FINDING YOUR PLACE IN THE WORLD: The Story of the Pusher

No, not that kind of pusher. Let me explain.

Years ago, I came across a collection of science fiction stories, one of my favorite literary genres.

One story really grabbed me. It’s stayed with me for decades.

An alien ship is stranded in space. Its crew is an assortment of life forms, all serving in extremely specific roles: There is a Brain, who oversees the mission; the Eye who charts their course, the Ear that listens for messages from other ships and planets, and so forth.

It turns out its Pusher–the life form that actually makes the ship go–has died in an unfortunate accident. Unless they can find another Pusher–fast–they will all die, too.

Fortunately, they discover they are very close to a planet of rogue Pushers–Pushers who have cut off for so long from their fellow Pushers, they don’t even realize they ARE Pushers. Having no knowledge of their true place in life, they vent their frustration and and anxiety by waging war on one another. This horrifies the crew. But they know they have no choice but to try to enlist one of them to Push.

They find a lone Pusher and somehow get him on the ship. He’s a human being (of course) from Earth.

He’s terrified of the strange creatures on board. He’s angry he’s been kidnapped. He can’t believe what the aliens are telling him–that his true calling–humanity’s true calling in life–is to “make spaceships go”. He can’t believe that war, conflict, murder, violence among his people are all because they are not able to do what they are meant to do. That humans are deeply unhappy and feel misplaced and unbalanced, because their purpose in life has been untapped for ages.

The aliens beg him to consider their offer. Turns out there isn’t much keeping him on earth-no family, few friends, hates his work. It might be an amazing adventure! They can even bring him back to Earth, if he desires. Or he can explore the universe with them. They assure him that there are many other planets of (ushers, so he will have lots of company. They will reward him if he signs on.

He begins to feel at ease with them. He sympathizes with their plight. He wishes he could help.

But he still protests. He has no idea how to “push” a spaceship.

They guide him to his post. “Just try,” they plead.

The last sentence? “Slowly, the ship began to move.”

I’ve never found that story since, and I have no idea who wrote, or when. But every time I think of it, a little shiver goes through my heart.

Now, I don’t really believe that my main purpose in life is to push a spaceship. At least, I’d hate to give up my art and my writing to even push a car. (Now, if they had needed someone to hunt-and-gather lovely objects from thrift shops, beaches and antique stores…..)

But I love the concept that there are reasons for us to be here, even if we cannot always see the reasons, or understand them.

I love that this story is one way of explaining that.

And I love that even if we don’t think we know how to Push, it is in our nature to recognize when we need to Push.

I know when I finally stepped up to being an artist, something in my life began to move.

I know when I overcame my fears and became a martial artist, something in my life shook loose.

I know when I realized I was not too old to learn how to ride a horse, something in my life became richer.

I know when I became a hospice volunteer, something in my heart expanded.

Now it’s California. I don’t know what that’s about yet. I think I know, but I really don’t.

But I know when it’s time to Push, I will.

P.S. I just found the story! (I love the interweb….) It’s called “Specialist” by Robert Sheckely, and was published in 1953–one year after I was born!

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HERO’S JOURNEY part deux: Answering the Call

We’re still moving to California. But things have slowed down.

Well. Not really. Jon originally said we would be gone by winter. We got a little carried away by the thought we might make it much, much sooner. Then life through us a few hiccups which I won’t go into because I’ll start whining again. Some of the hiccups are major. Some are wicked hard. But none have changed our original goal–to be outta here before the snow flies and the ice slides again.

In our initial enthusiasm, we blabbed and bubbled a lit-tul too much. So now, when people see us here in Keene, they exclaim, “You’re still here?!”.
It’s embarrassing, but inevitable. We feel perhaps we’ve outstayed our welcome.

And of course, now I’m working my way through my studio, picking things to keep, slowly sorting things to sell or donate or give away. Couches are replaceable. A printer’s type tray chest is not easily replaced. But it’s not easily moved either.

One of my TWO chests of printer's type tray/drawers. And the box of creepy doll heads.

One of my TWO chests of printer’s type tray/drawers. And the box of creepy doll heads.

And slowly, understandably, our dream of California is fading. It’s hard to remember what set us on fire to move, as the reality sets in: living in a stripped-down home, packing up box after box of books, winter clothing, art supplies and sorting through a lifetime’s collection of wonderful knickknacks.

Last Friday, I wrote Hero’s Journey, sharing how a friend’s words of wisdom got me back on track. A few days ago, I found my own words of wisdom to describe where we’re at.

We went to California, as we had so many times before. We’ve always enjoyed it. But we never felt we could live there. We had so many reasons why it wasn’t possible: The traffic, the density of people, the sky-high cost of housing.

This time, it was different. It created a powerful sense of yearning that I couldn’t ignore, and couldn’t forget.

Weeks later, when Jon shared he felt the same way as I did, I felt a rush of joy. I realized we had BOTH heard the call. And we could both choose to answer it.

That’s it. That’s what all this life upheaval is about.

Only afterwards did we layer our choice with explanations and rationalizations. Yes, it’s the chance of a lifetime for both of us to reboot–professionally, physically, emotionally.

