Category Archives: writing

LUANN IS FINALLY ON-TREND

I’ve been blogging now for over a decade–twelve years! But I still remember the trepidation I felt about sharing my crazy thoughts to the world.

Not that the world was paying much attention then. Or even now. (Except for you, faithful reader!) But you know what I mean.

A few years in, another friend in the biz–literally, she worked for a major craft show producer–asked Jon for advice about blogging. (He blogged for a living.) He shared some key concepts about brand, sharing expertise, establishing herself as an authority.

I listened, and when the phone call ended, I complained that the advice he gave my friend was excellent, but none of it applied to me. And I was feeling stalled in my own writing.

He laid the groundwork of what I was doing, an insight I didn’t have.

Jon said, “Most people who write about how to make a go of it, write after they’ve made it. Very few people write from the trenches in real time. You’re brave to do that. And people will respond to that, because it helps them where they are, in real time, too.”

This is why you may feel I’ve been “reading your mind”. I’ve learned if I’m feeling overwhelmed and baffled by my thoughts and behavior, and the behavior of others, someone else probably is, too. If I can find a way through the storm, I will benefit.

And if I share that process, someone else will, too.

And I decided if looking stupid, or vulnerable, or less evolved than others, that’s okay. Writing about it helps me get through it (hence the “muddling through” tagline). And hopefully, helps others muddle, too.

He told me two more important things about writing online: Whatever you publish on the internet is going to be around a long, long time. Links and platforms may die, but usually what’s written still languishes. (Like my blog at Radio Userland. It’s still there!) If you trash someone or something, or get nasty, or give in to lizard-brain behavior, it could come back to haunt you. I took that to heart. If I have a gripe, I seriously edit the identity of the entity, so the lesson, not the person, shines through.

There was another thing, but I forget.

So how am I finally on-trend?

Vulnerability. Brene Brown. Oprah approves!

Sadly, this also means I will be back OFF-trend in a few years. I can only hope that prehistoric cave animals become all the rage in 2018.

On a mission to make prehistoric cave art "on trend" in 2016!

On a mission to make prehistoric cave art “on trend” in 2016!

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AM I A FALCON, A STORM, OR THE GREAT SONG?

For the last few years, I’ve been teaching writings workshop for people who are grieving the death of someone close, at a non-profit hospice agency here in Keene. Using journaling, simple poetry writing exercises and sharing our scribblings, we gently help each other move forward in our grieving process.

These classes are always powerful, small miracles made visible in the world. They’ve been so successful, I’m developing an art collage workshop, too. We had our second class last night, and I’m amazed how quickly the group has come together already.

In all these sessions, I’m always anxious when I walk into the room. I remember calling my supervisor, the wise woman known as Lorraine, my first week in. “These people are in such pain!” I exclaimed. “I’m so afraid I’ll say the wrong thing, or be too flippant, and hurt them more.”

“People are pretty tough,” Lorraine said frankly. “Trust me, you’re not going to break them!”

She was right, of course. I am constantly amazed at how courageous and strong these people are, shattered as they are by grief. They shine brightly. I learn so much from them, much much more than I teach them.

But I still worry at the start of every session, and I’m anxious at every meeting. When we write, first thing, the three words that describe how we’re feeling, mine are almost always, “Anxious, Unprepared, Clumsy.”

Until the miracle happens. The power of writing what is in our hearts, and sharing our pain, is a balm. The magic of hearing the voices throughout the ages who have suffered the same pain, the same unbearable sense of loss, echoing in our modern day hearts, somehow helps the healing process.

And by the end of class, we’ve wept, we’ve hugged, we’ve shared, we’ve remembered, and we’ve laughed. All in one brief hour.

The last few days, I’ve been pulling together more poetry to bring to these sessions. Here’s one I found last week:

FOR THOSE WHO HAVE DIED
ELEH EZKERAH – These We Remember

‘Tis a fearful thing
To love
What death can touch.
To love, to hope, to dream,
And oh, to lose.
A thing for fools, this,
Love,
But a holy thing,
To love what death can touch.
For your life has lived in me;
Your laugh once lifted me;
Your word was a gift to me.
To remember this brings painful joy.
‘Tis a human thing, love,
A holy thing,
To love
What death can touch.

Judah Halevi or
Emanuel of Rome – 12th Century

I read this to the group. “This was written over a thousand years ago,” I said. “Someone felt this way, and wrote these words to you, people he knew he would never know nor meet. He wrote these words because he knew you would be here, today, and he knew you would need to hear them.”

I also love that people now share their favorite poetry with me. I mentioned that I needed more poems on loss and grieving to some friends. One said, “Oh, you have to read Rilke! He’s good for grieving!” An odd phrase, but I found it to be so true. I found this today:

“Let This Darkness Be a Bell Tower”
by Rainer Maria Rilke
translation by Joanna Macy + Anita Barrows

Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,
what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.
In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.
And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.

Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29

And as I wrap up my preparations for the last class in this session, I find this one grabbing at my heart:

Circles

I live my life in big circles
that surround all things,
that circle around all that is.
Maybe i will not complete the last circle,
But i will attempt it.

I circle around God
that ancient tower,
and I have been circling
for centuries and millennia,

And i do still not know: am i a falcon,
a storm, or the Great Song.

- Rainer Maria Rilke
translated by Br. David Steindl-Rast

Am I a falcon, a storm, or the Great Song?

I don’t even know what that means.

And yet I sense it means…everything.

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Filed under art, bereavement workshops, hospice, writing

SAME LAKE, DIFFERENT BOATS: The Power of Writing Through Grief

A talkative guy, Walt always said he invented social media.

Last night we wrapped up another grief writing group at HCS.

Once again, I feel like I’ve climbed a very high mountain, in the company of wonderful people. Once again, I feel honored to be the presence of people who are grieving the loss of someone they love.

Each group has been different: Different people. Different losses. All at different points in their grieving process.

Some are still in the raw, ferocious early stages, reeling from their loss. Some are caught in the soul-numbing middle stage, struggling to remember what “normal” even looks like. They are sure they’ll never feel “normal” again.

They fear if they let go of the grief, of those last difficult memories, they will truly lose their loved one forever.

And then there is this stage, where a tiny glimmer of hope and peace can be seen, and grasped.

The first stage is still scary to me. I remember talking to Lorraine, my supervisor, about taking on this work. I worried about saying the wrong things, or not knowing when to say the right things. If there even is a “right thing” to say to someone whose grief is so fresh and painful. “I’m so afraid I’ll make their grief worse,” I said.

“People are pretty tough,” mused Lorraine. “You’re not going to break them!”

She’s right. And that’s part of the beauty of this work, this writing process.

People begin this writing journey with such pain, it hurts to look at their faces.

We start slowly, with gentle writing “assignments”. We share what we’ve written.

(Yes, I participate, too, and I’m amazed at how it’s helped me. I pick a person I’ve loved and lost for each workshop. This one was for my friend of more than 35 years, Walt Spiller (aka “Walt the Mailman), who died in January.)

We exclaim over the similarities in our “crazy feelings”: “You feel that way, too??”

And yet each person’s journey is unique. Our experiences, the manner of our loved one’s death, their journey, is like no other.

