Category Archives: martial arts

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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Filed under art, martial arts, mastery, mental attitude

AT THE FAIR: Muscle Memory

Sometimes we could–should–listen to our hearts instead of our bodies.

It’s been a long, wonderful week at this year’s League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair up at Mt. Sunapee Resort in Newbury, NH. Busy! So busy the time seems to fly by. Lots of new faces, and familiar ones, tales of happiness and sorrow.

My heart is full when I come home, but my body is racked with pain.

Last night, I had a session with a chiropractor, who, like me, has a martial arts background. I mentioned I was thinking of returning to my practice. The hurdle is this: Usually I return to classes to get in shape. As I age, I should really be in better shape before I attempt to do that.

He said it was a wise choice. I’ve had a lot of injuries and another surgery in the last year, and things–alignment, balance–are out of whack. “If you return now, without letting your body heal, your muscle memory will kick in. Your body will try to do the things you used to do. But you can’t do them right now, and you’ll injure yourself trying.”

Aha! That’s why some of my ‘returns’ have been so short-lived!

That phrase–muscle memory–stuck in my mind, and helped me understand where some of my discomfort at the Fair comes from.

Most people think we artists and craftspeople are like a big family. Well, that’s more true than you know. When I first joined the ranks, I felt like I’d found my tribe, my true heart’s home. It was a shock to realize it really is like a big family. (I have personal experience–I’m the oldest of seven children.)

Some of us don’t speak to each other. Others come to us for support and comfort and inspiration constantly. Professional jealousy rears its ugly head constantly. And there are others who cheer us on with every step.

Set-up is the hardest. One minute you’re offering someone your precious stool, and the next you’re snarling at them to move their junk out of your booth space.

Sometimes too much has passed between you. Then there is no opportunity missed for a caustic remark to be made, even as you win an award. Some cannot even bring themselves to greet you as you pass on your many trips to the bathroom or Fair office (or the bar at the top of the hill.)

For these times, there is muscle memory: Your body, remembering the acts of unkindness, shrinks when you see them, and you cannot bring yourself to even pretend to be polite anymore.

But there is a way out.

Over the years, I’ve learned that, 99% of the time, someone who is causing you anguish, is carrying their own tight anguish inside their heart. In short–it’s not about you. It’s about THEM. You happen to be a convenient target.

And sometimes it’s us. We’ve done somebody wrong, and it’s time to admit that. Take responsibility for it, and say, “I’m sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me. And if you can’t, I understand.”

Then try to live with the fact that we, too, are imperfect people.

I have done things I’ve had to ask forgiveness for. And sweet Jesus, I received it. I have others who have asked forgiveness from me, and I am overwhelmed by their humility–and courage. It takes real courage to apologize. I know. I’ve been there.

In the end, we have to trust the work of our hands, and the work of our hearts. We live in this tribe, in many tribes, actually. We live in this world.

I like to think if we could trust the muscle memory of of hearts and spirits, a little more than the muscle memory of our bodies, just a little….

Then maybe someday we could even have peace in the Middle East.

Okay, that last line is a family joke, and perhaps not even a very good one. (“I hat you” is also a long-standing family joke.)

But that’s what families are for–a place where we can work out our little dramas and big heartaches, and ultimately find a place where we can stand and say, “You’re a poop, but I love you, and yes, I forgive you. Seventy times seven.”

And cross our hearts and hope for the best.

May you be able to forgive, seventy times seven. And may you also be forgiven, at least ten times as much.

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Filed under art, courage, craft, finding your tribe, jealousy, life lessons, LNHC Craftsmen's Fair, martial arts, mental attitude, myths about artists, professional jealousy

KICKBOXING AND ART–What Do They Have in Common?

Who knew exercise could be so educational!?

(This article was originally published on Wednesday, January 07, 2004)

What do kickboxing and pursuing a career in art have in common?

My kickboxing instructor had a handout for us recently. Entitled : “Cycle of Performance/Formula for Success”, it was a brief description of the learning process for, in this case, martial arts. It had four little phrases on it:

INCEPTION: Unconsciously incompetent

DECEPTION: Consciously incompetent

TRANSFORMATION: Consciously competent

IDENTITY: Unconsciously competent

We talked about it during class. It provided “aha!” moments for many of us. Turns out this little handout explains more than how to learn martial arts; It’s an insightful road map into any life endeavor we pursue. It goes something like this:

Inception, the first stage, is that wonderful, giddy stage of learning a new skill, the excitement of potential. I remember the first time I sat down to a wheel with a lump of clay. I was fearless! I plopped down the clay, centered it, made a cylinder and pulled out my first pot. It was great! It was easy! I thought so, anyway. ” I must be a natural!” I remember thinking.

I was “unconsciously incompetent“. I was gloriously unaware of what I didn’t know yet, and how hard it would be to recreate my initial success. I was so thrilled with with my “innate” abilities that I smashed that first pot down, confident I could throw another just as easily the next time.

You know what comes next. The next class, I sat down confidently to throw my next ball of clay.

And nothing happened. I mean, nothing right happened. I couldn’t center the clay for the life of me. I kept trying until I had a sloppy plop of drooly clay. I threw it aside and tried another ball. Same thing. Slightly daunted, but still game, I tried to raise a cylinder from the wobbly mass. What a disaster! I went home discouraged.

My next class was just as discouraging and I turned to slab work, making a few simple tiles and such. But I was overwhelmed with failure. I had entered the dreaded second Deception stage, “consciously incompetent“. I recognized how much I didn’t know, and how much I still had to learn. The ration looked something like 1:1,000,000, if you what I mean.

If you’ve ever taught, you know how difficult it is to even observe this stage in others, let alone go through it yourself. Frustration bubbles to the surface, masking everything else. You are totally aware of how bad you really are at this. No matter how many times you practice, you don’t seem to get any better. You can’t seem to do anything right. Pots plop, your kicks flick harmlessly, the souffle falls, the watercolors don’t blend right. It seems like everyone else is “getting it” except you.

Most people quit at this stage. They become convinced they are never going to get it, they aren’t cut out for this, they just aren’t good at that. They get angry–at their instructor, at the other people in the class who seem to be doing just fine, but most of all at themselves. (That’s me, anyway.) They may complain, or clam up. They quit trying, or even quit coming to class, convinced that this just isn’t for them. I believe most people who are afraid of making change in their life have let this stage totally defeat them, incorporating it into their very image of themselves. “I’m just not good at math.” “I’m just not very graceful.” “I’ll never be able to (insert your dream activity here.)”

