handle change a little bit better (I hope.) And life will truly be just a dream.

But in the meantime, I’m so grateful I have a way to think these things through–by writing in my journal. By writing a blog post. By arguing with a man who loves me better than anyone has ever loved me. Even if he does suck at negotiating sometimes.

Because he’s learning to deal with change, too, right along with me.

Change. It sucks. But then, the really good things in life are always worth a little extra effort. Or even a lot.

So often, the breakdown is never something we would willingly choose.

But the breakthrough is the blessedly shiny reward that makes it all bearable in the end.

From two dogs….

….to four! (But only for awhile.)

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Filed under art, change, craft, life lessons, life with a dog

FLEETING BALANCE

Perfect balance is not only overrated, it’s not necessarily desirable. The only perfectly balanced pot is one with a flat bottom. And flat bottoms are good for pots, but not for people.

Balance. We know it’s a good thing. When it comes to our bodies, our professional and personal goals, our relationships, perfect balance is a good thing to strive for, right?

Well…some concepts about balance are good for you. And some aren’t.

Balance regarding bodies makes an excellent metaphor, so let’s take a look.

Balance as parity can save us a few tricks to the doc.

It’s widely accepted that we all have one leg that’s longer than the other. Right?

Wrong. Our legs are petty close to being equal lengths. What happens is we tend to favor one side or the other. We tend to use our “strong” leg, and end up standing more on our “weaker” leg.

Try it yourself. Stand up, then assume a relaxed position, as if you were in for a long conversation with someone. What leg are you standing on?

For me, I put my weight on my left leg. It might be because my right knee has sustained a lot of injuries over the year, and it feels less “solid”.

But standing on my left leg also frees up my right leg, which is still stronger and faster for kicking. (Taekwondo, folks, not randomly kicking people in the street.)

Over the years, this gradually led to a shortening of the muscles in my left leg. It isn’t really shorter, I’ve squashed it!

I found this article on your golf swing as an excellent description of this.

This kind of “non-parity” also leads to more than a bad golf swing. It can aggravate problems with your back, shoulders, wrists. My husband makes a point of shoveling snow and raking leaves by switching his “lead” from time to time. It’s dramatically reduced his back problems.

It’s good to mix it up!

Just as lack of physical parity slowly creates big problems out of tiny choices over time, the search for perfect balance can, too.

People who should know–physical therapists, etc.–tell us that walking is a process of regularly losing–and finding–our balance.

We need that constant process to move forward. Perfect balance–when we stand only equally on both feet–is standing still.

Think about when we strike a tree pose, a great balance stance in yoga. We aren’t ever really being still. Our first efforts may result in widely flailing arms and torso. But even when we can hold that position for five minutes, our bodies aren’t actually static and immovable. Muscles in our feet and ankles are constantly constantly making tiny adjustments to keep everything in alignment. We just need tinier movements. How do you know those muscles are working? Think how exhausting it would be to stand in that pose all day.

How does this relate to our art, and to the business of exhibiting/marketing/selling/teaching our art?

Well, one way is how we think about a “perfect balance” in our art. We think there’s a perfect blend of art/business/family/other work/community, etc.

Some artists struggle to balance work, family, art. Sometimes they give up. There’s no way to make it work!. Sometimes all they need is permission to their art on the back burner–on “simmer”–for awhile. (But don’t forget to come back and turn the heat up someday!)

Some of us struggle to find the right balance in our art biz. Sometimes the business of getting our art “out there” more grueling and less exciting that actually making art. We force ourselves to do the inventory thing, the invoice thing, we apply to shows or write the press releases or whatever, grumbling as we go.

But if we aren’t careful, we lose that beautifully precious, joyful synergy that comes from making. There’s no way to “balance” that. It’s the spring from which everything else flows.

Some of us even find the balance of “making” to be difficult. Some days I come in my studio determined to make stuff and can’t decide where to start. Make more little horses? Cut some leather strips for necklaces? Mix some colors? Do more sculptures? I feel torn in eight different directions. Even when I start in on something, I feel guilty that I haven’t answered that email, or updated my store, or gotten those postcards out.

