Category Archives: perseverence

PERSPECTIVE, and ADVICE FOR NEW BLOGGERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now for the perspective.

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

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

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

As spoken to Agnes De Mille

The two pieces of excellent advice?

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

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

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

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

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

CLEANING THE STUDIO Redux

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

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

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

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

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

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

I couldn’t face it. But….

I did it anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What strategies help YOU clean out?

Happy spring cleaning!

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

CLIMBING OVER ROAD BLOCKS

One person’s ‘roadblock’ is another person’s mountain pass.

(This article was originally published January 18, 2003. In the eight years since then, many of the “insurmountable problems” mentioned here are now a snap with the Internet–online catalogs, online printing services, less expensive options for websites, etc. But there’s still good information in here, and a lot of good thoughts about overcoming obstacles.)

Marketing and selling one-of-a-kind artwork can be problematic.

If you’re dealing with local stores, you could bring an assortment to each store. Store owners simply make their selections. No problem!

But store visits mean time away from your studio. There’s a limit to how many stores you can drive to in a day–stores don’t like it when you saturate the area with your work. What if you live in New Hampshire, and a store in California would be a terrific venue for your work? And what do you do about about re-orders??

Catalogs? It can be hard even with production work. Some stores don’t mind if an item varies from one to the next. But some do. And catalogs are expensive. They work best for featuring production work. They’re most cost-effective when ordered in large quantities. Not for one-of-a-kind work, nor work that changes constantly.

Advertising? That gets expensive, too. I obviously can’t run an ad for $500 to sell one individual item that retails for $250. If a store likes the object in the ad, then that’s the one they want.

Wholesale trade shows can be a way to present your one-of-a-kind items to many stores. But these shows are expensive to do–booth fees often start at $1,400 and up, plus hidden costs like travel, hotel and electricity. Not a good choice for many artists just starting out.

Well…why not go right to the source? Call stores directly. Ask them if they sell one-of-a-kind work. If so, how do they buy it from the artisan? Do they go to shows? Which ones? Do they browse an artist’s website? You can get good information this way. But this is time-consuming. And introverts hate it. (I do!)

The best way is to ask other artists how they handle this.

Online discussion forums are great places to find out what works for others. You’ll find a wide range of artists from all over the country who can share their process or make suggestions. There’s just one caveat.

What works for one person and their product, may not work for you and yours.

Even worse….If no one in the group has figured it out, it can be an exercise in frustration and commiseration. Instead of a brain-storming session, it turns into a …… Well, everyone starts agreeing just how impossible the whole scenario is. And that’s bad. Because….

You don’t want to give yourself an excuse to just give up.

Declaring a situation impossible to deal with lets us off the hook. It’s not our fault, we tell ourselves. We are not responsible for our lack of success–it’s obviously impossible to succeed!

I used to get overwhelmed by roadblocks, too. I thought there had to be a “right way” to do this. And I just had to figure out what that “right way” was.

If I couldn’t figure it out–I’m off the hook! If others succeed where I can’t, then it’s because they’re lucky–right? And I’m just not lucky.

Nope. No more. I can’t let myself off that easily. In my heart, I know it can take years to be an ‘overnight success’.

And no one succeeds by giving up.

Mistakes and dead ends don’t prove you’re wrong. They’re merely evidence there’s still more to be learned.

There is no single “right way”. There’s simply the way that will work for YOU.

I’ve learned that the first thing I need is an attitude adjustment. Trial-and-error sucks. So let’s call it… “running an experiment”. That’s much more appealing! Cold-calling stores for information is hard. I’ll call it “market research”. That sounds quite professional.

Second, I watch for other people doing one-of-a-kind work. If they’ve been doing it awhile, they’ve found something that works for them. So
maybe it would work for me.

I came across an artist, a graphic artist who makes one-of-a-kind books. For years she struggled with marketing her work, until she finally came up with a solution. She tweaked her business model to accommodate both retail and wholesale venues.

She makes limited edition books to wholesale. She only sells her one-of-a-kind journals at retail shows.