The person we’ve lost is unique. Last night, as we read our last scribblings, one person said, “I’ve come to know who your loved one is, through your writing. I can actually see them!”

Each person has traveled their own road, but yet together. One person said it beautifully: “It’s like we’re on the same lake, in a different boat!”

The same lake…. This is the human experience, after all: We will all lose someone we love. We will all be lost to someone we love. With every birth, there will be a death. To borrow a quote from Canadian painter Robert Genn, “Every puppy begins in joy and ends in tears. So it is with people.

A different boat. Not every death is simple. Some are too fast–loved ones lost to heart attack or accident, no time to say goodbye. Some are too harsh–loved ones lost to suicide or murder. Some are complicated–our feelings for them are conflicted, our love tangled in anger, or fear, or resentment, or worn down to a frazzle after years of care and anguish.

All this, and more, is shared, once a week, in these little groups. Through the power of the written word, ideas are born, feelings are explored, insights are shared. The healing begins. In a safe and sheltering place, people put their lives back together, one little poem and one tiny thought at a time.

How that happens is a miracle. The writing does its work.

For all our frantic scribbling, writing is a meditative practice. It lets us get those swirling, maddening thoughts out of the racetrack of our brains, stops the ceaseless circling and speeding so we can be less reactive, less guarded. We don’t have to worry about the next wreck around the corner. We can slow down and look and see what is in our hearts, and commit those words to paper.

It’s a time to write what’s in our hearts, to say it aloud, to share it with the group. The power of our words–the power of us acknowledging our words, the power of others acknowledging our words–is healing. “I didn’t realize I felt that way!” “What you said is beautiful!” “I feel that way, too! I thought I was alone….” You hear this over and over in this group.

Over the weeks, we build up a portrait of that person. We see the role they played in our lives, and our role in theirs. We remember the times before the loss.

Gradually, instead of the harshness of fresh grief, there is…a softening. Instead of the heavy weight of sorrow, we carry memories–just as strong and durable, but lightweight and supple.

We laugh, we cry, we laugh some more. And we write, and we write.

We are writing down the bones.

There is forgiveness. There is gratitude.

When we part, on the last evening, I see their shoulders, which have been weighted down with grief, set with a bit of strength. I see their new-found confidence, their courage to meet a new day. We hug, we laugh, we cry. And we go home, some to empty houses and shattered lives, but with hope.

So what am I left with, at the end of these sessions?

I’m left with sympathy. Watching people struggle to understand this last, the greatest of human mysteries.

I’m left with amazement at the bravery the courage these people carry, often unaware of their own strength and bravery.

I’m left breathless at the beautiful words they bring forth from their experiences.

I’m left grateful that they trusted the process, they trusted me, to take care of them.

I’m left with respect for the dignity they bring to this journey.

I’m left with peace in my heart.

And I’m always, always left to stand, in astonishment and humility and gratitude, honored to in the presence of these people as they make this difficult, incredible journey.

Walt told a LOT of stories, but now I see they were always told with love, about love.

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LESSONS FROM GRIEF WRITING: A Candle to Light Our Way in the Darkness

Writing is another way art can help us heal.

I’ve been leading group writing workshops for people who are grieving–grieving the loss of their mom, their dad, their wife or husband, their child, their sister or brother or best friend.

For this project, I’m ‘on loan’ to the bereavement section of the hospice team. A social worker runs the group management part, and I handle the writing part.

It’s scary space for me. I was terrified I would delve too deep in my prodding, and drive someone into a frenzy of grief. I ran to my hospice supervisor for help. She reassured me. “People are pretty tough,” she said. “You’re not going to break them!”

She’s right. Yes, sometimes the writing assignments bring tears. But tears are good in the grieving process. And people are amazed at the places their writing is taking them.

There’s something about the actual physical act of writing that is very different than speaking, or even typing or texting. It accesses a different part of the brain, thus allowing the brain to process grief in a different way. Many assignments start off on one foot and firm ground. About halfway through, something else comes through, and the writing enters new territory.

It’s startling and new. It’s powerful. It doesn’t ‘fix’ grief–nothing can do that–but it seems to set the healing process in motion. It’s like having an injury that hurts and hurts, persisting through time, until a physical therapist shows you what muscles to soften and what muscles to strengthen. The cycle of inflammation and pain is broken, and true healing can begin. That’s what grief writing can do.

Of course, social workers know the group thing is important, too. Sharing loss with others who are in the same boat is hugely helpful. No matter how shy or reserved we are, we are all still social animals. We suffer in our own unique way, and we feel so alone.

We may suffer in solitude, but we need not suffer in isolation. Being able to connect with others who empathize, connects us to our human condition.

I still believe the writing is the match that starts the candle burning. It’s a flare of energy and insight, making the light that lets us see into the darkness.

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Filed under art, craft, grief journaling, lessons from hospice, writing

I DID IT MY WAY

What with the big show I do in August (9 days, people–please remember that when I’m slow with your special orders!), and getting my daughter off to graduate school (first time she’s been too far away to visit) and then vacation (I did nothing for six whole days), I fear I’ve sadly neglected my blog.

I felt it, too. The guilt. Heck, I didn’t even do my morning pages. Didn’t keep up on Facebook, either.

This morning, I had an extra fifteen minutes, and pondered what to do with it. Check my email? Sure!

But then I realized I miss writing. I may drag my feet about it, but it’s like fun exercise–I always feel better after I do it.

So rather than waste time looking for my current journal, I simply started another one. (Because of this coping strategy, I often have three or four journals kicking around at any given point in time.)

And of course, I started off pissing and moaning about what an awful person I was for not writing for the past five weeks.

And then I stopped. I looked at what I’d written:

I haven’t written in…months.

And then I wrote:

So what?!

I’d made a choice, every day. Write….or go to the beach. Write….or go out to breakfast with my husband. Write…or sleep in. Write…or pick up Meg and go ride horses.

I did not choose to write, every day, for five weeks. That’s all.

Do I regret any of those choices? Not a bit.

Eventually, I miss writing. I restructure my day to allow time to do it. Or I suddenly have something to say, and drop everything to get it down before I forget. (Dear readers, you have no idea how much wisdom I’ve had that has simply blown away in the wind of my busy-ness like so much lint.)

What helped me get here today was this post on time management (NOT) by Danielle LaPorte, whose blog WHITE HOT TRUTH is one of my favorite reads. I’d long given up trying to be super-productive–lost my mojo a few years ago–but I hadn’t given myself permission to not feel guilty about it. When I read her post, I laughed out loud in relief.

Most of our choices are simply that….choices. Yes, there are good choices and bad choices. But it’s not always so clear which are which.

Work in the studio, or blow it off to have lunch with a friend? If you are honoring your art, and fiercely protecting your creative time, then perhaps the former is the right choice for you today. And maybe that friend is annoying, and always leaves you feeling vaguely unsettled.

But perhaps something says you need to honor your friendship today. Maybe your friend needs some love and support. Maybe it’s you who needs the love and support. (And hey, maybe, like me, you’re the annoying friend.)

Different times, different goals, different stages of life call for different choices. The sooner we allow ourselves to simply be who we are, today, the happier we can be.