Yes, our art has to eventually be out in the world.

But we have to make it–bring it into being–first.

What sparked this post was a comment I heard of made by a 2-D artist. He said there was a discipline to his craft. He made sure he drew, even if just a little bit, every single day.

I was in awe of that. He’s absolutely right, in many ways. We need to make even tiny little spaces for our art. Because pushing it entirely out of our lives is never a good thing.

At the same time, I see he has a simpler life right now. Retired, no partner, no young children, a small apartment. He is able to make more balanced choices at this point in his life.

Like our bodies, the balance we seek in our art, and in the pattern of our lives, perhaps will never exist. Waiting for it before we make art is a trap. Even if you have to let your art “simmer”, think of ways to keep it in your heart. And never miss an opportunity to add a few carrots to the pot.

There will be periods where we are on fire with our creativity, and nothing can pull us out of studios. There will be periods where our children, our partners and spouses, simply need us profoundly, and time spent with them is not wasted. There will be times when we need to put down the brush or the blow torch and simply get outside and move.

Whatever your particular “blend” of life is right now, embrace it. Know that in a day, a month, a season, the demands will change.

And your greatest blessing–and peace of mind–will be knowing that you will change your particular balance right along with it.

P.S. How am I making myself lose my balance today? I wanted to write this post so desperately. I have so much to do today, I’m not letting myself do that series of final edits. I’m just publishing it!

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Filed under art, balance, business, change, choices, craft, creativity

NEW JOURNEY: The Fifth Step

I discover I’m not lost–I’m right where I’m supposed to be.

Awhile back, I wrote about a coaching session I had with longtime friend and life coach Quinn McDonald, of http://www.QuinnCreative.com. (I’m leaving out the links because WordPress does not seem to want to process my html coding today.)

During that session, I mentioned my odd desire to sign up for hospice training. Quinn said she didn’t think it was at all odd. After we’d talked, she said I was asking myself, “what are the values that are calling to you to be fulfilled in your life?” They’ve changed since I first started my journey as an artist. No better place to search for them, she said, than to look at what happens at the end of life.

I told a few people about my decision.

Some people said, “Oh, you’d be great at hospice!” I loved their support and faith, but I cautioned them, “I’m not even sure why I’m doing this! But for sure it’s not because I necessarily think I’ll excel at it. I just feel I have to do this.”

Some people pooh-poohed it, or looked at me like I’d given in to the woo-woo thing.

Other people I knew I couldn’t tell.

And most of the time, I just knew I shouldn’t talk about it too much. Sometimes, talking about doing something takes all the energy out of it. Like your brain mistakes the “talking” for the actual “doing.

So I just needed to do it.

Today was my first training session.

It was powerful.

It was amazing.

I cried like a girl. (Well, I am a girl, so that’s okay.)

I haven’t even begun to process everything that happened. And maybe I shouldn’t, for awhile, anyway.

I will say this:

When I first felt the desire to pursue this, I had no idea why. It felt irrational, crazy and self-indulgent.

But now, there is no doubt in my mind anymore.

I KNOW that this….

…this is exactly where I need to be right now.

It is exactly the right place for me to be.

That feeling alone is enough to make my spirit soar for the first time in ages.

I don’t really know much more than that right now. I’m just telling you, so if you have any odd urges or yearnings right now, it might behoove you to check them out.

And yes, behoove is a word.

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Filed under art, change, choices, craft, lessons from hospice, life

NEW JOURNEY: The Third Step

Change is always hard, but learning to recognize when it’s TIME to change, gets easier.

In my last two posts, I described two big fears in my life. The first was knowing a change was coming. The second is not knowing what it is.

The third is being afraid I’ll get stuck in the new change.

Now, if this isn’t anticipating trouble, what is? Right?

But I’ve seen many people leave the art and craft biz, trying to take their experiences to draft a new career for themselves. There are drawbacks to leaving that source of knowledge and passion.