This is my favorite way to find solutions. Because if someone else has figured out how to do it, so can I. If she can grow her business by tweaking her business model just a bit–from all one-of-a-kind work to some one-of-a-kind and a lot of limited editions, so can I.

If she can follow her passion and find a way to support herself doing it, so can I.

Luck is wonderful. But as someone once said, “Luck is opportunity plus preparedness.”

Do your research, keep your eyes open for opportunity, and you will fly over those roadblocks.

Update: In the eight years since I first wrote this article, everything has changed. Now we can offer wholesale customers password-protected online catalogs. We can take our own digital images and upload them quickly and easily to our website, or our online store. We can find stores and galleries more easily, and contact them by email (if the phone is too stressful.)

It’s a miracle! :^)

Also, for jewelry or other small, easily shipped items, a “pick box” works beautifully for some stores. A store can secure their order with a credit card number. You ship an assortment of items to them. They select the items they want, and ship the box back to you. You bill them for the items they’ve taken. Works great with one-of-a-kind items!

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Filed under art, business, craft, marketing, perseverence, selling to stores, shows, wholesale

WHAT MERYL STREEP AND I HAVE IN COMMON

Originally published on December 2, 2002

What Meryl Streep and I Have In Common

(Hint: It’s not blond hair.)

I was going to write about a discussion with a friend about his dirty house. But when I picked up the Sunday magazine that comes with our local paper, I came across some amazing statements by Meryl Streep that caused me to bump the dump story.

In the talk with my friend, he told me how immobilized with anxiety and self-doubt he felt each day. I’m a natural born people fixer-upper (much to the annoyance of my friends), so I jumped right in with suggestions that have worked for me.

He kept saying, “You don’t understand, you don’t understand” until finally, in frustration, I told him my deepest, darkest secret….

I wake up every morning with a sense of dread about how hopelessly inadequate I am to achieve my goals, and I go to bed every night ever mindful of….how does the Lord’s Prayer go? “We have done those things which we ought not to have done, and left undone the things we ought to have done.” Well, that sums up the beginning and end of my day quite well.

My friend was astounded. He said, “But you’re always so upbeat and you’re always busy with your artwork and always doing stuff….” He paused and said, “And I know you’re telling the truth, because you know the old saying, ‘You can’t bullshit a bullshitter?’ I’m in the pits, and I can tell you’ve been there, too. So how did you turn it around?”

It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, spiritually. I simply stopped listening to the little voices that told me how how futile it all was.

Note that I said I didn’t stop hearing the voices. I said I stopped listening to them.

It came about through a long, slow process. It wasn’t any one thing.

It was a series of books, a smattering of important people, teachers, who showed up in my life at just the right time. It was the birth of my oldest child. It was a workshop I took. It was trying to spiritually accommodate the violent murder of an elderly neighbor 20 years ago. It was a physical injury that tied up my body for almost a year. It was a brush with cancer (a very light brush, but frightening at the time.)

We often dream that when we figure everything out, when we realize our perfect vision for ourselves, everything else will fall into place, too. When we get the right job, when we meet the right life partner, when we get our dream home, when we find the perfect little black dress, (when we reach the perfect size for that little black dress!) the perfect lipstick, whatever, that we will finally silence those little voices that always tell us what is wrong.

Please note I’m not talking about the little voice telling you about real danger. I’m talking about that little voice that tells you you will never be good enough, fortunate enough, strong enough, talented enough, blah blah blah. The inner critic. When we still hear that little voice, we may panic. Dang! It’s still there! Where did I go wrong??

One of my most precious insights, almost miraculous in my eyes, is that it is possible to act in a powerful way even if your little voice says you have no power. You hear that familiar little rant in the morning–”You didn’t fill that order, you didn’t win that award, you didn’t get into that show and you never will!”

Then I get up and do it anyway.

Everything I have accomplished in the last five years–and it’s a lot!–I’ve done in spite of that little voice. I don’t pretend to say that I have deeper resources than other people, and I would never even pretend to say that all mental health can be achieved by just saying no to those voices. I am saying it is an act of will to act in spite of my voices, and I feel blessed to have found that out. I now realize there is no place I can get to where I will not hear them. But now I don’t let them stop me from getting where I want to go. They can whine all they want, I’m going there anyway.