So instead of a to-do list today, I simply set some priorities. I had three pages of writing with a great idea for an article. Done. I thought of all the ‘have-to’s’ I have to today, and picked the one that keeps coming back–the new design that’s just right for a store that’s waiting on some new work from me. There’s a friend who’s special order just keeps popping into my mind. I’ll work on her piece today. And I’ll make the phone call to another friend whose need is greatest, and make time for her.

But the first thing I did this morning, after my morning pages, was my favorite.

I went riding.

The first frost of the season killed off most of the annoying bugs. The sun was brilliant, but the morning was cool, perfect riding weather. I had unexpected (and welcome) company on my ride. My muscles are sore–I’m finally healing after a back injury last fall, and foot surgery this spring–and it feels good to be sore from riding. From doing something I love.

I feel…..

happy.

My blessing for you today:

May you choose for yourself today, the thing that will make you the happiest.

And may you have many opportunities to do so.

N.B. In the interest of full disclosure, I did write my column for The Crafts Report. And I did my columns for the Fine Art Views newsletter. And I wrote several times to my son, who moved out two months ago (to a house two blocks from here.) And I kept up on some crucial emails.

So, yeah, I wrote. But isn’t the point of this column still a good one?

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TELL ME A STORY: Proximity

Continuing my series for Fine Art Views on using story hooks in your publicity and self-promotion…

I just figured out how to republish my Fine Art Views articles here! Duh…..

Tell Me a Story: Proximity

by Luann Udell

In short, the world is a pretty big place. But it’s still made up of countless communities. These days, our communities are far more than just the people who live near us. Take another look at yours. See if there’s a group who’d love to hear more about what you’re up to. [...]

Read the rest of this article at:
Tell Me A Story: Proximity

———————————————-
This excerpt appears courtesy of FineArtViews Art Marketing Newsletter by FASO,
a free email newsletter about art, marketing, inspiration and fine living for artists,
collectors and galleries (and anyone else who loves art).

For a complimentary subscription, visit: Fine Art Views

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HOW TO SOUND SMARTER THAN EVERYBODY ELSE

Artist statement resources for the folks who are smarter/better/more educated/more sophisticated/more talented than me.

Short story:
It’s our choice. We can make the commitment to say something meaningful and compelling about our work.

Or we can stick with the attitude that people need to educate themselves in order to really appreciate our work.

I’ve been writing a series of articles for Fine Art Views newsletter about how to punch up your stories–Your artist statement, your artist bio/cv, your press releases. This series, TELL ME A STORY, starts here. The second article is here:, and the next two will appear June 23 and July 7, 2011. Mark your calendars! (Or just subscribe to Fine Art Views newsletter–it’s free!)

Some people are ready to hear this stuff. Others, not so much. When I get resistance, I hear one of two things:

“Can’t you just give me a template, and let me fill in the blanks?”
or
“I really think art critics, galleries and art-collecting audiences want something more….sophisticated than a ‘story’.”

Well, say no more! If this is what you want, I’ve found just the tools for you.

This tongue-in-cheek artist statement template-driven generator by 10Gallon.com is perfect for those who just want to fill in the blanks. My first attempt resulted in this distinctively different artist statement:

Through my work I attempt to examine the phenomenon of Quick Draw McGraw as a methaphorical interpretation of both Georgia O’Keefe and fixing people.

What began as a personal journey of frackism has translated into images of cookies and arms that resonate with Caucasian people to question their own aquamarineness.

My mixed media dog images embody an idiosyncratic view of Billy Graham, yet the familiar imagery allows for a connection between Janis Joplin, cats and french fries.

My work is in the private collection of Darrin McGavin who said ‘Yeow!! That’s some real shapely Art.’

I am a recipient of a grant from Folsom Prison where I served time for stealing mugs and tie clips from the gift shop of The Peabody Museum. I have exhibited in group shows at McDonald’s and the Pucker Gallery in Boston, MA, though not at the same time. I currently spend my time between my den and Berlin.

I’m sure with a little practice, you could get something a little less silly.

For the academically-minded crowd, this artist statement writing tool site from Gurney Journey will surely appeal. It’s actually easier to use than the previous one. No need to even fill in the blanks! Try it. It’s a handy little exercise to create a bang-up, very academic-sounding artist statement in no time flat. All you have to do is combine any items from three different lists, and voila! An artist statement that is sure to start a spirited discussion about your work among the (g)literati.

But for those who don’t even have time to read through the lists, there’s more! This totally mindless automatic artist statement generator it sooooo easy, you don’t have to do anything except click on a tab.

My first result using the Arty Bollocks Generator was promising:

My work explores the relationship between the body and skateboard ethics.

With influences as diverse as Wittgenstein and John Lennon, new combinations are crafted from both simple and complex layers.

Ever since I was a student I have been fascinated by the ephemeral nature of meaning. What starts out as triumph soon becomes corroded into a tragedy of power, leaving only a sense of decadence and the possibility of a new reality.

As shifting phenomena become frozen through boundaried and diverse practice, the viewer is left with an insight into the limits of our era.

Hmmmmm. Not…quite. So I tried again. I got a message that said I was a little hard to please, and this new statement:

My work explores the relationship between new class identities and midlife subcultures.

With influences as diverse as Wittgenstein and John Lennon, new synergies are generated from both simple and complex textures.

Ever since I was a teenager I have been fascinated by the ephemeral nature of meaning. What starts out as vision soon becomes corrupted into a dialectic of greed, leaving only a sense of what could have been and the prospect of a new beginning.

As temporal impressions become clarified through emergent and diverse practice, the viewer is left with an impression of the inaccuracies of our era.

I still wasn’t satisfied (and the ABG got a little crabby), but I persisted. I clicked the tab again and came up with this one:

My work explores the relationship between postmodern discourse and urban spaces.

With influences as diverse as Nietzsche and Andy Warhol, new synergies are crafted from both simple and complex textures.

Ever since I was a child I have been fascinated by the theoretical limits of relationships. What starts out as hope soon becomes debased into a tragedy of temptation, leaving only a sense of chaos and the inevitability of a new beginning.

As shifting forms become clarified through boundaried and diverse practice, the viewer is left with a statement of the edges of our condition.

Wow! Pretty good! But why settle for pretty good when I can have the best? My next try resulted in this one:

My work explores the relationship between emerging sexualities and urban spaces.

With influences as diverse as Kierkegaard and Francis Bacon, new combinations are created from both explicit and implicit layers.

Ever since I was a student I have been fascinated by the traditional understanding of relationships. What starts out as triumph soon becomes debased into a tragedy of lust, leaving only a sense of decadence and the inevitability of a new synthesis.

As spatial impressions become frozen through diligent and personal practice, the viewer is left with a glimpse of the inaccuracies of our world.

The ABG grumbled that I was a bit of a perfectionist, but I just couldn’t resist one more try:

My work explores the relationship between postmodern discourse and recycling culture.

With influences as diverse as Blake and Roy Lichtenstein, new tensions are created from both traditional and modern textures.

Ever since I was a teenager I have been fascinated by the theoretical limits of meaning. What starts out as hope soon becomes debased into a cacophony of lust, leaving only a sense of decadence and the prospect of a new reality.

As temporal phenomena become transformed through emergent and diverse practice, the viewer is left with an impression of the edges of our future.