But if you persevere, you will come to the next stage, well-named Transformation: consciously competent. This is what happens after thousands of hours of practice and drills. It may take a long time, but you will get there. You eventually begin to find yourself able to perform that skill. You can do it, but you have to think about it. You begin to see what needs improving and what needs strengthening. You may begin experimenting with minor changes, trying what works best for you and what doesn’t. You become more willing to plug away at it, perhaps even enjoying the process of learning for its own sake. (Think of the perpetual graduate student….)

Finally, as anyone who has ever mastered a skill, knows, eventually you reach the fourth stage, Identity: Unconsciously competent. The skill or knowledge has become a part of you.

You don’t even think about what you’re doing anymore, it’s just….YOU. You are a pianist, or a painter, or a doctor, or a black belt.

You may not even remember NOT knowing that skill. Do you really remember how hard it was to learn to ride a bike? Or does it feel like you’ve always known? Do you really remember looking at a page in a book, and having no idea what those mysterious squiggles meant? Surely we thought at one point, “I’ll never be able to ride a bike!” (I believe getting past this stage is what makes a good teacher: Someone who remembers ‘not knowing.’)

I’ve been thinking about this little handout a lot for the last few weeks, especially that deadly little second stage. It occurs to me that as adults, we’ve mostly forgotten the process of learning, and how truly awful it can feel. In fact, it’s so awful, most people probably quit when they hit that stage, feeling they are really “meant” to learn how to paint, how to knit, how to learn a new language, or whatever.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what people need to see them through that second stage, and safely into that third stage…because this is what life changes and pursuing your dreams is all about.

Sometimes, of course, we are forced to make changes. That becomes our determination. But what about when we choose to make those changes? It’s so important to either have a wonderful support system (a terrific teacher, encouraging friends or family, a great book that serves as a guide), or a tremendous sense of purpose, drive and determination. Or both.

How many of us have started out to change something in our lives, to pursue a new interest or tread a new path, hit that second stage and bagged out? What if we simply made a conscious decision to believe in our selves one more day, one more hour, maybe another five minutes–what could we achieve? How far could we really go?

When I started back in martial arts last spring (after sustaining a devastating injury by one of my previous instructors seven years ago) all I hoped for was to gain back some strength and stamina. I could barely do one push-up anymore. But I’m determined to stick with it, and now I can do thirty. (well….on a good day.)

When I started back with a dream of pursing art seven years ago, I was determined to stick with it, even if I didn’t turn out to be a particularly good artist. “Good” didn’t matter anymore. I knew that being an artist was so important to me, I simply had to try. And keep trying. When I look back at what I accomplished in seven years, I am amazed.

Type out this little handout, and post it somewhere where you can see it every day. The next time you feel discouraged about achieving your goals, look and see where you are in the process. Realize it isn’t something about YOU, but about the process. And stick with it, if just for a little bit longer. You may surprise yourself…..!

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Filed under art, craft, fear of failing, martial arts, mastery, mental attitude, perseverence

PRACTICE AND NOT PERFECT

I was writing my morning pages today. And I got stuck.

I did what I tell my students to do when they get stuck. Just write something, no matter how silly or tedious. For me, it’s often, “blah blah blah” or “I can’t think of anything to write. I can’t think of anything to write.” I kid you not.

Today I was writing, “Keep going. Keep going.” Actually it read like this:

keep going keep going keep going

Because when you’re doing morning pages/free journaling, the trick is to not even stop for correct spelling or punctuation. No editing, no anything. Just write.

And the miracle happened. As it always does.

Sometimes this silly repetition keeps my inner critic/left brain busy, just for a few seconds–long enough for my inner wizard/right brain to grab the steering wheel and hit the gas pedal. Many of my insights, over-the-hump strategies and yes, gentle readers, even blog posts, come from this wild ride in the kidnapped taxi cab that was going nowhere slowly.

Today’s insight was the writing itself. Though I rarely focus on good penmanship when I doing this exercise, suddenly the repetition took me back five decades, to third grade. (Yep. I’m old.)

I wasn’t a bad kid in grade school, but I would get in trouble for talking (surprise!). Or for drawing pictures when I was supposed to be paying attention. And then I’d be assigned that infamous penance: Writing 100 sentences that began with “I will not….”

“I will not talk during geography class.” “I will not doodle while the teacher is talking.” “I will not wait until the very last minute to ask permission to go to the bathroom.” (That was an awful day!)

I didn’t mind it, though. I loved to write, even the same stupid thing over and over and over.

It became a little game to me. How perfectly could I form each letter, each word? And could I actually write the entire sentence perfectly, beautifully?

I never could, of course. At the last second, my pencil would skitter, or my lead would break. Oh well. Plenty more sentences to try!

And suddenly, I realized the beauty of that 8-year-old’s spirit. Perfection may be only a few pencil strokes away. I never got there.

But simply trying was…..fun.

Somehow I knew, and accepted, that it wasn’t about being perfect, or doing perfect. It was the practice that brought the joy. There was plenty of paper, and a pencil sharpener right near the door. I had all the time I needed. (I wasn’t in a hurry to get back to geography, after all.) I liked being indoors and didn’t mind missing recess.

With another stroke of insight, I realized this powerful attitude drives all my practice. All my interests and processes.

Except, of course, when I’m not messing myself up by falling into the adult’s version of private hell….PERFECTION.

Lose the striving for perfection, and I’m in heaven.

It’s why I can write about the same topics in my life, over and over, and never feel like I’ve written the definitive take yet. It’s why I love to ride horses, though I’ll never be a great rider, and was certainly never a natural rider. It’s what kept me going through tae kwon do, kick boxing, and back to tae kwon do. That’s why I can do kata all through tae kwon do class, and never feel like I’ve quite mastered Basic 1.

I may never get back down to fighting weight. I may never get my black belt. In fact, as I struggle back from yet more injuries and another upcoming surgery, I may never even regain the level I was at six months ago.

None of that matters. Just the practice.

It’s about the joy, plain and simple, we can find in our practice, if we let go of the outcome, the “finished product”. Because we are human beings, and there is no “finished product.”

I read a review about this book Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses by Claire Dederer. (It’s being billed as the not-so-exotic-and-more-domestic version of Eat, Pray, Love.) Some people love it, some people hate it. But what I loved in the review was the comment that the practice of yoga isn’t about getting to perfection in yoga. It’s about practicing yoga imperfectly and doing it anyway. I like that.

So yesterday I went to yoga, for the first time in six months. I’ve lost strength, and flexibility. I have to watch the twists, and I had trouble bending.

But it felt…wonderful.

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Filed under art, craft, inspiration, martial arts, mental attitude, mindfulness, perfectionism, writing

LOSING MY GREEN BELT

A teensy break from my “TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS” series…maybe.

I was hiking in woods above our home a few weeks ago, and lost my house key. Not too big a deal, under ordinary circumstances–our family seems to lose house keys like a six-year-old loses teeth.