So what do Meryl Streep and I have in common? In an interview with Ken Burns that appeared in USA WEEKEND today, KB asks Meryl if she will always act. And she answers

“Oh, I always think I’m going to give up. You get the cold feet. You think, ‘Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this? I don’t have to do this.’ It is something I confront at the beginning of everything. I have to start out with nothing each time.”

KB: And reinvent the wheel.

MS: “And reinvent the wheel. It’s very hard. It’s very, very hard….”

There you have it. The article notes that Streep has been nominated for 12 Academy Awards, tying Katherine Hepburn’s record. She’s actually won two Oscars. Her work ethic is legendary.

And every time she takes on a new challenge, she hears the same little voices I do!

I wonder what she says to her little voices…..?

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Filed under art, courage, craft, fear of failing, mental attitude, perseverence

THE BEST ADVICE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE

I found this essay by Paul Graham today–advice for young people in high school, leaving high school, getting ready (or not) for college, and actually, for anyone else, too.

And it is exactly what I wish I’d known in high school. And college. And the first 30 or 40 years of my life. (I finally figured it out when I was 42, I think….)

I came across this by way of the Fine Art Views blog. Fine Art Views is a great resource for artists. It’s kind of geared towards 2D artists, but the advice is general enough for all creative folks.

I’m printing it out for my latest high school graduate. Pass it on to someone you know could benefit–it’s good stuff!

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TRIBES #3: LEAVING THE TRIBE

Your needs and goals as an artist will change and grow throughout your life. You will constantly gather the people you need to you.

And you will also periodically leave people behind.

I started this mini-series with a sort of Ugly Duckling story, as one reader noted. I told how my dog tries to be a cat, and why it’s a good thing he isn’t very good at it. When we find out we aren’t really “bad bankers” but are actually “really excellent artists”, it’s an amazing epiphany.

The second article talks about how to find your own tribe.

Interestingly, some people took that to mean searching out other artists who work in the same medium. Some took it as how some artists learn techniques from a master, then never really develop their own style.

Some even found their new “family”, but grieved when it, too, became contentious, confining and restrictive.

While some of us will be fortunate to find a wonderful, cohesive, supportive group of like-minded folks, others will struggle to maintain that in their lives.

Sad to say, but it happens.

The day may come when you have to leave your bright new tribe, and find another.

There are lots of reasons why this happens.

Sometimes the group is just too big. There’s no time for each person to have a turn to be listened to. You can feel lost in the shuffle.

Sometimes there aren’t enough “rules”. A few folks will take on the role of gadfly (aka “jerk”). Or there are too many rules, too much “business”. The lively group dynamic is strangled with too many procedural stops and starts. (I left one craft guild when the business reports began to take up almost half the meetings.)

Sometimes the group narrows its own dynamic. It can be subtle but powerful. You’ll start to feel constricted. Here’s a true story:

Years ago, a quilting guild I belonged to brought in a nationally-known color expert for a workshop.

During it, she commented that there were definite regional color palettes, patterns and technique preferences across the country.

I asked her how that happened. She said when members brought in their projects for sharing, some would generate a huge positive response from the membership. Others, more eclectic or “out there”, would receive a lukewarm reception. “We all crave that positive response”, she said. “It’s human nature. So slowly but surely, we begin to tailor our work to generate the bigger response.”

It hit me like a brick. Another quilter and I did more unusual fabric work. The response to our “shares” was decidedly in the “lukewarm” category.

And I had begun to do more work in the “accepted style” of the group.

I left after the workshop, and never went back. My fellow fiber artists were a great bunch of people. But I was not willing to “tamp down” my vision in order to garner their praise.

Sometimes, our course changes. We find ourselves in pursuit of different goals. Or we find our own needs sublimated to the needs of the group.