Some did it beautifully, and have given much back to the community. Others had “steam” for awhile. But eventually, driven again by the need for fame or fortune, or fear of changing what works, their contributions become stale and rote. Like a burned-out teacher two years from retirement with two kids in college, they slog away, feeling they are simply in too deep to quit. They grind on for “just a few more years.” And making life miserable for others around them. (I don’t mean to pick on teachers, it’s just something I witnessed once that wasn’t pretty, and it stuck.)

I dreaded ending up in the same boat.

But once I recognized this for what it is–anticipated fear of failure–it was easier to put it back in the box.

First, I have no idea that’s where I’ll go next. Being afraid of something that might happen from a new career direction I might head in seems awfully silly.

Second, I realized it just won’t happen. If I’m paying such close attention to my changing desires now, I always will. That’s who I am. I will always be questioning, and rigorously testing my motivation.

Several readers mentioned this in their comments to my last few posts. It’s a journey, with more than one destination. More than a few travel plans will change. We never get to one single place and then plop there for the rest of our lives. “Got mine, get in line,” is no longer a justifiable or sustainable model for the self-aware. Change is always just around the corner.

Which reminds me of something a friend told me years ago. It was at a dark time in my life, just before I realized I was being called to be an artist. I was so fearful of everything in my life, and especially for my child. The world seemed to dark and full of evil. I said I couldn’t figure out how to protect her and keep her safe.

“You can’t!” exclaimed my friend. “That’s not our job. Our job is to teach them to be themselves, and to believe in themselves, so they can handle anything life throws at them. I want to teach my children to dance on the edge of the universe!’

Her words sent shivers down my spine. Here was a fearless mother who knew a good way to truly protect her children–teach them to adapt gracefully and beautifully to the inevitable challenges that come their way in a fully-lived life. She showed me how to drive that debilitating fear right out of my heart, and put love and faith and courage in its place.

So who do I want to be? An anxious whiny person, determined not to risk what I have in order to move forward?

Or do I want to dance on the edge of the universe?

ps. Years later, my friend had more difficult pregnancies, resulting in children with debilitating special needs. Emotionally exhausted, financially overwhelmed, the family made the decision to move across county to be closer to family and old friends for support. The night before she left, I took her some gifts, told her how much her friendship had meant to me.

“You led me out of a very dark place, and I will always be grateful”, I told her. I repeated her words back to her.

“I said that??” She couldn’t remember ever being that fearless and sure.

It was then I realized the real reason she’d told me those words was so I could repeat them back to her when she needed them most.

They had been held in trust for her.

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Filed under art, change, fear of failing, inspiration, life, mental attitude

NEW JOURNEY: The Second Step

Finding new values for the life you lead, and defining your own success.

In my last post, I shared what brought me to consult with artist/writer/life coach Quinn McDonald. I wrote about my conflicting desires for my art, and why I feel so lost about my next steps.

At the very beginning of our conversation, I mentioned to Quinn almost apologetically that there was something that had grabbed my heart recently. It made no sense to me, but it did to her. More on this later.

After talking for awhile, I noted that there were some things that still made sense to me.

I love public speaking. I ask the event organizer, “What is it you want your audience to come away with?” Then I focus on addressing that, from my own experiences, from my heart. For example, for the World Batik Conference, it was how to encourage artists to promote themselves in a way that’s sensitive to their cultural heritage. (In some cultures, it is not considered respectable to “brag” about your accomplishments.) The result was this essay about sharing your gift with the world.

I love inspiring and encouraging new artists (actually, all creative people)as a group. I loved my experience as a guest lecturer with the Arts Business Institute. I didn’t so much help people to sell their work, or focus on wholesaling (which is probably why I didn’t become a permanent faculty member!) I loved getting them to think about what they wanted from their art, and helping them establish goals to get there. My workshops on self-promotion resulted in this article: The Ultimate Story

I love writing this blog (though it’s nowhere close to being a hugely popular blog!) because it does both. And it helps me work though issues I have with my art and my life.