I decided to quit while I was ahead, and told the Arty Bollocks Generator, “Enough already.”

Yep, I had a good laugh. But the scary thing about these very tongue-in-cheek exercises?

These actually sound like real artist statements..

I’m not highly educated, but I do have an MA. And half the time, when I read these ‘sophisticated statements’, I have no idea what the person is talking about. Are these really the things they lie awake nights thinking about? ( Me? I tend to lie awake trying to remember if I let the cats in.)

Remember–It’s our choice.

We can stick with the attitude that people need to educate themselves in order to really appreciate our work.

(Let us know how that works for ya, okay?)

We can try to sound like every other artist who wants to sound intellectual, academic, and obtuse.

Or we can do some work. Get real. Get sincere.

Say what is in our hearts.

We can strive to say something meaningful and compelling about our art that anyone can understand.

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Filed under art, artist bio, artist statement, craft, funny, marketing, press releases, writing

LESSONS FROM HOSPICE #3: The Grief Writing Workshop Continues

What will survive of us is love.

I had to laugh when I looked through my drafts file this morning. I have tons of posts labeled “Lessons from Hospice”, but I see I’ve only published a handful. I realize now some of them seem simple, but are too much for me to handle. I’m reminded that so many of the good lessons in life are simple. But not necessarily easy.

Today’s thoughts come from the Grief Writing Workshop I’ve been running for a couple months now. We’re on session number two, with most of the first members signing up for another round, and some new members, too.

I’m seeing the changes in people already. When some of them started, their grief was palpable, written on their faces and even in their postures. It’s astonishing to see the changes in them as they begin the healing process. As they work towards peace and acceptance, they literally seem to glow. Such is the healing power of writing.

When I first struggled to get a grip on what this workshop would be like, I found this essay by Kathleen Adams extremely helpful. For anyone who’d like to pursue a career in such work, I highly recommend her website JournalTherapy.com.

The free-writing technique I learned years ago may be too overwhelming for those who are still in the raw stages of grieving. A simple but flexible structure in my workshop helps immensely.

We have a typical support group opening (establishing rules of confidentiality, for example). We name our loved one–because our culture is so uncomfortable with death, people hesitate to even say their name or bring up their death. For those who have lost someone, this feels like that person has truly been erased from the earth.

We do a few simple warm-up exercises, then move into writing on various topics. I started out with my own, but as people grew more comfortable, they started bringing their ideas, too. We do poetry-writing exercises, and I usually end by reading a favorite poem or prayer. We end as we began–saying our name, and the name of the one we’ve lost.

So simple. So ridiculously, delightfully simple. Yet the results are simply blowing me out of the water each week.

Of course, I’m not really teaching these people how to write. They come to the class because they already write, or they want to write more. I’m not even teaching them to write write WELL. I don’t edit their work, nor criticize their efforts in any way.

I give them the time, the resources, and the encouragement to do what their heart yearns to do–to contemplate what has been lost, and what has been found, in writing.

If anything, the greatest gift I give them is just this: Permission.

Permission to write, because it is important to them. Permission to write, because they love to write. Permission to write, because they want to.

“Write for yourself!” I tell them constantly. “Write your truth, your thoughts. Use writing to get yourself to a place you can’t get to with just talking, just thinking. Write the raw stuff. Write the mistakes, the scribbles, the doubts. Write ‘blah blah blah’ if you can’t think of anything to write–but write down the blah blah blah. Write as if you are the only person who will ever see it. Sure, use this later for inspiration, for ideas, for essays, poetry, whatever. But start here: Write because you must.”

I show them a gem of a book I found in my research for this class, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. The book is fine, but what I love best is the title. The writing is in your bones, and you have to do it.

(BTW, it looks like Natalie Goldberg and I went to University of Michigan at the same time. I wonder if our paths ever crossed?)

I couldn’t become the artist I always dreamed of being until I finally realized I HAD TO MAKE ART. And when I let go of the idea of being a GOOD ARTIST. When I accepted that it didn’t matter if it were good or bad, it simply had to exist in the world–and the only way that could happen was through me.

So, too, these folks are slowly losing the coulda/shoulda/woulda stuff that holds back any creative effort. They simply pour their hearts and their souls into the work.

And what comes through is exquisitely, profoundly beautiful. And poignant. And gentle/sad/raging/full of wonder and joy.

And after every session, I marvel at the miracle that has occurred right in front of me, from a small circle of strangers, now friends, who have blessed me, and each other, with the tender gift of their grieving, healing hearts.

So what’s the lesson? I dunno. I thought I’d just write this today, and not wait til it was wrapped up neatly in a package tied with ribbon for you.

I guess I’m learning that even when the worst thing you can imagine happens to you–the loss of your child, your soul mate, your sibling, your dearest friend–even as your heart is breaking and you feel like it is not possible for a human being to cry any more tears–there is a place of healing, and hope, and joy at the gift you had, and how no one can ever truly take that away from you.

I’m learning there is a place where all can be forgiven, if never quite understood.

I’m learning that sometimes, the most important person to forgive is yourself.

I’m learning that everyone is deserving of love. That we all yearn for it, need it, cry for it.

I’m learning, every day, that the line from Philip Larkn’s An Arundel Tomb is true, if only (and it’s such an important ‘if’) because we need it to be true:

What will survive of us is love.

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WRITING IT OUT #1: Goodbye, Mrs. Koebnik, and Thank You!

This week concluded my very first workshop in grief journaling at Home Health Care and Community Services. I’m a hospice and bereavement volunteer there, and offered to teach their very first workshop.

I think it was a success. I didn’t hurt anyone, and the participants want to do another round of sessions. Yay! But as always, as much as I taught, I learned.

As always, I’m free to share my thoughts and observations, but not those of the folks in the workshop. We respect each other’s privacy: What’s said in group, stays in group. Over the next few days, I’ll share what I’ve learned about writing and grief.

The last exercise was writing a letter from our loved one who has died. It was framed beautifully: No matter how complicated the death or the loved one, we envisioned them being in a ‘higher place’. For some, that place was spiritual. For others, it was simply imagining that person speaking from their best self–past the suffering, past their emotional suffering, past the hardship.

I quoted something my friend Teo said to me years ago. “I like to think that everyone is doing the best they can,” she said one day, when I was complaining about a mutual friend. Such a generous statement, from a generous woman.

I also shared a story another friend told me years ago. Her husband was told he had less than a week to live, and that turned out to be true. His undetected illness had changed him emotionally. His physical discomfort (exhaustion, anxiety) manifested itself in harsh actions and words. The last few years had been hard for both of them.

But those last few precious days, much was healed. He had a chance to say how he really felt about her, and how sorry he was that he had been so difficult. As hard as it was to lose the love of her life, my friend received a precious gift in their last tender hours together.

Imagine them there, I told the group. They are in a place where all is forgiven, where anger and fear and frustration are gone. All that’s left is love, their ‘better self’. What would they say to you?

All of us cried as we wrote. Not a dry eye in the room!

But I was surprised by my reaction. Because my person has been dead for over 30 years. And she was simply a neighbor down the street I had befriended.

So of all the people I’ve lost–friends and family, from suicide to cancer, why did I write a letter from her?