Or we simply grow faster than the rest of the group. You may even outgrow your mentor. If our work fosters jealousy–if our work becomes more successful, attracts more notice–then professional jealousy might raise its ugly head.

It can feel even harder to leave this new tribe that gave us so much joy at first. In fact, it’s brutal.

But it has to be done, if you want your art to move forward.

You cannot control the feelings of others. You can make yourself, and your work, as small and mundane as you can. But if someone is determined to nibble you, nothing can stop them.

Take heart in this knowledge:

This group served your needs for awhile. Enough for you to gain confidence, and to take a step forward.

And you will find another tribe. It may take awhile. But your peers are out there.

Consider that they may not even be working in the same medium. They may not even be visual artists. They may not be “artists” at all.

As long as they share the same values, or can support and challenge you in constructive ways, you can benefit from their company.

It may even be time for you to walk alone. Just for awhile.

Just long enough to really hear what your own heart is saying.

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Filed under art, craft, creativity, criticism, envy, inspiration, jealousy, mentoring, networking, perseverence, professional jealousy, tribes

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

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

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

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

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

The answer came to me last night.

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

But I love the place of hope they come from.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I won’t give up on myself.

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

What do YOU resolve in 2010?

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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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TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS: A Segue

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

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

Several themes came to me after reading his thoughtful comments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS #1: Artists Are Born, Not Made

(Reprinted from 2003)

I’ve been invited to do an artist presentation to various schools in my area, including a whole day at a high school in Vermont. I’ll be speaking with six art classes, not only talking about my art but also sharing my process of how I finally became a full-time artist.

I want to share with these students the beliefs that interfered with me taking my own art seriously. Some of these beliefs I held onto tightly well into middle age. A few are still with me even today, but I slowly chip away at them daily.

Let’s look at some of these myths closely. Today’s myth is one of my favorites!

Myth #1: Artists are born, not made.

Fact: A passion for art has to be there, but all other skills are acquired. No one is born knowing how to play the piano.

The first step to becoming an artist is to want to be an artist. Sounds too simple, doesn’t it? After all, artists are born, not made….right? You either have talent or you don’t.

Wrong! No one is born knowing how to draw, or how to paint, or how to sculpt or throw a pot, anymore than anyone is born knowing how to play the piano or drive a car. These are all skills. They can be taught, they can be learned. Some people may find the process of acquiring those skills to be exhilarating, others may find the process boring. The people who find the process exhilarating may pick up the skill quickly and easily. Or they may not.

I happen to be a slow learner at some artistic processes. For example, I don’t like to draw. When I put my mind to it, I can draw passably well. But I don’t like sitting quietly and observing something, then using a tool to recreate that image on a two-dimensional surface, such as a piece of paper. So I was called an artist in elementary school because I could draw reasonably well, but secretly thought I was an imposter because I didn’t like drawing. And never progressed very far with it.

Later in life, I discovered I did like modeling clay into pleasing forms. And that I enjoyed a collage-like approach to most of the artwork I made. If you look at my artwork, you’ll almost always see a combination of media, and some sort of shaping and manipulation of form going on. But you’ll hardly ever see a 2-D work. (I do carve my own rubber stamps and make 2-D art from them. But it’s the process of carving the stamp, and then embellishing the surface that fascinates me.)

DO WHAT YOU LOVE, LOVE WHAT YOU DO

So we can fall into two traps by believing the myth that “artists are born, not made”.

One, we can be very good at something we don’t really enjoy, and believe that is our calling. Part of the reason for that is sometimes we learn how to do the things we don’t like, really, really well, so we can get them done and out of the way. But if you don’t enjoy doing something, no matter how good you get at doing it, it will always drain energy from you. So be careful about putting the focus of your energy into doing things you don’t enjoy, if you don’t have to.

And two, we can love doing something we aren’t very skilled at….yet! And that’s actually okay. Being willing to pursue something just because we love it can be very rewarding, if only because we’ll spend more time doing it–and hopefully, get better at it someday. Doing something we love feeds us. It gives us more energy.