When people challenge you about your decision (“Are you crazy?? Why would you ever want to leave here?!”), they will accept that your husband needs to do it for his work. And that he needs it for his mental health. (Seasonal affective disorder and the Northeast climate do not mix. Trust me on this.)

We eventually grew quite a list of excellent reasons why we needed to do this. I could rattle them off right now for you. But this is all you really need to know:

We heard the Call.

And we are answering it.

The first time I heard the Call in my life, I felt like a great wave had engulfed me (in a good way.) It was a clarion call to take up my art, and assume my place in the world. I answered with my full intention, with my heart and soul.

The times I’ve heard it since, I’ve done the same. I answered. I acted, with my full intention.

I have never, EVER regretted it.

Each time it has opened a door in my life. When I walk through, everything falls into place. When I look back, I see miracles and angels. Sometimes, I have to “lie down in a dark room” for a bit, because it is so powerful.

My only regret? The one time I ignored it. It was “too hard”, “too far away”, and I “didn’t have the time.”

That’s it. It’s that simple.

We heard the Call. And all our intentions are focused on answering it.

How do you tell it from an ordinary whim? From an ordinary “post-vacation buzz?”

I don’t know what to tell you. Except that maybe vacations are trying to tell us something, and we’ve simply gotten used to ignoring them.

We didn’t want to come home.

Because suddenly, wonderfully, we already were.

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HERO’S JOURNEY

I’m struggling with a lot of issues and thoughts lately. This big move is unsettling. We know more than ever that we need to move. And we know we WANT to move. But when, and where, and what to do with a very few but oh-so-precious companions and fragile, vulnerable loved ones, confound and confuse us.

Layer that with questions about how to keep our hearts open and loving, while protecting ourselves from the people who would destroy us by gentle nibbling or explosive bites….

With the feeling that it’s truly time to dig deep into issues of compassion and forgiving, while still protecting ourselves….

Trying to let go of the people who aren’t there for us (when we were there for them) while graciously accepting help from the people who are…

Well, it’s been a bit of a jumble.

As always, listening and writing help. And actually sitting down and making things helps, too. In the midst of donating, selling, giving stuff away, it’s even more important than ever to honor my creative spirit. That’s easy to forget while working on the ever-growing to-do list.

As always, someone speaks magic words. And for a brief moment, there is clarity. Clarity that gets me through another day.

Last week, I complained to a friend that she and a very few people were helping me a lot, more than I felt comfortable with. While other people were doing very little, if anything at all. It felt out of whack, unbalanced. “But it’s your turn!” she said. I still didn’t get it, so she explained. When we reach out and help others, whether it’s helping them move, helping them with information they need, helping them by simply listening, we will “get it back”. But not necessarily from that person.

“Your good energy goes out into the universe,” she said. “And when you need that energy–when it’s your turn–it comes back. But it usually comes back through other people, not the people you feel ‘owe’ you.”

Well. That just shut me right up. I had to stop and think about it. It made so much sense. I am getting everything I need right now. And it’s coming from all over the map of my friendships, some from very old places and much from very new places.

It also gave me an insight into letting go of resentment. Friends are not a balance sheet, where I tally up what was given and what I’m owed, and vice versa. Do the truly good work you can do. Put it out there. Trust that it will come back when you really need it. In fact, as I look back, that is exactly how we’ve been helped through excruciating circumstances the last few years. (Probably forever!) Chance meetings, acquaintances, total strangers often gave us exactly what we needed, to help us take the next step. Almost every day, a miracle occurred. It still astonishes me. And now I can relax, and see them right here under my nose. (Thank you, Roma!)

Of course, being human, this heart of mine, trying to be so gentle, soon got all gritchy again. Last night, over a glass of wine, I complained to another friend that all the joy seems to have drained out of our decision to move.

When I try to remember what moved us to do this, it feels like a dream. Now, we feel dominated by the harsh realities of a job search, determining the actual destination, recognizing the costs involved, dealing with the disruption to our lives.

At the same time, I’m highly sensitive to the fact that this isn’t “awful, hard stuff”–no one is dying, no one is injured, no one is forcing us to do this. I’m embarrassed to complain so much. And our dream of California, which made so much sense a year ago, now seems a bit frivolous.

She said that when we’re in a state with so much upheaval and confusion, it can feel awful. Because it IS unsettling.

It’s not possible, nor even advisable, to think logically about the move right now. We’ll make assumptions based on information that isn’t certain–perhaps even wrong.

And it’s even more important to remember the dream.
“I think of ‘dreaming’ as light-hearted,” she said. “There’s no attachment. It’s…creative. And deeply spiritual.” She commented that all the aspects of the dream that mean so much to me–the light, the ocean, the big sky, the climate–all speak of deep connections to nature. She believes that connection is fundamental to all people, but especially creative people.

Assumptions, on the other hand, are heavy, and negative, and too attached to outcome. It is the antithesis of ‘the call’.

‘The call’?

I realize that is exactly what this desire feels like. A call, for something we couldn’t even articulate at first. As we tried to define it, we attached certain aspects to it that made sense: More sunshine and richer professional connections for Jon. I don’t know what for me. I hesitate to even name it for myself.