I was adamant about not wanting to teach per se.
We explored the teaching thing. I like the one-to-hundreds model, such as speaking and writing. One-on-one is exhausting to me. I would make an awful coach or therapist. After three visits, I’d fire my clients.) Even classes, which start out fun, end up with me wishing halfway through I could get back to my own work. And I have no interest in teaching people “how to make the little horses”, a common request from (some) other artists.

Quinn agreed that the world probably didn’t need more people making my little horses. But she pointed out that most people who take classes from artists simply want to share a day in the life of that artist. Hmmmmmm……

We decided if someday I could go out and speak to a large audience and get paid, that would be great.

But people only want to hear from artists with credentials, I protested. If I dropped everything I’m doing now, or didn’t get busy achieving something else, who would want to listen to me? (Here I credit my good friend Kerin Rose with this insight: She exclaimed, “Luann, you already have those credentials! No one can take them away from you, and you don’t have to keep proving yourself.”

Well, then, how will I know how successful I am in creating an audience for my work, or my words, or my thoughts? How can I measure that?

Here is where Quinn brought in my odd little admission at the very beginning of our talk.

Since fame and fortune are not doing it for me right now, what will?

Where is money and fame NOT the coin of the realm?

At the end of life.

Before we’d started, I’d told Quinn I was drawn to hospice, and had signed up for volunteer training.

There have been three times in my life I felt this strong a pull. One was the compelling desire to take up my art. The second (very odd) was to volunteer for an intense women’s self-defense program I’ve taken twice. (I didn’t pursue that, it was too far away, and I still regret not doing it.)

The third was this. Hospice.

“I’m not surprised,” Quinn said.

Wha….??

“You’re drawn to the end of life, to see what happens. You will be a witness to what is there, to what is valued at the end. It’s not money, it’s not fame. It’s something else. You want to learn what life is all about.”

But I’d told the volunteer coordinator that I was simply called to do this. It isn’t about my art. Artists like Diedre Scherer have already explored this realm in their art, with sensitivity and grace. I had no intention of copying her or “mining” this experience for myself, for new inspiration. I just had to follow where my heart was leading.

However, the coordinator said all my reasons sounded spot-on. She had no qualms about admitting me to the training program.

Which sounds perfect, by the way. The program is long and involved, well-rounded and grounded, covering all aspects of the experience. At the end, volunteers are carefully screened and interviewed to find out where, if any place, they would fit best. Most people drop out, or end up volunteering in a totally different capacity from what they initially intended. As scary as it sounds to me, I know I won’t get in over my head.

And I have no idea why I’m going there, or where I’ll end up. I just know I must.

“You’re searching for the values that will define this next era of your life,” Quinn said. And then she gave me my question for homework:

What are the values that are calling to me, the values to be fulfilled in my life?”

And my mantra…(and this is important):

I don’t know yet….and it’s okay.

Because I have become so very full of knowing. Knowing has gotten in my way for the last few years. Knowing how hard it will be to recreate new work, a new audience, new goals. Knowing what will work, what won’t. Even knowing what isn’t satisfying anymore.

Perfectionism is all about being full of knowing. This is the opposite, and that’s why it makes me feel so uncomfortable.

There is a gift in not knowing. You can’t know until you realize you don’t know.

So that’s my homework. As I work, as I do yoga, and martial arts, and I sit quietly and simply observe, I say to myself, “I don’t know yet….and it’s okay.” I am to pay close attention to what comes up, as I begin to truly accept the fact that I don’t know.

She says she can see me standing in a doorway, waiting…for what?

For what’s next.

Not knowing, and listening to your heart, and patiently waiting….

Isn’t that the very definition of faith?

ps. I won’t be writing much about this aspect of my journey for a bit. I’ve found there’s a danger in talking too much a new venture. Talking about it and “writing about it” begins to feel like “doing something about it”, and I don’t want that to happen. I’ll share what I can as I go, but no more speculation, okay?

Tomorrow: Another fear overcome. Stay tuned!

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Filed under art, change, creativity, inspiration, lessons from hospice, life, mental attitude

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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Filed under action steps, art, change, life

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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Filed under action steps, change, choices, inspiration, life, mental attitude, perseverence

STARTING OVER AGAIN Part Deux

One door closes, another opens.