So what are we born with? If not an innate ability to draw, then perhaps an attentive eye. We notice that there’s more than one shade of green in that leafy tree, or that the light just before sunset makes everything glow more richly. Perhaps we enjoy observing something closely and like the process of drawing.

Or maybe an attentive ear. Maybe we can remember tunes easily, and enjoy riffing off them every chance we get. Music affects almost all of us, but some people feel it is more than just enjoyable–it is necessary to have it, compose it, play it.

Maybe it’s our hands that have to be busy. Maybe picking up unusual rocks and pieces of driftwood and shells is as much fun for us as shoe-shopping is for our sister. We always have to be touching, hefting an object, enjoying its odd texture or beautiful grain. Maybe having the right mix of color and texture in our living room furniture is more important to us than the brand name.

All of these tendencies and yearnings may be the signs of a budding artist. But unless you follow them, nurture them and feed them, they won’t bloom. (Oh, no…a gardening metaphor!!)

So if you’ve always wanted to be an artist, but felt you didn’t have what it takes, you know better now.

Go sign up for that drawing class, or ceramics class. Learn how to carve a rubber stamp, or how to paint with watercolor. Jump in, and simply enjoy the process of learning a new skill.

Keep at it, and eventually you may find one that gladdens your heart enough to do it every day.

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TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS (That Will Keep You From Becoming a SUCCESSFUL Artist): Introduction

Our beliefs, right or wrong, shape our own reality. Change the belief, change the reality.

Years ago, I created a handout for a presentation. I called it, “TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS (That Will Keep You From Becoming a Successful Artist)”.

I started to publish them in my first blog in 2003. An observant reader contacted me last month, noting that I’d only published a few of the myths. Where are the rest?? she asked.

Well, she’s right–my bad. I never finished publishing the series. So today I’d like to reintroduce my series. Rather than have you skip back and forth, I’m republishing the first few here.

Have fun breaking some myths!

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NEW JOURNEY: One Step Forward, Three Steps Back

Spiritual progress is not always linear, and definitely not always forward.

As I said in a previous article, in the interest of full disclosure, what you read in these articles isn’t always what’s happening in real time.

It may look like a steady, measured path to grace and enlightenment. But actually, these are only a few moments of grace I experience as I walk a path that often seems dark and unclear–and not a little scary.

Not because my life is so rotten–it isn’t. I have so much to be grateful for. One old friend said, “Any day you wake up, that’s a good day. Any day you wake up and can actually get out of bed, that’s a great day!”

It’s my brain, my soul, my heart. I do this to myself, by seeing the world through a filter of “lack”, a filter of despair and fear. I behave so badly when I am afraid. I know I’m capable of so much more. But for some reason, I’m wired to believe I have less. That I am less.

I’m just trying to rewire my circuits. Some days with more success, sometimes with less.

I am not always the wise, thoughtful, evolved soul I’d like to be. In fact, sometimes when I wonder what I’d like to be when I grow up, the answer is, “Well….a grown-up.”

I have my moments of wisdom and insight, kindness and clarity. But more often I have my hours…no, days…of self-doubt, self-pity, self-absorption and self-delusion.

There’s a story in my family about one of my grandfathers. He was a difficult man–not violent, just incredibly difficult to live with. Pessimistic. Sad. I think he may have had some kind of manic-depression.

For some reason, he finally visited a psychologist, who found him so charming and upbeat, he declared my grandfather “a delightful gentleman”. He recommended the rest of the family come in for counseling, since they were clearly unable to appreciate my grandfather’s wonderful qualities.

But after a few more visits, the psychologist threw my grandfather out, declaring him impossible to deal with–ornery, opinionated, unrelenting–and told him to never darken the doors of his office again.

Sometimes, I feel like the 21st century version of my grandfather.

My friends think so, too. Years ago, after meeting the man of my dreams, I wistfully said to a friend, “What did I do before I met Jon?” and she answered through gritted teeth, “You slowly drove your best friends crazy….”

I got whiny and weak this week. I gave in to impatience. I gave in to second-guessing myself.

My Bobo brain started down those well-worn paths of chasing money, losing sight of the dream, grabbing at fate instead of letting go, comparing myself to other people, thinking the world owes me something, being afraid, being judgmental.