But attached to the key chain was one of my most prized possessions–a little tag made from a section of a belt used to denote rank in the martial arts. In my case, green belt.

When I first took up Tae Kwon Do more than fifteen years ago, it was a struggle for me. I was over forty, I was out of shape, and I was never an athlete to begin with. But I fell in love with my practice and slowly worked my way up through the ranks. I had good instruction, and although I wasn’t fast or especially talented, my techniques were sound.

Green belt level always seemed ideal. It meant you were at that hugely desirable third stage of learning, able to competently demonstrate good technique with some thought. But training is not as rigorous as the next level (red belt). Maybe halfway to black belt–still a long way to go, but with hope it can be achieved.

It’s a good place to be.

Soon after I tested for green belt, I received two presents, one treasured, the other one I wish I could forget.

I was given a key chain with the aforementioned green belt, which I treasured.

And one of my black belt instructors severely damaged my knee while sparring with me.

And no, it wasn’t an accident, it was something a fifth-degree black belt should never have done to anyone outside of a life-or-death situation, let alone a student.

I call it that incident a “present” because my husband calls it “the gift that keeps on giving”. It totally screwed up my leg, and as a consequence, my lower back, my hip and my posture. I’ve had multiple surgeries to repair the damage, including an ACL replacement, months of physical therapy and other complications. I still struggle with compromised range of motion, swelling and discomfort.

The positive outcome? I left the martial arts, for good, I thought. But a decade later, I came back. First to Thai kickboxing and five years later, a new Tae Kwon Do school.

I’m even older, achy, ouchy, and even more out of shape. But I know now that, though my practice will always be a challenge, I will continue until I simply can’t.

I’ve learned to show up, even when I didn’t want to. I’ve learned to work through frustration and self-doubt. I’ve learned not to measure my progress against others, but to simply try to do a little bit better each time. And sometimes, I’ve learned to just stick it out “just five more minutes.” And another five minutes. And another. Until, miracle of miracles, the two hours is over, and I realize I’ve made it through another whole class.

And that has been a gift. Because I have applied these principles of practice to many other areas of my life, including my art.

The school I’m in now has a more aggressive, sparring-oriented approach, and my progress is even slower. I may never see green belt again.

So my little key chain was my constant reminder of how far I was able to go, once upon a time. A time where I could hold a little personal dream that I might at least achieve that level again, someday.

And now it’s gone.

I remember how upset I was when, trying to provide provenance for my past placement at this new school, I was told that “anyone could buy one of those key chains”, it didn’t prove anything. They’re right, I get that. Even now, I could simply buy another one. But anyone who knows me, knows I would never in a million years do something like that. It would feel like cheating.

I wondered why its loss feels so hard. Today I read an article by Lee Eisenberg, author of Shoptimism. (Okay, it was in today’s Parade Magazine and you can read it here.

I realized my little green belt tag represented something of value to me–of a time when it was physically possible for me to dream of being a black belt someday. Not as a goal, but as a culmination of a process, of dedication to my practice.

And now I have no such dream.

What I do have is the realization that black belt would be wonderful (after the training and the testing–it’s a brutal process.) But the dream of black belt is no longer my goal.

My goal is to simply keep going, and to keep on practicing, and to hope for incremental refinement and improvement. And hopefully, to continue my practice far, far, into my life.

So as painful as losing that memento is, maybe it’s just as well. Maybe it was actually holding me back. Keeping me in the past. Maybe it’s just time to let go of the need to remember stronger, younger days.

Or maybe I just don’t need a reminder anymore. Maybe just being me, and being grateful I can practice at all, is all the blessing I need.

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Filed under art, choices, craft, health, inspiration, life, martial arts, mental attitude, perseverence

PLAYING IT SAFE: Don’t!!

Martial arts teaches me that playing it safe means no playing at all.

When I decided to quit practicing Tae Kwon Do, it felt like the right decision. The safe decision.

I was keeping myself safe from more debilitating injuries, right? After all, I’d been in physical therapy to strengthen my knee for six weeks already, when I stumbled in class and twisted my knee again.

So I quit. For two months. I was terrified of being injured again. I thought I was making a good decision.

It was a physical therapist during my second round of pt who finally set my head straight. “Luann,” he scolded me. “Professional athletes in peak condition still get hurt. It’s just something that happened.”

He assured me that being active was the best strategy to staying ‘safe’. He pointed out that he gets just as many clients in for therapy who are total couch potatoes, who fall on their way to the kitchen for another bag of chips and injure themselves.

If doing something you love motivates you to work out every day, then do it.

In his mind, “playing it safe” meant continuing to do the strengthening exercises he’d given me, faithfully.

Somehow, I ‘got that’, and decided to return to class.

In fact, I decided to also return to kickboxing as a way to train better for tae kwon do.

I heard a lot of protests from friends and acquaintances. “Are you crazy?! You’ll get hurt again!” they exclaimed. “Don’t you think you should take it easy?” Some suggested swimming–it was much safer.

Play it safe.

But here’s the thing: If you live your life fully, you can’t play it safe.

I like swimming okay, but I don’t love it. I don’t love it enough to show up to do it three to five days a week.

I do love martial arts–tae kwon do, kickboxing, tai chi. And I doshow up to do them, at least five days a week.

I know now that a daily practice may occasionally result in injury. But it will also strengthen me, stretch me, and improve my balance. All things that will serve my body, and my spirit well as I approve my sixties, my seventies, my eighties and beyond.

I’ve been playing it safe in my art, too.

Not just in getting it out into the world, but in doing the work I love. I’ve been holding back, making less expensive work, worried about whether it will sell.

Telling myself to give up on certain dreams and desires. Too unlikely. Can’t see it. It will never happen.

Figuring if what worked the last ten years wasn’t working anymore, then nothing would work.

So give up. Keep my head down. Play it safe.

You know how well that’s worked (NOT!) because I’ve been writing about the pain.

Art needs a different kind of daily exercise.

Normally, that’s simply doing the work. Making art generates wanting to make more art.

But I’ve been ‘injured’ doing my art. So I tried a little “emotional physical therapy” suggested by Martha Beck in her latest book, Steering by Starlight.

I can’t picture my perfect life right now. Too big, too scary, too unlikely. So I’ve been practicing how I’ll feel when I’m living my perfect life.

I imagine feeling joy instead of fear. I imagine feeling anticipation instead of dread. I imagine the world wanting exactly what I’m making, instead of me trying to imagine what I could make that the world wants.

And it’s working.

I see a wall hanging that my brain tells me could never be purchased. It simply wouldn’t fit in anyone’s house I can imagine.

But I imagine feeling my heart leap with joy. And suddenly I saw that piece laid out on a worktable in sections, waiting for me to work on it.