I made my decision, and I will leave my Tae Kwon Do practice.

Ironically, I had just submitted a testimonial to the school a few short months ago.

I had an excellent talk with my head instructor. I’ve grown to greatly trust and respect him. He’s seen this coming, though he’d hoped I would find a window of opportunity, a chance to “get ahead of my body” before another injury could set me back.

He said some things about my spirit that made me cry (in a good way.) He urged me to stay until I had my “next step” in place. He reminded me that we all eventually reach this place in our practice, including him, and he will help me figure this next step out.

Less than 24 hours later, I may have found that next step.

It was practically under my nose.

A few months ago, a friend mentioned her brother-in-law is a “world class Tai Chi guy.” I found the contact information she gave me. I took a deep breath and emailed him.

He wrote back a few days later, and agreed to meet with me.

Turns out he “gets” the martial arts aspect of Tai Chi (something that is important to me right now.)

It turns out he is an accomplished martial artist in several disciplines, who did indeed “compete” at an international level for several years.

It turns out he thinks Tai Chi could be a perfect “next step” for me, incorporating strength, balance, focus and safe practice.

It turns out he knows–and respects–my instructor.

And it turns out he lives around the corner from me.

I took a deep breath, screwed up my courage, and asked what was in my heart:

Did he have any interest in teaching?

It turns out he’s been thinking that teaching would be a way to return to a daily practice, something that’s been hard to fit into his schedule the last few years, as he travels extensively back and forth between two cities.

Just thinking about this, and now writing about it, sends shivers down my spine. (In a good way!)

As we dig our way out of our third snow storm here in New Hampshire, I send these good wishes your way:

May your home be warm and may your power stay on.

May you have food on your table and may you have family and good friends to share it with.

May you find you own tiny miracles to astonish you, as often as you need them.

And if you need one today, take a look at this wonderful little movie, Where the hell is Matt?

I can’t watch it without tearing up. It delights me to my very core to see people of all ages, shapes, sizes, colors and beliefs, join this guy in his silly dance.

And it astonishes me that it came of a “silly whim” of his to quit his job, drop everything, and simply go see what was out in the world.

Thank you, everyone, who wrote to encourage me during this very difficult time. My goal is to catch up on my comments section in the next few days.

And Merry Christmas to all, wherever and however you dance!

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Filed under art, change, choices, health, life, martial arts, mental attitude

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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CLEANING THE ATTIC Tip #10: What’s the Point?

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, one of the hard things about letting go of something is remembering how much I paid for it.

And every time I mention that, someone suggests I sell the item on Ebay. Or take it to a consignment shop. Or have a yard sale.

I decided not to do those things. In the long run, it really isn’t worth it to me, for several reasons:

1. The time involved.

Learning to do Ebay effectively takes time. And brain energy.

Silly as it seems, I’m still not that comfortable with a digital camera. I have no idea how to upload images. I know those are skills I have to learn eventually. But stopping to learn them right now feels distracting to my de-junking mission.

Someone ran me through the process of selling on Ebay, and it’s a lot to come to grips with. I completed one auction. I couldn’t believe how much time it took up.

It takes time to decide what’s really worth selling. Time to describe each item, time to come up with my terms, time to package each item for shipping, time to run it to the post office. Time for the auction to run its course. Time to respond to customer questions.

If the item doesn’t sell, I have to decide once again whether to relist it, hold onto it again for another auction, or give it away.

I end up making lots of decisions about each individual item.

Same with a consignment shop. Time to figure out what they’ll take and what they won’t. Time to haul it to the store (usually by appointment.) Time spent determining a price. Time to haul the unwanted stuff back home, and to decide what to do with it again.

When an item sells, usually you can expect to get about 25% of the retail price (depending on its condition and desirability). If it sells. And if the store doesn’t have to further reduce the price to move it.

Whatever doesn’t sell, guess what? You have to take it back (unless you give them permission to dump it or give it to charity.)