And I whined about it to a good friend, who gave me a long and passionate (and painfully accurate) smack-down.

For the record, in case there is any doubt in your mind, there’s no doubt in my mind , she wins the more-evolved-soul contest. She spoke the truth, and she held me to my own words of what I say I want to achieve in next stage of my life: Letting go, and being still so that something new can come in.

So what to do?

What there always is to do.

Try to get centered. Again.

Try to let go. Again.

Try not to panic. Ignore that giant unpaid business Visa bill that lurks in the corner!

Remember my blessings (and there are so, so many to remember.) Including friends who keep me honest.

Go back in and try again.

Oh, and remember the next time I need to whine, to go see Carol.

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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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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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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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CLEANING THE ATTIC #9: Call For Backup!

Sometimes, no matter how much progress you’ve made or how strong your intentions are, you get stuck.

That’s happened many, many times throughout this process. Sometimes one thing worked, sometimes another.

This time, I simply needed another set of eyes.

Not just anybody, though. I wanted Carol. Or somebody like Carol.

Carol is an artist, too. She is kind, yet insightful and strong. She understands that some items aren’t really junk (though they might look like it to non-artist types.) She’s a good listener. She’s willing to work, if that’s what is needed.

I told her how far I’d gotten, what my goals were, and where I was stuck. She identified three key areas I could think about and act on.

1) I need work space.

I tend to fill up work space with stuff that isn’t work. Sounds stupid, but that’s what I do.

For example, my desk has all my supply catalogs on it. That makes for easy access. But it also means I can’t use my desk for writing. Was there somewhere else to put those catalogs where they’ll be accessible, but not taking up work space? Yes! I’m going to rearrange some shelves (and yes, move more books upstairs) to find a new spot for them.

Then I talked about other work spaces I’d inadvertently invaded with “stuff”. I set up nice display areas for last year’s open studios. But then I never dismantled them. Some display is desirable–I love it, and it makes the studio interesting. But if that has taken over, then no work can get done.

And I never even put stuff away from last year’s big retail show before I had to start preparing for this year’s show.

To be fair, that was the year o’ surgeries. I couldn’t put all that stuff away. Berating myself for it was unfair, and unhelpful. I was beating myself up emotionally for being messy. For buying art supplies I ended up not using. For giving so much stuff away without trying to recoup my investment.

Which brings me to Carol’s next insight:

2) I need to forgive myself.

Carol’s mantra was simple: “That was then. This is now.”

That’s who I was then. This is who I am now. That’s what I thought would work then. This is what I need to do now. I was doing okay, and now I could do better.

The actual organization of the studio was good. The layers were okay. It was piling on top of the layers that was getting me into trouble.

Guilt wasn’t working. So I set the guilt aside.

It helped. Immensely.

3) Group stuff together.

As I empty storage containers, set them aside in one corner. As I come across items that can go upstairs, group them in a spot for easy transport.

This was so simplistic, I nearly sneered. But it worked.

At first glance, we’d made little progress in our barn attic. (This space is where all my booth stuff is stored, and it’s the final repository for our house stuff, too.)

Actually we’d made huge progress. But all the clear boxes I’d bought/gathered for organizing were scattered throughout the space, making it look as if everything was still strewn around.

Once I’d grouped those in a single pile off to one side, the floor space really opened up. And I could tell I’d made a huge difference up there.

I’m using this same principle on my studio, starting today. Already I feel upbeat and hopeful that this really will get done.

So if you get really stuck, enlist the aid of someone who can get your over the hump. Someone who will not judge, someone with sensitivity and strength. Someone who really wants to see you get to that next step.

Or someone with a truck.

Tomorrow’s post will address why I’ve decided over and over not to sell most of this stuff. It’s a good decision for me, and maybe it will work for you, too.

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Filed under action steps, art, cleaning the studio, life, mental attitude, perseverence

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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Filed under art, business, choices, fear of failing, inspiration, martial arts, mental attitude, perseverence, writing

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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Filed under courage, health, horses, inspiration, life, martial arts, mental attitude, perseverence

GET OUTTA TOWN!