I was doing graduate work in education, one of the happiest periods of my life. I had love, I had a career goal, I was focused and proactive, in control of my destiny. Our neighborhood was beautiful–full of trees and parks, with lovely older homes on Ann Arbor’s Old West Side. There was an ice cream dairy bar down the street, a neighborhood elementary school close by, and a mix of young families, older students, retirees. We all knew each other and socialized often.

Louise Koebnik, 84, lived down the street from me, in the house she was born in.. I knew her for about four years. She was an active and plain-spoken woman. Her husband had died young and left her to raise three children, alone. They all grew up to be well-educated and talented people with loving families of their own.

She worked hard her whole life. Even in her 80’s, she had an incredible vegetable garden, with tomatoes grown in a bath tub in the back yard (to protect their roots from those of the poisonous black walnut tree that grew nearby.) She gathered the nuts from that same tree each fall, laboriously going through all the steps that make them edible, and made walnut cookies with them.

I was one of the few people invited into her home for coffee and chats. She was forthright and said what was on her mind. I adored her.

My favorite memory of her is this: A snowstorm in winter. Big flakes of snow falling. Mrs. Koebnik (no matter how often she asked me to call her Louise, it just seemed more polite to call her Mrs. Koebnik) standing on her sidewalk (she had a corner lot, with two long sidewalks) wearing her old-fashioned big wool coat, a scarf tied around her head, and big clunky boots. Bearing a broom, and sweeping as the snow fell. She refused to ask for help shoveling, and once the snow accumulated too much, she couldn’t dig herself out. But she would sweep as the snowflakes fell, moving up and down her sidewalks, keeping the walk clear until it finally stopped. I still laugh as I think of her, looking like an old babushka, determined and vigilant against the storm.

One day I got a call from Jon, my husband, telling me terrible news: Mrs Koebnik had been raped, beaten and strangled to death.

She was the last victim of a serial killer, a young drifter who had left a trail of death and violence through many states. He was eventually caught and is serving life sentences in prison.

For almost 30 years, her death has haunted me. It seemed horrible that someone could lead such an exemplary life, providing so much, asking for so little, and spend her last hour on this earth in hell. I agonized for her. I feared for myself.

So where do we find peace in this? There is no “bright side”, no lesson to be learned. No solace. For me, her entire life was rewritten by this one terrible act.

Bereavement training helped. I learned about “complicated death”–death by suicide, by murder.

I began to have forgiveness for myself, for finding it so hard to let go.

Small healing thoughts began to form. I began to wonder if Mrs. K had fought back, which gave me some comfort. I realized her death is truly an anomaly.

And the letter ‘she’ wrote to me was wonderful:

Dear Luann,
I’ve been listening to your thoughts, your confusion, your despair and sadness about my death. I was a little miffed at first, I have to admit. It wasn’t YOU who was raped, beaten and strangled–it was ME!!

And it was no picnic either, I can tell you.

But mercifully, it was short. Shorter than childbirth, though with a sadder ending. No baby in my arms at the end, just….gone.

But at least the pain was over and done.

And I know it’s upsetting to think about and it’s hard to hear the story and it’s a terrible thing to think might happen to you.

But Luann, girlie, I want you to know this…..

My life was a good one, and a long one, full of joy and sadness, hardship and love, success and happiness. I worked hard, and I did what I had to do.

And I’d do it all over again, in a heartbeat.

What that kid did to me–well, that wasn’t right, and he’s a sick one, no doubt about it. But he can’t hurt me anymore. And he can’t hurt anybody else, ever.

But if you let this sit and eat way at your heart, then girlie, you are LETTING him hurt YOU.

And that ain’t right.

You must be smarter, and stronger than that. Life is hard enough without borrowing someone else’s troubles.

And life is too wonderful to give over even one more minute to that. Not one more minute.

So you go hug your kids and kiss your husband, and rejoice. Stand in the snow with a broom, if you want to remember me. And make cookies. And eat ‘em, too.

Now I’ve got to get going. It was nice hearing from you again. Keep your chin up, kiddo.

Love,
Louise

I was astonished at what I had written. I could hear her voice, I could see the words she’d used. It was her.

I cried. And as I cried, I realized my poem, Burial Song, I actually wrote for her. (I had never realized that before.)

And so this week I have peace in my heart. Not cured. But healed.

And that is the power of writing, and that is the lesson I learned this week.

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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

MAKING ART FOR ME

There’s more than one way to get your art out into the world.

I wrote in my journal this morning, dragging my feet as usual. (I often start out writing “blah blah blah”. No joke.)

I was writing–no, complaining–about not being able to hear myself think over the noise of Jon’s radio. Until I realized it was coverage on the Egyptian people, fighting for the right to govern themselves. Just as I stopped to listen, I heard a woman’s voice saying, “I just want to be a real citizen…”

So then I wrote how embarrassing it was to complain about the noise of freedom….

Then suddenly, I found myself writing, “I want to make a XXXX–for ME!”

(Forgive the mystery, I’m just not ready to talk about these new projects yet. I don’t want the energy of talking about it to replace the energy of doing it.)

Where…did THAT thought come from?

It took me totally by surprise. And I immediately found myself wondering how it could be done as a new product, a new line.

Just as immediately, another thought popped out:

What is it were something I simply made for MYSELF?

I write all the time about respecting your inner spirit, your inner source for ideas and inspiration. I urge others constantly to make the work that makes their heart sing, and worry about finding an audience for it later.

And here I sit, my brain immediately hopping into “How could I sell this?” How embarrassing! (Again.)

So I write, “I don’t have to make something to sell. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. And I can make it for myself. It’s something I would love to have in my home.”

Buzzy brain bites back: “You HATE it when people refuse to share their art with the world! How come it’s okay for YOU do it??!” (Buzzy Brain is rollin’ today.)

I write all the time about the importance of getting our work out into the world. I love Martha Graham’s famous quote on how we are the only people who can express that unique vision, how others need to see it and do the same. (I’ve posted links to other articles I’ve written about her quote at the bottom of this one.)

So where is the power in making something for myself?

Well….a lot of things started out as something for me. That freedom to please only myself, the peace of working out the details in a place free from outside comment or criticism, the power that comes from making work from my heart…that’s always been my modus operandi.

But then I realized there are other ways of getting that energy, that vision, out into the world.

I can write about what I’m doing, and why. (Ta da!)

I can tell others about that process (of working from my heart), and encourage them to do it, too.

And I can let this process help me be a better person.

I can learn to be aware, to be in tune with the creative force of the universe. I can learn to be someone who knows the joy and the passion and the power that comes from doing our heart’s own work.

Down the road, the private work of my heart may well become public. Perhaps a solo exhibition or an installation. Perhaps a book. Maybe even a new product. I have no idea.

But the freedom to simply make something that will please me is my gift to myself today.

And my heart rests easier knowing, somehow, someday, it will also be my gift to the world.

A list of other articles I’ve written with Martha Graham’s wise words you might enjoy:

BLESSED UNREST
THE DEVIL AT WORK IN THE WORLD
MEAN PEOPLE SUCK #2a: PROFESSIONAL JEALOUSY PART DEUX

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WE ARE ALL MADE OF STARS

Do you realize how amazing you are?

Why are we so willing to believe the worst about ourselves?