I have an idea for a book I can’t imagine would be published. I can’t imagine how I would find a publisher. I can’t imagine an editor who would be so on board with what I want to write, that she would call me every few days to read what I have and exclaim in delight and encouragement, with excellent suggestions on how to make it even better.

But I imagine what that would feel like, to have an editor like that, working on a book like that. And I feel anticipation instead of dread.

I know I’ll never be young again, ‘thin enough’, good enough to do justice to my martial arts practice. It’s too hard to lose weight, too hard to practice daily.

But I imagine what it would feel like to be light on my feet, to be strong enough to throw a kick perfectly, easily–and my spirit soars.

I’ve been doing this a handful of days. And I cannot express to you how much lighter and happier I feel.

I’m starting to really feel like good things are ahead.

Pulling out of my ‘normal’ routine for the last few years helped clear the decks. Cleaning the studio helped, too (though I’m sorry to tell you, my friends, that you can’t tell I cleaned at all in here anymore.) Following my heart on hospice has cleared a space in my schedule this spring. My dear husband allowing me the space to simply get through this and see what happens, has helped enormously.

For the first time, I am not afraid to simply wait and see what’s next. (While moving ahead all the same.)

And to prove that playing it safe does not necessarily keep you safe….

I did badly twist my knee again yesterday.

But it wasn’t in kickboxing, it wasn’t in tae kwon do. It wasn’t climbing a wall. It wasn’t while I was snowshoeing, yoga-cizing or riding.

I slipped on the ice while chasing a chicken out of my garage.

And when it happened, I laughed at the absurdity of it all.

p.s. I’m okay. Sore–but okay.

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Filed under art, choices, courage, craft, inspiration, life, martial arts, mental attitude, risks, taking chances

NEW JOURNEY: The Fourth Step

When that “jack-of-all-trades, master at none” becomes all too true, maybe it’s time to give “master of ONE” a try.

When I left Tae Kwon Do a few months ago, after yet another injury, the head instructor asked if I were leaving because my green belt test was coming up. Was I a person who quit when I was challenged too hard?

I was hugely indignant, but I admitted the thought had occurred to me.

Was I a quitter?

I’ve done a lot of thinking about what he said, coupled with reading an interesting article, “Mastery Plan” by Kelly Corrigan in the January 2009 issue of Oprah Magazine.

Corrigan reinvented herself in several disciplines–photography, journalist, author, playwright. She was the ultimate student, reveling in steep learning curves that produced spectacular results. Where learning a new discipline causes most students drop out at level one or two, she made it easily to level six or seven.

But never to levels eight, nine or ten.

She wonders if all the excitement of the reinventions, the ‘look at me, I’m good at this!’ moments, learning in leaps and bounds, avoiding the point where learning comes in tiny increments “… just might be a distraction from (her) greatest fear…”

Fear of failure.

She talks about the people who work more slowly, but create something of that lasts, something with true elegance, something of value. She wants that, too. But she’s not sure she can.

Sound familiar?

I wonder if part of my conflict with my art is fear, too–the fear I’ve already done my best work?

It feels too hard…

…Maybe it’s supposed to?

Thinking it might be time to move on to something else…

…So I can avoid the hard work that’s called for now?

It reminds me of being a parent. How hard it is, but exhilarating, especially when your kids are young. You’re exhausted, but you’re also rewarded every day with some new discovery, some new milestone they achieve.

Til they hit the teen years, and everything slows down. And gets really, really hard.

You learn to let go of expectations, and big successes. Your rewards are tinier–”She said thank you!” “He did the dishes the first time I asked!

But you also dig in–because as hard as it is to parent teens, as thankless as the job is, they actually need you more than ever.

You can’t stop being a parent just because it gets really, really hard. We may never know if we were a ‘great’ parent–but our best efforts will be ‘good enough’”. And it’s certainly worth our while to do our best.

Corrigan ends the decision to write a second book, determined to keep working at it til it truly reflects an indomitable spirit.

Which is, oddly, an attribute of black belt. Indomitable spirit.

Last night I talked with my Tae Kwon Do teachers about returning to practice.

It means much more work on my part. My teacher says he believes I’m capable of so much more than I believe I am. He says attitude is everything. I’m doubting myself, and the only person who can turn that around is….me.

Maybe he’s right.

I’m going to find out if I can turn this around. I want to find out.

Last night, I also decided to keep making my fiber art and jewelry. It feels right. For the first time in ages, I heard no negative voices in the wee hours of the night.

I’m not abandoning my new journey. Maybe the hospice will open up something else, and I look forward to exploring that. Something’s calling me there, and I want to find out what it is.

But just as I can study Tae Kwon Do and be a parent, I can explore this new venture and make my art. The art may change, it may not change. But maybe it will simply get even better.

Being a parent is teaching me, and Ms. Corrigan, how to be a more deeply creative person. How to create something of value that will really last, as an artist and a martial artist.

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10,000 HOURS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On it were the four stages of learning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because writing is one of my creative processes.

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

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

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

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STARTING OVER AGAIN Part Trois

I’ve been responding to the great comments people left when I blogged about leaving the martial arts.

I kept going back to how much I’ve learned from studying Tae Kwon Do and kickboxing. The martial arts helped me be stronger and healthier. It taught me perseverance and focus, and self-discipline.

I’ve been afraid of how far I will fall without it.

Suddenly, I remembered something a friend told me years ago.

I was at another decision crossroads.

I’d been doing a little show, part of a growing arts tour. I never did very well, but each time I did it, I’d sell enough just work to pay for the next thing I needed to do. (I was pretty small potatoes, so we’re not talking much money at all.) I would make a good connection, or learn something new.

On the other hand, my role in that show shrunk more every year. And it really wasn’t a good fit for my work. It took up a lot of time and energy, too.

Should I do it again?

My friend suggested I list the pros and cons of doing the show. When I pointed to how many “intangibles” I’d gotten from the show, she said, “You’ve learned all you can from this situation. You don’t need to keep repeating it to learn the same thing again and again.”

Oh. Yeah. Got it!

Now I’m wondering if the same thing could apply here, too.

Although there could be so much more to learn from these martial arts–Tae Kwon Do, Thai kickboxing–perhaps I don’t need to continue these particular ones. Or to keep learning the same lessons over and over.

A lot to think about….

I’ll keep you posted.

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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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STARTING OVER AGAIN

I’ve been slip-sliding away the last few weeks. Low on energy, low on creativity, low, low, low in mood. Didn’t feel like I had much to say so I didn’t say anything.

I thought I could handle the one-day-at-a-time thing, which then segued into can-I-make-it-through-the-next-15 minutes?? thing, and hit bottom with the stay-in-the-moment thing.