I subscribe to newsletter written by the Canadian artist Robert Genn, called The Painter’s Keys. He talks about topics ranging from technique to inspiration, and the nature of making and selling art. Though I am not a painter, I find many of the topics…well, topical.

Today’s topic was called Art in Bad Times. He talks about how art sells or doesn’t sell when the economy is bad.

One addendum really stuck out for me:

Artists can become stuck in depressed areas and
develop bleak attitudes. Artists need to look beyond the local
scene. As art need not be regional, much of it can be offered
worldwide. Make an effort to introduce work elsewhere. The idea
is to outgrow the stigma of being simply a local artist.
Artists who have the chops need to think “Dubai,” not “Duluth.”
Giving a progressive dealer free reign in a distant location
can give an artist the idea there’s no depression going on at
all. Create well, distribute well, live well.

I’m one of those artists that can’t be described as your “typical” New Hampshire artist. Nor even as a typical New England artist. Heck, I have a hard time marketing on the entire East Coast!

I have one huge advantage–I actually knew that from the very beginning.

Oh, I have an audience here, and they are an enthusiastic and devoted bunch. They’ve saved my life!

My heart thrills when a customer walks into my booth at the League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair and exclaims, “Here you are, I’ve been looking all over for you!” I love it when someone calls and says, “I’m a huge fan of your work and I’ve decided this is the year I buy a piece!” I’m so pleased when a guy calls and says, “My wife saw your jewelry at a show last week and says it’s all she wants for Christmas. Can I come over and get something??”

But my work, with its prehistoric artifacts, strong colors and layers of distressed, frayed fabrics, is still a hard sell in an area where the main decorating style is Early American and the main craft style is either Traditional or Contemporary.

I started looking for ways to get my work “outta New Hampshah” right from the get-go.

Even so, most of my venues tended to specialize in either traditional or contemporary craft. They attracted galleries and buyers that specialize in those styles.

I did reasonably well, well enough to get my business off the ground. But not enough to continue its growth.

I know it’s time to take the next step. Time to work even smarter.

It’s time to find galleries with strong western, southwestern, northwestern, tribal and world art themes.

I need collectors for whom, as a friend once said, “southwestern” is not a decorating style, but a lifestyle.

What can you learn from this?

Maybe it’s time for you to to get outta town, too.

If your work is as wonderful as you can make it, and it’s good, solid work–but still not selling locally… If it’s too different than what’s around you–if it’s “too strong” or “it doesn’t fit in”….

Then take Robert Genn’s advice. Start looking to grow your markets elsewhere.

How do you go about this without actually moving to another part of the country? (Unless that’s an option…)

ASK people who travel where they’ve seen work like yours, especially other artists and craftspeople. Ask for gallery names and shows. (Be sure to actually visit a show if at all possible, though–your travel costs are going to increase, you have to make sure it is indeed a good show for you!)

SURF the internet looking for galleries that sell compatible work.

LOOK AT home and lifestyle magazines, especially ones that cover different regional styles, to find ones that feature artwork similar to yours. (This can be a good place to look for stores and galleries, too.)

KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN to different opportunities. I look for calls-for-entries for exhibitions with jurors pulled from art galleries in my target regions. (After all, gallery owners often volunteer to jury shows so that they can see the new work that’s out there.) I’m compiling a list of potential galleries and museum stores. I’m collecting titles of regional home and lifestyle magazines that are compatible with my work. (Last year I got off a plan in Utah for a brief layover and found not one, not two, but six western-style home magazines!)

LET PEOPLE KNOW you’re looking. Let them know what you’re looking for. Spread the word. You never know where a good lead will come from.

It’s a big world out there. In fact, one of my long-term goal is international.

I mean, it’s a really big world out there. It’s big enough for your work, your unique style, your personal vision.

Somewhere out there are people who will love, love love your work. It may not be easy to find them.

But you can do it.

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Filed under art, business, marketing, perseverence, selling