I had a conversation with a friend recently. She tends to believe she presents herself worse than she does. She accentuates her perceived weaknesses and berates herself for being “stuck”.

When I commented on her strengths and her perceived weaknesses (more on that), she smiled. “Yeah”, she said, “A friend once told me what my real problem is. My friend said, ‘Your problem is, you don’t realize how amazing you are.”

I agree with her friend.

I told her about a presentation I made last year, to an auditorium full of people. I’d goofed pretty badly–thought I was doing a presentation on one topic, only to realize the night before I was committed to a different one.

I was still more than adequately prepared. I’ve taught this workshop before, and have plenty of material on hand. But throughout the presentation, I kept apologizing. “I’m handing out a resource list–I’m so sorry, it would have been longer….” “Blah blah blah, sorry!, blah blah.”

When I read the evaluations later, everyone raved about me.

Except for one astute soul who commented, “The presentation was excellent, good information. Just one negative. She apologized too much. I found it distracting.”

Oy.

It’s time to quit apologizing for ourselves.

It’s so easy to see this in other people. So hard to see it in ourselves: Not trusting our instincts. Focusing on our weaknesses and flaws. Taking our strengths for granted.

Taking ourselves for granted.

So in the interest of full disclosure, here’s the back story behind my blog:

I merrily make my art/write my column/prepare a seminar. Things are humming along. Life is good!

Then I hit roadblocks. An envious peer. A missed deadline. A new injury (usually acquired doing something absolutely stupid.) A rejection from a show. Oh, and a very low checking account balance.

Some people thrive in adversity. Yay for them! (And we all can do that sometimes.) But often we are struck in vulnerable places. The roadblock looks similar to a struggle in our past. And there are some people in this world, in a kind of pain themselves, who know exactly where to aim their blows.

If I’m in my powerful place, I shrug these off as annoying but manageable, tiny little bumps in my path. I will not be deterred from my journey.

But if I’m in a fragile period, I get knocked off-center. “Why do I bother making this work? Nobody likes it!” “How can I make her like me and stop being so mean?” “I’m so disorganized!”

Soon I feel like there’s no place for me in the world. No gifts I can offer. No way I can contribute. I’m just a whirling bundle of fret and anxiety and unkindness and ineptitude. (I thought I was making that last word up, but spell check says no, I’m good to go. Until I spelled “spellcheck” wrong….)

I eventually sit down to write. I dump it all out onto paper. I whine, I cry, I resent, I blame.

And then something wonderful happens.

I realize how amazing I am.

Not in the swelled-head, I’m-okay-you’re-not, aren’t-I-grand kinda way.

Just…amazing…in the ordinary way. A person, here in this world, in this time, trying to love and be loved. Trying to be kind. Trying to shine. Trying to do the work I was put here to do. Trying to do the best I can. (Another friend, years ago, said to me, “I like to believe people are doing the best they can.” It brought tears to my eyes.) (Although it’s hard to remember that when someone cuts me off in traffic.)

For a few wonderful, incredible minutes, maybe a few hours, maybe even an entire day, I see how powerful I am, how brightly I shine. Just enough for me to get back in the saddle and try again. (OH! A riding metaphor!)

At some point, this struggle, this journey, turns into a blog article, or a keynote speech, or a new wall hanging. If it’s funny, it goes to my column at The Crafts Report.

I write about the struggle. I write about how I end up in the hard place, and how I find my way back from there.

And how I still end up there again.

And find my way back home, to my own heart–again.

I write about how our weaknesses are not something to be cried over, but something to be celebrated. Because our weaknesses are the true source of our strength, if we let this awareness happen.

If we are the victim of cruelty, we can still choose to be kind.

If we are gripped by sadness, we can simply embrace that, for now. Or we can choose to act as if we are happy. Or we can help someone else who is sad.

If we grieve, it is because we loved. Or because we wanted to love, or to be loved.

These things are not imperfections. Or rather, they are imperfections. They are what make us beautiful, just as as stress, flaw, disease and even death make something beautiful in wood.

If we don’t think we are amazing, it is simply because we are afraid of what that might mean. We think we don’t know what that looks like. We don’t know what might change or what we might lose, or that we are setting ourselves up for even bigger failure. We are afraid we will have to work harder, and we are afraid we won’t be able to.

We are afraid we are not enough.

And yet, in each of us, is the potential to simply be ourselves. To be present. To respect our gifts, and USE them.

What inspires me, what makes me cry, is that this very place that’s so hard for us–“I am not enough”–comes from a very powerful, very beautiful place–“I want to be somebody</em, somebody worthy of love, respect, kindness, joy, achievement. I want to be seen and cherished. I want to do good work. I want to be remembered after I'm gone."

Don't you think it's amazing that we all want these things?

Isn't it astonishing that this desire drives everything we do, every choice we make, whether we act on this consciously ("I'm going to hold the door open for that person behind me.") to unconsciously ("Huh! That person cut in front of me! He acted as if I were totally not worth his kindness!" or choice words to that effect….)? (I am praying you did not get lost in the punctuation of that last sentence.)

And that's why, when people say I'M amazing, or do such beautiful work, or write something good, I do a little foot shuffle and blush, and say, "Aw, tweren't nuthin'…"

Because I DON'T have this all figured out, or rather, it doesn't STAY worked out. I'll have to do the same thing tomorrow, and next month, and probably for the rest of my life–fall down, cry, take hope and get back up.

I know I just have to do this. And I don't have to do it perfectly, either.

Because when I look at my work, at my art, at the artifacts, the fiber work, the little bears and otters, the grumpy fish, the horses….oh, the horses!

When I remember my story I tell about myself and this work, what it's done for me spiritually, and what others say it does for them….

When I remember how far I've come from that lonely, sad place, where I was so sure there was no place in this world, I actually tried to leave it….

When I look at the wonderful guy who is my life partner, and our children, our friends and family, even the stranger on the street who chooses to be kind… When I realize all the opportunities there are in life to BE that partner, that child, that friend, that stranger…

I realize we truly are all made of stars.

I am. And so are you.

p.s. Thank you, Moby, for the title of this post.

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Filed under art, craft, creativity, fear of failing, inspiration, life, mental attitude, world peace, writing

GRIEF WRITING WORKSHOP

Another announcement. Boy, I’m full of ‘em today….

I’ll be leading a writing workshop during the month of February at Home Health Care and Community Services here in Keene NH. This is part of their bereavement support program. We’ll be meeting Wednesday nights from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., Feb. 2 through Feb. 23.

We’ll explore ways to explore our thoughts, feelings and memories through writing and poetry. The structure is flexible, and no prior writing experience is necessary.

This workshop is appropriate for anyone who is struggling with grief–loss of a loved one; divorce; loss of a pet or companion; a life-changing event.

You can see more about this workshop, and others, at the HCS website: HCS Grief Support Groups, Winter 2011. Or call them at 1-800-541-4145.

As always, if you know someone in the area who would like to participate, please pass this on to them.

I’ve found writing to be a powerful way to uncover deep insight and understanding during difficult times in my life. I’m looking forward to sharing this healing process with others.

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UNLOCKING YOUR STORY: The Artist’s Meaningful Message

Help me stamp out boring, pretentious artist statements!
Let’s connect your audience to the real story behind your art!