Same with a yard sale. It takes time, time, time, to gather, tag, store, set out and sell each item. And then dispose of each unsold item.

Time, time, time. Time I’m not spending directly on my art.

Which brings me to the second reason:

2. What is my focus?

We hear over and over, what you pay attention to, will flourish. Well, I want to pay attention to my art, not my stuff.

Is all this extra time spent relocating my stuff for money really moving my business and art forward effectively?

I would rather move this stuff on and get back to making–and selling–my art.

Nicole Caulfield, the artist who walked me through an Ebay auction, sells small works of art there called ACEO. The time spent using Ebay directly helps her art business. It might be worthwhile exploring Ebay if I intend to sell my work there. But I don’t, for now.

The last reason is more subtle. But it helped me the most.

3. Giving helps me emotionally and spiritually.

The donations I made to the Sharon Arts Center “yart sale” helped them raise funds for new programs. It helped other artists who could really use those supplies. And it helped me. I got a tax deduction, equal perhaps to what I would have made at a consignment shop or yard sale.

Giving books to our public library’s book sale helps them raise money for new books. And other people get to read my books. I get to make space for new books! (Ohmigod, I can’t believe I said that!!!)

Donating to Planet Aid helps others around the world, donating to Project Share helps local kids have a good Christmas, donating to Freecyle creates good karma.

Many of these items I’ve been holding on to represent dreams I used to have. But I have new dreams now.

Letting go of your old dreams may help someone else’s dreams come true.

A friend once told me, “Sometimes when we pray, we may feel our prayers aren’t being answered. It’s because we haven’t made room for them. We have stuff blocking the way. The answer can’t get through.”

I think about that a lot. Lots of things can get in the way.

Junk. Hanging on to old dreams. Getting caught up in recouping money from our past mistakes.

Need one more reason to move it all on quickly?

Making room for your prayers to be answered may help be the answer to someone else’s prayers.

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LITTLE LESSONS LEARNED LATELY #1 No More Big Fears About Little Things

I was going to title this “Small Lessons Learned Lately” but didn’t want to miss out on that alliteration.

I had long posts started about my recent trip to England. If you read me regularly, though, you know my mind doesn’t work that way. I never tell anyone where we stopped, what we ate for lunch, who we saw or what we did.

It all comes back as little anecdotes and little lessons learned.

Here’s an example. One of the highlights of our trip was visiting an older couple in Wales, old family friends, on the Isle of Anglesey. This beautiful coastal trail is the northwest corner of the island where we hiked one day, and this view of the Snowdonia mountain range sort of looks like the view from their living room window. (You can see the mountain range on the mainland, from the island.)

Don and Barbara Roscoe are amazing people in many, many ways. But for the point of this “little lesson learned” today, I will share one.

In his 60′s, Don went back to college and received a doctorate’s degree in biology. His thesis (right term?) was on….spiders.

He showed me pictures of them in the Big Book of Very Scary-Looking Spiders, where they looked about a foot tall. But they are actually very very tiny spider, only about 1/4″ big. I can’t even remember the genus name of them (sorry, Don!), but they were beautiful.

Even with all those patterns and colors, Don said there are many, many different species, and they can look very similar. The only way to properly identify them is to carefully measure the length of their leg segments and determine the ratio of those lengths. Each species has its very own, very specific leg segment length ratio!

I was astounded, and entranced. It was as if a tiny world the size of a tack had expanded into another infinite universe. I paged through the book and marveled. The wealth of colors and patterning was astounding. I said, “I respect spiders, and I feel bad that I dislike them so much. In fact, I kinda feel sorry for them, with all the antipathy most people feel towards them.”

Don said, “Yes, it’s a pity, because if you ask people why they are afraid of spiders, they’ll say ‘oh, they bite!’ If you ask them how many times they’ve been bitten by a spider, they’ll say, ‘uh….never’ or ‘once’. Yet they get bitten by midges and mosquitoes thousands of times, and they aren’t afraid of midges and mosquitoes!”

Rats. Good point. I think about Charlotte’s Web, too.