Then I twisted my knee again in tae kwon do class Monday night. I fled the class, limped home, and spent the next two days with my knee iced and elevated.

Dang! And I was just getting the hang of dealing with life in 60-second packages!

It’s mostly my fault. I was cajoled to “work a little harder”, and I should have said no. That’s my responsibility.

But practicing tae kwon do has become more and more about saying no, with less and less to say “yes” to.

I’ve tried to go back to the martial arts half a dozen times now. I just can’t figure out how to practice safely. Looks like I need to explore that tai chi thing again.

I’m feeling overwhelmed with sadness about leaving, but also relieved. I’m beginning to realize how much I’m dreading another major injury.

Most people don’t see what the big deal is. They have no idea how much I’ve enjoyed my practice, nor what I’ve gotten from it.

I’ve learned the very definition of “perseverance” from my studies. Leaving feels like giving up on a very profound level.

It’s taught me so much about life, and about myself. That will be difficult to walk away from.

But if I don’t, I’m afraid I’ll be walking “funny” the rest of my life.

I’ll share my thoughts as I work through this, and I’ll know more after I see my doc after Christmas.

If anyone would like to pass on words of wisdom, I could use them now! I know I have much to be grateful for, but it’s still hard.

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SAVING THE ENVIRONMENT from the inside out

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

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

I’m talking about our own personal environment.

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

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

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

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

Last night I found the third sign.

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

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

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

Which stopped me dead in my tracks.

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

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

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

Either way, it’s our choice.

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

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

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

But I’ve let other things slide.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I need to be selfish with my time, sometimes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ABSOLUTELY (NOT)

It’s rare that we make decisions that literally mean life-or-death. Unfortunately, our brains are hard-wired to think that way.

We express decisions in “either/or” mode, and issue ultimatums with great drama: “We’re at the end of our rope. Either I get that job with XYZ company, or we’ll lose our home. We’ll end up in the streets!” “I can’t stand the dating scene a minute longer. Either that guy calls me back, or I’m shooting myself!” We say our situation is life-or-death, and then we believe it.

Or we believe there is only one acceptable outcome to every situation. One of my favorite lines from the original The Stepford Wives is when the robotocized Bobbie (played by Paula Prentiss) breaks down and chirps, “I’ll just die if I don’t get this recipe!” It always got a big laugh in the theater, until she started chasing Katherine Ross around the kitchen with a butcher knife.

In real life, it’s not so funny. Though it’s not as scary as the butcher knife thing, either. “If I don’t get into that show, my business will fail!” “If I don’t get into that gallery, I won’t succeed!”

And my personal favorite: “If I can’t do it perfectly, then I’m not doing it at all.”

Here are three scenarios, all true:

A talented pianist who studies diligently for years. Upon realizing she will never be “concert-grade” material, she quits–and never plays again.

A passionate horse rider has knee surgery. Now she can’t sit properly on a horse, “the knee angle is all wrong, it hurts…” She vows never to ride again.

A lifelong rock climber who, in his seventies, realizes he can’t do the most strenuous, difficult climbs as well as he used to.

Yet he still climbs. Regularly. He learned to modify his climbs and techniques to meet his abilities. He realizes that, though he’s not at the top of his game anymore, climbing is hugely rewarding emotionally, physically, spiritually.

Who do you want to be?

When I think of the years of enjoyment the pianist could have had from her music, my heart aches for her. It’s too bad the rest of us will never know the gift of her incredible musical abilities. All because it felt to her like she had to be “the best”–not just “good enough”. All…or nothing.

I met the horse rider during our travels in England. I tried to tell her that I didn’t even start riding regularly until I was in my fifties–and after I’d had two knee surgeries. It’s not always comfortable, and some days are better than others. But it will do.

She couldn’t hear me. She felt she’d lost too much. It was all…or nothing. Her horses were absolutely beautiful. But other people ride them now. I ache for her, too.

As for the rock climber, he and his wife, Barbara, are old family friends we visited in England. They are both life-long rock climbers, and even taught it for a living. They are both “life heroes” to us. Despite many injuries and physical setbacks, Barbara continues to climb, too. Climbing is as necessary to them as breathing. For her, it’s actually easier than walking right now. “Some blokes, if they can’t do those big, daring climbs anymore, well, it’s all over for them,” Don said. “But we just keep doing what we can. And we have a great time.”

I, too, tend to think in black-and-white, and absolutes. But I saw a mental health therapist briefly this spring, and he showed me a better way to think about things.

Undesirable outcomes are not necessarily unbearable outcomes. Perhaps they can be tolerated until something else comes along.

Not every decision is either/or. Sometimes there is a middle ground.

How we talk about our situations can determine whether we allow them to control us, or not.

I now say, “I would prefer to have that gallery carry my work. But if they don’t, there are plenty of other galleries that might.”

Or, “I would prefer to write for this magazine, as I have a good gig going with them. But if the situation changes, I can find other writing opportunities.”

“I would like to be the best artist in the world. But I can settle for being the best artist I can be, because I enjoy it so much.”

And my current mantra: “I might have been a better martial artist if I’d started earlier, when I was physically stronger. But I’m glad I can still participate on some level, because the benefits are huge.”

There is a time and a place for absolutism. But absolutes don’t get you far in everyday life.

Don’t know about you, but ultimatums tend to backfire with me, whether I’m giving them or getting them.

Passion is good. Drive and focus are excellent companions. But compromise and negotiation are good skills to practice, too. They can take you miles further, when absolutes might take you right out of the game.

They can get you so far, you may be pleasantly surprised to find yourself at your heart’s goal before you know it.

Or maybe even a different, yet better destination, one you never could have imagined before.

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SMALL GIFTS

Taking a small break from the latest business series on halfway wholesaling… I just had to share two small gifts in my life lately.

I started back riding two weeks ago. It’s the first time I’ve been on a horse in more than six months–maybe closer to eight, come to think of it. It was wonderful! But that’s not the small gift (because being well enough to ride at all is a big gift….)

My “main ride” at the stable is Fancy, an old blue-eyed quarter horse with a thick black mane and a skinny tail. (He’s the favorite candidate for mane-braiding among the younger riders.)

Fancy could be urged through his paces, but emphasis on the “urging” part. Whenever I asked for a trot, you could see him thinking, “Are you suuuure?”

You could actually see him heave a huge horsey sigh, a low groan, and then, if you were lucky, a reluctant, slow trot–for a few paces. A few more requests, more sighs and groans, and I’d get a finally get a good trot out of him. (Which was a nice one, when he finally got going.)

He carried his head low, low, low, which meant I had to give him a lot of rein room. And just when I would relax and let my attention wander, he would do something like bolt through the barn door and dart outside. I learned to duck in a heartbeat.