On Thursday, February 17, 2011 I’ll be teaching a workshop on creating a powerful artist statement:

“Unlocking Your Story: The Artist’s Meaningful Message”

This is a hands-on workshop. We’ll look at a few samples of powerful artist statements, and get right down to work. We’ll do some fun exercises to get the pens rolling. Then small group work to help you get the feedback you need to uncover your own unique and powerful story. I’ll demonstrate a technique for digging even deeper, using the power of being a witness to the heart’s work. Sounds very mysterious, but I guarantee you will leave with the tools you need to connect your art more deeply with your audience, whether that’s music, writing, craft or fine art.

The workshop will run from 6-8:30 p.m. at the Sharon Arts Exhibition Gallery, on Depot Square in Peterborough, NH. You can read more about the class at the Sharon Arts Center’s website here. (My workshop is on page 6.) Or call them SOON at 603-924-7256 to register.

The class is $40 for SAC members, $55 for non-members. Bring samples of artist statements you like, your current artist statement, and materials for taking notes. Actually, all you REALLY need to bring is the note-taking stuff–paper/notebook, and a pen you like to write with. Oh, and a sense of humor and a temporary suspension of belief. Cookies, too, if you got ‘em.

Please–sign up NOW! Some financial assistance may be available if you need it. Even if you can’t make it, please help me spread the word, okay? One of my life goals is to rid the world of boring and pompous artist statements. Let’s find the audience who will love your artwork, and your story.

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TURN ON YOUR (CREATIVE) LIGHTS!

Know the habits that keep Y-O-U creating.

I have habits that really fire me up to make art.

I have a lot of habits that drain me and distract me from making art.

None of these habits are intrinsically good or bad. They are just habits that produce different results. The trick is to identify the outcome you want, and see if the habits you’re holding onto support that desired outcome.

For those of you in the back row ready with some snide remark about which habits I’m obviously still hanging on to that don’t have good outcomes (like having candy bars for lunch yesterday)… Look. I get it. It’s not about living a perfect life. It’s about getting back on the horse after he’s spilled you a few times. (Hey! A riding metaphor!)

I have several outlets for my creativity: Writing, making jewelry, fiber work, stamp carving. Today I finally realized that these different outlets need different switches to flip ‘on’.

Here’s one concrete example for writing:

In the morning, I usually make that first cup of coffee and head into my studio to “check my email”. (Raise your hand if you do that, too.) (Ohhhh….so many hands!)

Soon I’m doing a heckuva lot more than slogging through my in box. (Yeah, you know.) Soon I’m surfin’ and networkin’ and tweetin’ and other good stuff.

Now, all this isn’t necessarily a “bad” habit. After all, I like seeing what my friends are up to. I like to explore new venues for my artwork. I like reading funny blogs like Hyperbole and a Half, and watching funny videos on Today’s Big Thing. And we all need down time. In fact, sometimes you just need to waste time.

The problem is, an hour goes by. Every. Single. Morning. That’s a lot of downtime, before I even do anything to deserve it.

It’s not just the lost time, though. I’s worse. It actually drains me of creativity.

If I spend too much time abmiring other people’s art, I start to feel insecure about mine. (“Why bother?? So-and-so’s work is light-years ahead of mine!”) If I read too many other blogs, I start to feel inadequate about mine. (“What’s the use?? He has 10,000 followers, I have a few hundred. And he said it better!”) If I offer too much advice in a forum, I feel like I’ve done my writing for the day.

Either way, the down time ends, and it feels like I did something productive. But I didn’t.

So something harmless, fun, maybe even helpful to others, is good under the right circumstances, and not good in others.

But something happens if I simply stay in the dining room with my coffee, pick up a pen (has to be a Uniball Vison pen, too–no ball points for me!) and start writing my morning pages (a la Julie Cameron’s THE ARTIST’S WAY.)

It’s odd. I always starts out kinda bitchy. From there it goes to whining. Then I run out of steam around the middle of page 2. That’s when I simply blather. “I hate this I have nothing to say who would even WANT to listen to anything I have to say, this is too hard, my new idea for a wall hanging sucks blah blah blah….” And yes, there are many days where I simply write, “Blah blah blah.” In an artistic way, of course.

But somewhere in the midst of the wailing and whining, something marvelous happens.

A new idea pops up. A new insight creeps out. Suddenly, I get something I didn’t get before.

I know what I have to do. I know exactly what my next step is.

Many of my blog ideas come from those awful, whining, boring morning pages. It’s a light switch for my writing, and a pretty powerful and reliable one, too.

Some days I simply forget to do them. Some days I don’t have time to do them. Sometimes I go for months without doing them, thinking I don’t need them anymore.

But I always come back. Because they work.

Now, on the other hand, writing those morning pages is really good for generating an idea for a blog, or an article. But not always so good for my other artwork. Again, because I feel like I’ve ‘already made something.” In fact, I had that insight this morning as I wrote. I actually need to think of another switch to flip for my other stuff.

But now that I’m thinking about what works, and what doesn’t, I don’t think I’ll have to spend too much time figuring that out.

So what is YOUR process? What little habit do YOU have, that helps you flip on the switch to YOUR art?

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ANOTHER LEAP INTO THE SKY

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned here that I took the next step in my hospice training. I did bereavement training a few months ago–sort of my current “major” in hospice work. My brain and heart continue to expand.

I still love my hospice work. I just felt called to explore the next steps–what comes when a client’s journey is done, and the survivors are left to pick up the pieces of their lives. My supervisor Lorraine says, bereavement support kicks in “when the casseroles stop coming.”

I’ve joined a drop-in bereavement group at local hospice facility as a volunteer assistant facilitator. This group of people have been through so much pain and distress. They soldier on, sharing their grief with others who are on the same journey. I am humbled in their presence.

Last week I was asked if I’d be interested in facilitating a grief journaling support group. I could almost feel my heart leap as I exclaimed, “Oh, YES, I’d LOVE to do that!”

And of course, within ten minutes, I was paralyzed by the responsibility. I…can’t…..do…..this!!!!

I’m implementing my standard strategy of trying to ignore my absolutely bonkers left brain (committee/critic/commentator) and begging my right brain (faith/hope/intuition) to step in.

So today I’m sending frantic emails to my poor bereavement supervisor, who is trying to be on vacation this week. I start each missive with an apology and a note to just let it sit in her in-box until she gets back, followed by a list of ideas, thoughts, questions.

And of course, I worry that she’s already regretting asking me to do this.

I’m researching grief journaling, sending away for books on poetry-writing.

And as always, I’m trying to remember my friend Quinn McDonald’s advice. When I’m frantic, I take a minute to see where that’s coming from. Hmmmmm….the fear this experiment won’t be perfect. Which makes it….about me. And this work is definitely not about me.

I am astonished how tied up this all is with my artwork. The themes of healing and connection, of what it means to be human, of what binds us together and sets us apart… All currently a big ball of soft, tangled yarn in lovely, shimmery colors.

And as my little diamond dove Malchik wings his way around my studio and lands on my shoulder, curious to see what the frantic clicking noise is I make with my fingers on my keyboard, I think of that haunting poem by Rumi:

The way of love is not
a subtle argument.