Soon after our return, I went to an outdoor flea market. Sitting on a teacup is a very small, very ugly spider. “Look out for that spider, Mom!”, cries my daughter, and I get ready to smack it.

But I didn’t.

I looked at it, and I swear, it looked up at me. It was very stubby, and its eyes were huge. And it really seemed like it saw me.

My heart melted. I gingerly picked up the teacup, moved outside the tent, and gently blew the little fellow back to the safety of the grass.

I wrote Don about my experiences, and described the spider. “Sounds like a jumping spider”, he wrote back. “Totally harmless. And good for you for your change of heart!”

In fact, I think it might have been a daring jumping spider, a species known for being especially “friendly” towards humans. (I love the line where Valerie says, “Anyone familiar with jumping spiders has probably marveled at their perceptual abilities, which include watching and reacting to us as if a tiny spider and a medium sized mammal are on the same scale…..”)

In the last few days, I’ve found and released several very tiny spiders from my environs into the wild.

I’m not totally comfortable around these savage-looking creatures yet. And I haven’t seen a big one, which will be the ultimate test.

But I think the lesson is sticking: There are things to fear in life, and there are things we fear that are totally undeserving of that fear.

Like little spiders. And making changes. And taking chances.

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ABSOLUTELY (NOT) REVISITED

I had a simply beautiful email from a reader who enjoyed my post on making decisions. She even visited me at the show I’m doing this week, and we talked a little more.

She said, “So how do I know I’ve made the right decision??”

I told her she would know, because it would feel right in her heart.

But right after she left, I felt bad. Because that wasn’t a complete answer. Sometimes we’re in such turmoil, even those other options don’t feel like they offer much clarity.

What I should have said was, just do something.

Do one thing different. Take one step toward the goal of your dreams.

I have a friend who can’t decide if she wants to pursue a line of study she abandoned years ago. It’s too late to go back to college, right? What would she use another degree for? What will she do with it?? (See the either/or thing?)

We have several colleges in the area, many with continuing education classes. I suggested she simply take one course.

She could take a class, and see how it goes. Heck, she can take as many classes as she wants! Who says she “has to” continue, or “has to” change careers, or “has to” do anything with it. Maybe it’s okay to just take a class, or continue to study something that gives you joy. “Taking chemistry classes can be another one of your hobbies!” I told her.

I believe what will happen is, as she moves across this “different stream”, she’ll encounter new people, new conversations, and new opportunities.

She may choose to embrace those opportunities–or not. Maybe she’ll simply find everything in her life is just fine, and now she has a new interest that makes her happy. Or maybe she find a new career opportunity, or simply a new friend. Maybe after one chemistry class, she’ll realize it was fun, but she’s simply done with it. It’s all good.

A decision to do something–or even a decision to do nothing, oddly enough–simply puts you on a different path. It may or may not be better, but you can still always decide something else.

I drilled that into my kids (and I’m hoping it sticks): You always have options. You will learn and grow from any of them, very few will be totally wrong, and que sera and all that.

Use your options. It will get you out of the deadlock of either/or, this-or-that, yes-or-no. And once you start moving forward, your way will become more clear.

(If this post is not coherent, please remember I’m on Day 7 of a nine-day show!!)

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MIRROR, MIRROR

A few days ago I received a long, tortured e-mail from a dear friend. She is in turmoil–emotionally, spiritually, artistically.

She wrote on and on, detailing all her failings and faults, bemoaning the fact that she was such a terrible friend, a failed professional, a dilettante in her art because she sets it aside the second someone else needs her.

The whole time I was reading this, I alternated between wanting to hug her and wanting to shake her.

Because the whole time I was reading this, I was thinking, “This is ME!!”

I could have written this letter.

This, I realized, is what I sound like to the people who know me and care about me.

This friend is smart, articulate, an excellent writer and a talented artist.

She has helped me with advice and suggestions, recommendations and opportunities, feedback and tough love.

She’s done the best listening to me regarding my art I’ve ever had. Her sense of where I’m floundering is dead-on, though sometimes painful in its honesty and perception.