But he was reliable, and safe (except for the barn door thing), and I grew to love him. Even the slightly worried look on his face when I came to his stall, which seemed to say, “We’re not riding today, are we??!!”

Fancy is not doing well this season, and I can’t ride him. I miss my old cow pony (though I’m not sure he misses me–he always kinda kept to himself, though he loved the Cheerios I brought him.)

My new ride, Carol, is a smaller, slightly younger mare. She has her “things”–every horse has their “thing”–but they are manageable things. (For one, she’s a head-tosser and needs to work with a martingale.) She’s quicker to respond, and wants a lighter hand on the reins, forcing me to use my legs more. She’s also quicker to see if she can get away with something–but easy to bring back around. I will need to pay attention at all times, and be ready to catch her. She also has more energy, and will work harder for me. I need to get strong fast, so I can keep up with her.

She is, in short, the perfect “next horse” for me.

I also went back to Tae Kwon Do class for the first time since my hand injury (in December.) I was so nervous about going! I feel like I’ve been trying to catch up in this school ever since I started 18 months ago, and now I’m really behind the eight ball. I even took several private lessons with my instructor, to help me build confidence about returning.

There’s another student, brand new to our school but with martial arts training. She’s coming back from horrific injuries and surgeries. My instructor paired us up so we can both train slowly and carefully, bringing each other back up to speed gently.

My new partner is excited to be training again, but overwhelmed with her setbacks. She keeps apologizing for the things she can’t do (when she can barely stand to do the techniques.)

In her I see myself. All the ruefulness, all the regrets for the skill she used to have, and may never have again. The embarrassment for what she can’t do, the self-consciousness of being around people who are better than her. The fear that this is as good as it’s going to get.

And my heart goes out to her.

About the fifth time she apologizes and says, “I used to be able to do this!”, I interrupt her.

“Let’s not go there,” I say.

I tell her we both have to let go of what we used to be able to do. It will destroy us.

We both have to focus on what we can do. We both have to be right here, right now. And we both need to move forward from here.

“You’re doing great!” I tell her. “And I know how much courage it took for you to even show up tonight. Let’s focus on that for now. You and me, we’re going to get better, and do better. Starting now.”

She lets her breath out slowly, and nods. And smiles.

I am the right person for her to train with right now. Because I’ve been there.

And she is the perfect “next partner” for me right now. Because everything I tell her, I’m also telling…myself.

Two gifts in my life right now.

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NIA and Me

I’ve been hearing a lot about NIA lately and this is the YouTube video that convinced me to give it a try yesterday. Hey, if anyone knows the name of the music in there, please let me know.

NIA ( “Neuromuscular Integrative Action”) fuses elements of dance, the martial arts and yoga into an invigorating cardiovascular fitness program. It’s a low-impact workout that’s accessible to all ages and abilities. You can read more about NIA here.

I hit all kinds of obstacles on my way there. I got a late start, I couldn’t find my workout clothes (or any that still fit), I got lost on my way to the place that offers the class, and I couldn’t find a parking space when I got there–their parking lot is buried under a mountain of snow and ice.

When I finally dragged myself into the dance studio, I found the instructor and one other student. Drat! No hiding in the back row…

I thought, “Well, how lame is this gonna be?” But I was pleasantly surprised.

There is very little formality or structure to the movements, which is perfect for me. I’m one of those inept people who really never got the hang of “the grapevine” in traditional aerobics class. I also haven’t moved actively except for walking for over two months. It was frightening how much muscle strength I’ve lost in that relatively short time.

But I did my best. I worked up a sweat.

And best of all, I had fun.

I’m definitely signing on for the class, at least for the next couple of months. This will be the perfect way to ease gently back into my normal regime of martial arts, climbing and yoga.

But the absolute best thing that clinched it was the boost to my ego.

No, the instructor, a dancer, didn’t ask me if I had trained as a dancer. That only happens in the movies, and if you saw my dancing, you’d probably make some snide remark about that wouldn’t even happen to me in a movie.

But she did ask if I’ve done NIA before, and was surprised when I said no. She insisted I must have had some training in it, because I looked very practiced and comfortable.

I’ve either gained more skill than I thought from those thousands of hours of martial arts training, or she is a salesperson extraordinare.

P.S. I was originally going to try Zumba first, but I just can’t shimmy like that. Maybe after NIA…?

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NOT GONNA GIVE UP MY MARTIAL ARTS!

Here is today’s “aha!” moment.

I was seriously thinking I should give up my martial arts training.

Who am I kidding?? I’m 55, after all–I know people that old who have grandchildren older than my kids. I’m now, thanks to all my injuries and my seeking to comfort myself in cookies and endless cups of chai, more out of shape than ever. Every time I’ve tried to get back into sparring, I get hurt.

I should get the message, right?

Well….no.

I love the training. It’s hard, and I whine about it constantly. But I love what it does for my body, my mind and my spirit. It has improved my balance immensely, something that’s going to be increasingly important as I age.

And I just don’t want to give that up.

Well then, maybe I shouldn’t spar, right?

Except sparring serves an important function in the sport. It improves your timing. It forces you to “put it all together”, to actually use your kicks and strikes in real-time–not just “practice mode.” And…it’s fun. Nothing gets your heart pumping and your adrenalin rushing like sparring.

And here’s the “aha!” part.

Since I injured my hard, people have come out of the woodwork to share their own hand injury stories. I’ve been inundated with sad stories of broken wrists and damaged hands. Sometimes two broken wrists–ow!! It seems like almost everyone has had a brush with one-handedness or even no-handedness at some point in their life, or knows someone who has.

And how did all these people injure their hands?

Doing nothing. Doing stupid stuff. Doing ordinary stuff.

They slipped and fell down. They fell in the bathtub, down the stairs, and on the sidwalk. They shut their hand in a car door. (One of those at the clinic the other day as I waited to get my bandage changed.) They cut themselves while slicing a bagel. They tripped on their shoelaces, or stumbled over the cat. They dropped something on their hand. A woman today told me she’d decided she needed more exercise. So she’d gone out for a nice long walk, got back to her house, slipped on the sidewalk–and broke her collarbone. “At least you were doing something interesting!”she said. “I feel pretty stupid just falling down in front of my house.”

In other words, they were just living their lives, minding their own business, doing ordinary things–and they got hurt.

In fact, everyone seems kinda thrilled that I injured my hand sparring. I guess it sounds much more dramatic than saying, “I went out to get my newspaper and I slipped on the step.” When I came back for a follow-up doctor visit, the nurses kept coming by and saying, “Are you the lady that got injured doing karate? That’s so cool!”

So I can get hurt doing something stupid. Or I can get hurt doing something I love.

Okay, I’m willing to make a few concessions.