The door there
is devastation.

Birds make great sky-circles
of their freedom.
How do they learn it?

They fall, and falling,
they’re given wings.

— Mawlana Jalal-al-Din Rumi

The workshop runs in February, once a week for a month. Wish me luck. Send me your thoughts & suggestions, too.

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Filed under art, creativity, hospice, lessons from hospice, writing

COUNT THE HOURS

A reader left a comment yesterday on my LESSONS FROM HOSPICE Part Deux essay. Only sixteen hours of the last year could be devoted to art due to family circumstances.

Now if sixteen hours is all you got, that’s a lot.

Here’s another thing to consider….

Months ago, I read an essay (and I apologize from the bottom of my heart that I cannot remember where I read it) on writing.

The author was working on a book project. At first, they tried to write whenever they had a good chunk of time. Over the course of a year, that came to a handful of days and half-days, and something like 10,000 words. Sounds impressive.

The next six months, they resolved to write for twenty minutes a day, no matter what.

In three months, they wrote 50,000 words.

That stopped me in my tracks.

Yes, some projects take a depth of concentration, a certain amount of time.

But others don’t.

So two possibilities are open to you:

Work in smaller time chunks.

Or….

Work on projects that don’t demand that total immersion. This is the time to work on sketches, samples, smaller works or simpler pieces.

I thought I didn’t have enough time to write and post this today. And for sure I don’t have time to do a deep editing.

But I started anyway, and this is how far I got in ten minutes.

How did I do? :-)

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Filed under art, balance, choices, craft, creativity, life, time management, writing

NEW COLUMN AT Fine Art Views!

Wonderful news! In addition to my column at THE CRAFTS REPORT magazine (scroll down to my regular column, “Craft Matters”), I have a new writing gig!

I’ve just accepted a position as a regular contributing writer for the Fine Art Views Newsletter, a newsletter with almost 11,000 readers.

It’s a free daily newsletter packed full of tips for making, marketing, exhibiting, teaching and selling your art.

They’ve reprinted several of my articles in the past, such as this one on LEAVING YOUR TRIBE. Now I’ll be contributing on a regular basis–every other Thursday to start, perhaps more often if I get organized. (Don’t get your hopes up, but then, anything can happen….)

I’ll be sure to post a link to their newsletter when they run my stuff. Be sure to add lots of comments about how wonderful I am how helpful you find my articles. If I have to resort to bribery, I will.

Oops, you didn’t hear me say that!!

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WRITING A BOOK

The rewards of writing a book go way, way past the money stuff.

A fellow craftsperson wrote me recently. She’s been asked by a publisher to write a book! Excited and a wee bit overwhelmed, she asked if I had any suggestions or comments.

You know me. I got a million of ‘em.

But for your sake, and for the sake of the customer who is waiting patiently for me to ship their order to them this week, I will be succinct.

Yes, I wrote a book on carving stamps. It was the first of its kind, and I’m still proud of it. I’d love to write more books someday. (Anybody out there in the book publishing world listening? Helloooooo….?)

If you are considering writing a book–especially if a publisher has approached YOU about writing a book–

DO IT!!

Why especially if a publisher asks you? Because half the work is done. You don’t have to send out dozens of book proposals and then wait for all the rejections. You don’t have to second-guess what kind of book they’re looking for. You don’t have to prove yourself–they’re already into you!

Don’t expect to get rich from it, or even make very much. It’s possible, of course, but not likely.

However, the publicity, the credentialing, the excitement, the entire experience, will be worth it.

So how much money are we talking about?

You will be given an advance to start writing the book. An advance is money paid out by the publisher before actual publication, in anticipation of what the book will bring in dollar-wise.

As the book sells, your advance is deducted from the royalties due you. If the book outsells their expectations, you get a royalty check. If the book doesn’t sell well, you keep your advance but you don’t get any more money.

I was paid an advance of a couple thousand dollars for my book. Now, this was before publishing took a major hit and before we bailed out a lotta banks for a few billion dollars. I don’t know if that is industry standard anymore or not.

Despite good sales, I’ve not received a penny more in royalties. I am not the Harry Potter of craft book authors.

The advance was good money for me, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

But more than just the money, I’ve gained a lot in exposure, in web presence, in credibility as an author for writing that book. I got more writing gigs because of it.

And this was for a book that wasn’t even about my main art form. It was about my art hobby. If you are asked to do a book on your own art medium, you would benefit even more. I would have gotten a lot more mileage from my book if stamp carving had been my major art form, or if I’d written a book about my wall hangings or polymer work.

When you’re finally asked, is it scary? Oh, yeah. Exciting, wonderful, and yes, also daunting. Kinda like having a baby.

Things to keep in mind:

An editor will work along with you, so you don’t have to “construct” the entire project yourself.

Publishers also usually do their own photography, so no need to worry about that.

They may have a specific “recipe” or format in mind for the book–is it part of a series of other crafts? This will help you select projects, etc.

Most importantly, there’s another reason writing a book is like having a baby:

You really can’t change your mind halfway through.

A lot of people START books.

A publisher’s biggest fear is that you will not FINISH the book.

They lose a ton of money if they invest an editor, time, money and space in their publishing schedule…. then the author freaks out and refuses to complete the project.

So….Do everything you can to meet deadlines and work with their schedule. If you renege on the deal, you will find it difficult–if not impossible–to ever work with that publisher again. Probably any publisher. Word does get around….

Cooperate with their proposed format. The publisher asked me to write a book for their Weekend Crafter series. I got carried away. I was determined to write the compleat work on stamp carving (and no, didn’t spell that wrong, look it up. I think I scared my editor with all my grand ideas for additions and “improvements”, til she gently reined me in with the response, “You need to save that for your next book.”

Good communication is key.

One last tip:

Don’t be afraid to let the real “you” shine through. Whatever is distinctive about your personality–your quirky sense of humor, your way of turning a phrase–it is an asset. (Unless you’re mean.) Don’t get so caught up in the “professional artist” thing that you sacrifice your blithe spirit in the process.

And one last thought:

It may seem like a big, daunting project. But you will be working on it one section, one project, one chapter, one deadline at a time. Just like eating an elephant, you will take it one bite at a time.

In the end, it will be worth it in so many ways, things that will last long after the book is out.

I still get a kick out of people who show up at my shows, or my open studios, with a copy of my book in hand, and ask me to sign it.

I still love looking up the reviews of my book, and reading the wonderful things people said about it, and about me.

I still feel a frisson of pride when I come across my book on a store shelf, or when I display it in my studio.

I love mentioning oh-so-casually that I’m an author. I love remarking that both my husband and I are published writers, and our kids have had their work published in before they were out of elementary school. (Doug and Robin’s carved stamps appeared in another Lark book.)

I admit it, I am a small person at heart when it comes to being proud of my book.

Caveat: This was my book writing experience. Your mileage may vary. Your experience may be even nicer, or maybe not so nice.

But I still think it’s worth doing.

Any questions?

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Filed under art, craft, publishing, taking chances, writing, writing a book

TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS #12: The Muse Never Falters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It hit me like a ton of bricks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because it has to. Or I’ll die.

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

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

What’s important is–it’s back.

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

I just have to do it.

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