And she’s apologizing for not “being there for me” as a good friend should?? Ohmigod.

When someone else drops a professional ball, she’s right there trying to pick it up and set it back in place again. There are agencies and causes she feels passionately about, and she’s given them huge amounts of personal time and energy to keep them going.

She does all this, but at the expense of her own art, and her own personal life, and her own professional goals.

Time to shake things up.

“Cut it out!” I told her. “Time to make time for Y*O*U!”

It’s time to read her the riot act. It’s time for her to make hard choices, about the things she has to take care of vs. the things she “should” take care of.

It’s time for her to stop apologizing for how “awful” she is, and celebrate how fabulous she is. And to accept how wonderfully, imperfectly, incredibly human she is.

Just like me. Just like you.

Which really made me laugh, because a mentor/friend had given me exactly the same pep talk (aka kick in the pants) a few months ago…..

Sometimes, the best way to see how you get in your own way, is to watch someone you love and respect do exactly the same thing.

Sometimes, the best way to hear the advice being given to you, is to give it to someone else.

Sometimes, the best way to learn, is to teach. And the best way to teach, is to learn.

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THE UPSIDE OF DOWN #1 Make One Less Trip

As promised, the first of the life lessons I’m learning from having to wear an aircast for a month. (Two weeks down, two to go!)

I’m allowed to drive.

But it’s gotten so complicated, I don’t want to!

Bear with me here. This gets tedious.

Since my right foot is in an aircast, I’m either running around barefoot all day or wearing one shoe. Since it’s been hot, that’s usually a sandal. And I’m in my shorts. Or in the mornings, when it’s chilly, wearing one sock (because the aircast comes with its own “special” knee high sock.)

If I drive, I have to take the aircast off. That means a) looking for a matching right shoe (which can take hours, because I’m always kicking my shoes on and off all over the house, upstairs, downstairs, in my studio, etc.) and/or b) taking off the knee sock I’m wearing with the aircast and looking for a matching pair of socks. But since I’ve been wearing one sock all day on my left foot, I can’t remember what I did with the other sock. My dresser drawer is now full of single socks….

If I’m going somewhere for any length of time, I have to take the aircast with me and change into it when I get there. Which means switching the normal sock I’ve been wearing on my right foot, for the funny “special” knee sock for the aircast.

The other day, I looked down at the passenger seat in my car. I had two different (single) socks and 3 (single) shoes, some lefts, some rights. (So that’s where they all went….!!)

You can see that the logistics of using my car has become challenging in odd ways.

Which means (ta da! Here’s my point!) it’s just easier not to make so many car trips.

So I’ve cut down on the number of times I jump in my car during the day. I’ve always tried to bunch up my errands, etc. But now I’m doing my best to avoid using my car, because it just takes too much emotional energy.

Consequently I’m getting more efficient with my time.

It reminds me of the the two smaller retail shows I’m doing this season–what will I gain from that?

Doing shows has become a big production for me. I’ve “expanded” to fill the space they given me–two days’ of set-up ends up meaning it takes me two days to set up. I overpack, taking “everything I might need” because it’s just one more thing I can toss into the packing crate.

Well, that’s about to change!

Doing shows that only allow for a few hours’ set-up will be a major shake-down–and that’s a good thing. I need to relearn the difference between what is “nice to have” and what is “essential to have.”

I can only take what I can pack into my car, or strap on top. Robin’s getting nervous–I keep asking her if she likes the wind in her face.

It’s forcing me to split apart my product lines, focusing more on the jewelry and sculpture, and only offering very small wall hangings. (At these shows, the chances that someone will come prepared to drop a couple thousand dollars on a wall hanging are slim.) That, in turn, should force me to find new venues for the fiber work.

At one show, I’m going to focus on lots of items in the under-$100 category. I don’t want to water down my designs–but my finest pieces are headed out next week to the galleries I know can carry the higher-priced stuff.

Cull, focus, simplify. A few good things I’ve learned from having to curtail my life this month.

P.S.  I’ve been walking a lot more, too!  A LOT more….

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