I will take it very easy when I return to sparring. Maybe only practice with black belts (who are supposed to have exquisite control, after all.)

And maybe I will find some sparring gloves that come a little further down over my fingers….

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OUR BEAUTIFUL HANDS

I had just been given the go-ahead start to physical therapy and resume normal activities (following extensive surgery three weeks ago that affected my shoulder and neck)…when I got another surprise last Friday.

I injured my finger blocking a kick while sparring in Tae Kwon Do a month ago. Turns out I have a
mallet fracture
of my ring finger. (That’s not my finger in the image, but it sure looks a lot like mine.)

If I want to retain as much mobility in my finger, and avoid as much future pain as possible, I have to have surgery immediately. Like, tomorrow.

Several thoughts are running through my head the last few days:

I’m afraid.

When the physician’s assistant told me the prognosis, I burst into tears. Of all my injuries I’ve incurred in the martial arts, I never thought I might impair my hands. I’m deeply rattled, to put it mildly.

People can be kind.

The PA snagged the hand surgeon, who just happened to be in on his day off. And he agreed to see me right then and there. And he got me into his surgical schedule immediately.

And when the PA came back to tell me, and saw how upset I was, she hugged me.

I’m afraid.
When I heard the details of the surgery, I just about threw up. (I admit it, I’m a wuss.) It involves resetting, and pins, and 4-6 weeks of recovery, and I am not to move my finger at all.

He said I could be awake for the surgery if I wanted, and I said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

I’m afraid.
I’m already dealing with how to get meaningful exercise while I recover from my shoulder/neck surgery on my left side. Now I can’t use my right hand fully, or get the bandage wet for over a month. There goes swimming, climbing, riding, most of what we do in Tae Kwon Do. I can’t even belay. I may not even be able to do yoga. I still have injuries that make it hard to walk long distances.

I’m not sure what’s left. If only sleeping were a sports activity!

I’m afraid.

What does this mean for making my art?  Heck, for living my normal life?  I have a feeling I’m in for a lot of (unpleasant) surprises in the weeks ahead.   (For starters, I was told to “bring a top with sleeves I can get my hand through if I were holding a softball”…  Huh??)

I’m afraid.
Should I even consider returning to the martial arts? This makes two knee injuries (resulting in two knee surgeries), a torn hamstring, a compromised Achilles tendon and now hand surgery. Is the universe trying to tell me something here??

I’m moved.
When the surgeon told me how serious the injury was, I said, “But I need my hands to do my work.” I added thoughtfully, “I guess everyone says that, huh?”

And he said yes. Everyone says that.

I thought about that when I got home. Why did I say that?

1) Because in my sad little way, I was signaling him to take extra care with me during the surgery–reminding him I was a person. An artist. Someone whose hands should be considered “special”.

2) Because as much as I think about all the things I am grateful for (and having working hands is one of those things), as Joni Mitchell says, “You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone…” When you hear you may not be able to assume you have the full use of your hands, it’s frightening. I “called out” in protest–because I could not face the possibility of losing any function in my hands.

3) Because, as I’ve written many times before, what makes us human is our minds, and our hands. No matter how removed from “hands on” we might think we are, what we do with our hands defines us–even if it’s transmitting what our heads do into visible form (like….typing a blog essay!)

In the end, I had to remember–the guy is a hand surgeon. This is what he does. Presumably, this is what he loves. I’ve heard he’s really, really good, too, which is reassuring.

And as he held my hand to examine it, I suddenly realized that to him, all hands are beautiful. Chapped, chubby, bony, bruised, ragged cuticles and all. To him, they are a work of art. And his surgery, helping people regain or preserve as much function and strength as possible, is his art.

It’s a struggle, but I can hold on to these thoughts:

Livelihoods are not lives.

It’s just my finger I’m fighting for–not my life, as some of my readers are doing.

If things go wrong, I will figure something else out.

If I have to do something else about the martial arts, well, I’ll figure that out, too. Maybe it will be as simple as “no more sparring.”

And as I look at my chapped, chubby, cuticle-impaired, broken hands today, I am struck anew at how beautiful they are.

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Filed under art, choices, courage, life, martial arts

BREATHE

Today a reader mentioned Christine Kane’s blog in her comment on MY blog essay RESOLUTIONS. (Thanks, Michelle!)

I’m actually a huge fan of Christine’s blog. But I keep forgetting to check in regularly, and I’d missed this one. I’m glad Michelle mentioned it, because when I read Christine’s essay on Resolution Revolution, it resonated with me immediately.

I realized my word for 2007–the one I’d inadvertently picked up halfway through last year–was “breathe”.

It was when I realized I was totally stressing myself out about what I could and could not physically do in Tae Kwon Do, and climbing, and riding. I realized I had to let go, relax, and….breathe. And simply do what I could.

It also helped me not to panic about preparing for new and different shows, for getting ready for even more surgery last month, for everything else that seemed piled on top of my life. For dealing with odd and huffy situations, dealing with demanding and demeaning people, and even dealing with me when I got whiney.

It worked, too.

It took me on a tiny mental vacation, a mini-break. A moment to center myself, and remember that though I may be the center of MY universe, that doesn’t make me the center of everyone else’s universe. And that as tricky, or as embarrassing, or as difficult as this moment was, it would pass.

Breathe. Breathe!

It will be fun thinking of “the word” for 2008. I’m thinking it might be, “just try.” Or maybe, “do better.” Or her suggestion, “release”. That’s a good one.

For now, “breathe” will do just fine.

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RESOLUTIONS

There’s a character in our lives, my husband’s and mine, who is a tragic figure. We affectionately call him “our Hamlet”. He’s always wistful about life, about what it could be, “if only….” Women get sucked into his sadness, sure they can bring him real happiness. Alas, alack, it’s just not meant to be. They eventually leave with broken hearts, having lost the battle of making him happy.

As time goes on, the charm of this wears thin.

So I challenged my DH this morning.

No. More. Whining.

Neither of us are by nature cheerful, upbeat people. But we’re usually able to put a good spin on stuff. We work hard, we believe in our work, and we have a lot of energy for it.

But something changed. Maybe we just got older. Things got a little harder. It crept up on us. Trying too hard to figure out what our next steps would be in our professions. Trying too hard to figure out why the big breaks were not happening. Trying too hard to force turning points and decisions. And now….

And now, we’re just as bad as our friend.

When did we get to be “that guy”?!

It’s easy to catch others doing it. The trick is catching yourself.

My first inkling I was becoming “that guy” (metaphorically speaking, because I am, of course, not a “guy”) was when I was reciting my latest list of physical ailments and setbacks to my martial arts instructor. I related why I was finding life discouraging right now. I shared my frustrations with my aging, aching body. I was wistful about why the class was so hard.

He nodded sympathetically, and when I paused to catch a breath, he started in about the new mileage reimbursement policy at his place of employment.

It was long and involved. Very, very involved.

I nodded sympathetically, but all I could think about was, “I hurt all over and he’s telling me about how unfair his mileage reimbursement is. What’s up with that?”

Just about the point where my eyes started glazing over, he stopped and said, “And my point is, we all have our stuff. My stuff is important to me, and your stuff is important to you. But when we come to class, we have to focus on class and what we want to accomplish, and what we can accomplish–and leave the rest of that stuff behind.”

Boy, is he sneaky. And smart. It’s the first time someone has said to me, “Hey, cut that out!”

I’m at a point in my my life where the normally good advice of “listening to my body” is a two-edged sword. Because my body is very whiny right now, and not fun to be with. Giving in, however, is no longer an option–not if I want a shot at being healthy and active at age 70, 80 and beyond.

How does this relate to my art? And to this year’s resolution?

Maybe I am a whiner by nature. I can’t choose my nature.

But I don’t have to subject other people to that. I can choose not to.

I hereby resolve to not be “that guy”.

No. More. Whining.

Of course, I whine a lot in my blog, and will continue to do so.

But only to share why it doesn’t get me anywhere. And only to share with you what will get you somewhere. Things like choosing differently. Persevering. Going back to what works and figuring out why. And simply doing the work.

I have some new things to try in 2008.

Step back…

No wholesale shows, for one.

Try something different…

A new venue or two. I’m putting together a local open studio tour for this spring.

Start where I am….

Since the mechanics of making big, big, big wall hangings has proven too intimidating, I’ll focus on smaller ones for awhile–and build up again. I give mself permission to get back to what I know, for now.

Challenge myself….

I have a new challenge for my jewelry. More of my components have to be handmade by me. I resent that, but maybe it’s a good challenge. I’m already at work on it.

Move. MOVE! Even if it hurts, keep moving…

Right now, I can’t even belay, due to complications from surgery, and a hand injury. But it will get better. I’ll be belaying and climbing again soon. Maybe it’s time to walk more, and slip some swimming in there. Everyone around me is suddenly talking about snowshoeing. Maybe I’ll give that a try.

Breathe. Breathe.

I just found a new yoga teacher. I am so bad at yoga. But I’m finding it keeps me in the moment. I’m looking forward to doing more of it in 2008. It makes even something as simple as breathing seem more….profound.

And most important of all…

No. More. Whining.

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I CAN’T HEAR YOU

Sometimes the best advice is right under our nose. We just heard it five minutes ago.

But we can’t hear it. Why not?

Because we aren’t ready.

We may think we are. We hound friends, family, peers, complete strangers for advice. “Tell me what to do!” we beg.

But if we aren’t truly ready, if our hearts aren’t open, if we haven’t made room for it, we cannot hear it.

Not all advice is advice we should act on. People have their own agendas, and they don’t always have your best interests at heart. Sometimes you just need to nod your head and murmur, “hmmmm….yes….” and leave it at that.

But sometimes, we are so caught up in our own stuff, we can’t hear the best advice in the world.

Here are two recent examples.

This weekend I did a small local craft show, my first in over ten years. It was a nice little show, artist-friendly, well-managed, decent quality work being sold, in a beautiful setting.

I overheard someone talking to a jewelry person near me. I’d seen her at several other shows recently and was familiar with her work. It’s straight bead stringing, nothing exciting, but competent, pretty work.

The person was asking her if she’d tried displaying her work outside of her small covered case so people could see it. She defended her decision, saying she tried that once, and it didn’t work. She said that some of her work was already out and touchable, but honestly, she couldn’t see people buying more of the pieces that were out.

Now, I’d looked at this woman’s jewelry at two different shows. As I said, it’s pretty. And lord, was it cheap. Ridiculously cheap. So I kept thinking I’d buy a few pieces as gifts.

But I couldn’t.

For one thing, although she didn’t have a ton of stuff, what she had was crammed together in her display. No one piece stood out.

Her display was so crowded, I couldn’t touch the pieces that were out. Everything was arranged nice and straight. But there were so many items they were almost piled on top of each other. I was subconsciously afraid of making a mess if I tried to pick up one piece.

It also wasn’t clear it was okay to pick up piece to look at it more closely.

Last, her personality was….large. She had a big voice. She knew everyone at the show, and talked constantly. That can be a good thing, if you know when to to talk and when to get quiet so people can shop. Sometimes I’m in the mood for “big”. But if I’m not, I walk away.

I ended up walking away again without buying anything.

I think the advice she got was good. I think she would have more sales if the pieces had more “breathing space” around them, if it were easier to touch and actually pick up the pieces.

But she couldn’t hear it.

She probably tells herself after every show that people are simply cheap and won’t buy nice jewelry at any price.

But she’s wrong. I was steadily selling jewelry at three times her prices. I think she could have sold out, at her price points, if she’d made it easier on her customers to actually buy.

(Caveat: As always, this is IMHO. Maybe she didn’t care, or maybe she was perfectly happy with her sales.)

Here’s my second example:

A few months ago, I was ready to test for placement in my new Tae Kwon Do class. I had tons of issues–feeling out of place because the curriculum has changed so much; my age; my injuries and physical condition.

The head teacher encouraged me to test at the level I’d left at twelve years before (green belt.) He said I had at least that skill level, maybe even higher. He knew I could do it. It would be a challenge. But it was something I needed to do for myself.

The closer I got to my test date, however, the more I panicked. I felt my limitations strongly. I was terrified of failing.

I asked to be tested for a belt below that, yellow belt. I was pretty sure I could pass yellow belt with no issue.

He argued that I was selling myself short. Yes, there were physical limitations. But my training was sound, and my techniques were consistent. I would make it, if I worked at it. (A good school only recommends you for a level they feel you are ready for.) Most of all, he kept saying, “You need to do it for ‘Luann’”.

But I couldn’t hear him.

All I could feel was the fear and self-doubt. I felt if I got a belt–any belt–I could settle in and move on.

Although the final decision was theirs, in the end they tested me for yellow belt. I passed with no problem.

But they were right. I should have gone for green belt.

It’s odd, but once the stress of anticipating the test was over, I relaxed. I “fell in” with the class more easily. And it became crystal clear to me what I’d done.

I told my teacher soon after, “I could hear your words. But I couldn’t hear what you were saying. My fear and self-doubt got in the way. I know that now. I’m sorry I couldn’t hear you.”

Now, maybe I needed to take that easy step to just get to that next level.

But next time, I may just take that leap of faith instead.

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Filed under art, business, choices, craft shows, display, fear of failing, martial arts, mental attitude, selling, taking chances