But we both felt that call, before we even had words for it. Despite us trying to nail it down, make it concrete, apply logic and reason to it, it remains largely indescribable. In many ways, not logical.

And we both still yearn for it deeply, in a way that’s still hard to articulate. That moment of us discovering the other felt exactly the same way still astonishes me when I think of it.

I’ve felt this call a handful of times in my life. I answered it, every time except once. Each time I responded, my heart has grown larger, my life has grown richer.

My only regret? The time I didn’t answer.

Erika explained, telling me about Joseph Campbell’s description of the hero’s journey. There is the call. There is the challenge–the obstacles that get in the way. You must conquer the challenge. Your reward? The gift you bring back to your people. (Erika’s version was simpler and eliminated the ‘woman as temptress’ thing which is unnecessarily obnoxious for me right now.)

She gave me just what I needed right now.

I’ve decided to take a mental vacation as I work on my giant to-do list. I’m indulging in a little “California Dreamin'”. Oh, I’m still here, packing up winter clothes, clearing out a box or two, running to the library to donate yet more books. Trying to clear a space in my studio to work.

But last night, as I drifted off to sleep, I would not let myself worry. Or plan. Or even think about my to-do list. I set aside my thoughts of Doug, and Robin, and Bunster.

Instead, I thought of huge rolling waves.

A beach filled with shiny pebbles.

Golden light from a big, big sky.

A sense of coming home.

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LEARNING TO SEE: An Art-Making Class with Kristina Wentzell

I painted my very first picture this week. (I mean, I tried to paint a unicorn flying around a mountain in high school but it sucked big time.)

My friend and co-Keene Art Tour founder Kristina Wentell teaches painting classes–the kind where she walks you through the steps and you go home with a painting that same day. It was fun, I enjoyed it very much, and I like my painting enough that I took it in to Creative Encounters to be framed. I’ll post the finished piece when I get it back.

In the meantime, read about my experiences here on Kristina’s blog.

I realize I’ve never taken a painting class before because they’re always a long, drawn-out affair–you learning to paint. Kristina shows you how to paint a replica of her painting. No, it doesn’t make you an artist. But you get a sense of what it looks like, and what it feels like, to create a painting. And that’s what just might pull you in to pursue it more.

Plus you go home with your own little “masterpiece” that night. Near-instant gratification!

I can has a painting!

I can has a painting!

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COMPLETING THE CIRCLE: You With Your Art, Your Art With Your Customer

I love it when it's so crowded in my booth, you can't even see me!

I love it when it’s so crowded in my booth, you can’t even see me!

Yesterday I wrote this column for Fine Art Views. It’s about the excuses we make when it comes to selling our art. (It’s part of a series I’ve written about why you should do open studios.

One of the comments caught my attention big time. To paraphrase, the reader said, “Making art is so very different from selling it.”

It may seem that way. Many artists believe it.

But actually, no. It really isn’t different.

Art-making is a circle: You make the art, you get your art into the world in all kinds of ways and manner…to connect your to an audience.

Selling is simply one way of connecting your work to an audience. It’s part of the creative process.

As artists, we think of the “making” as the creative part–often our favorite part! We’ve learned to see what others may not see. By capturing a moment, a trick of the light, a feeling, we urge others to look more closely. By sharing an image that sparks a memory, an idea, an insight, we connect that spark to others.

Yes, we may make art for what it does for us. Perhaps we feel more human, or more whole, or simply happier.

But art is bigger than us. Art is bigger when it connects to others.

When I create work inspired by ancient cave paintings, there is a deepening in myself I can actually feel. But what really breaks my heart wide open is when others see what I see, feel what I feel. For a brief moment, the “I” inside me connects to the “I” inside you.

Art is meant to be shared. (Only when we fear being ridiculed, or punished, or ignored, do we hide it. Because that could be painful for us in so many ways!) We make it, but for the real work to happen, it has to get out into the world. (Did I say “work”?? I really mean “miracle”! Bear with me….)

When our world was much smaller, it was pretty easy for others to see what we made. We knew who the artist/shaman was in our little community. We knew who made the most beautiful weavings, or carvings, whether functional or pure adornment.

The difference now is, the world is a lot bigger, our communities more diverse. We just have to work a little harder.

And so we do exhibitions and shows. We have websites. We send out postcards, and catalogs, and mailings. We create publicity with press releases and events like art receptions, open studios and installations.

And we try to sell our work. (Not all art is sold, of course, nor does all art have to be sold. But when it is–oh my!)

Some of us hate this entire connection process, especially the selling part. Others find it just as creative as the actual making. I do! I love how much people enjoy my postcards. I like welcoming people into my studio. I enjoy reading people’s reactions to a post I’ve made or an image I’ve shared on Facebook.

Where most of us get stuck is getting people to actually buy the stuff.

But if you look at selling as a creative process, too, it becomes a logical outcome of our entire creativity circle. Hopefully, recognizing it will make it more enjoyable–or at least less frustrating!

“Selling? Creative?!”, I can almost hear you say. “What the….?!!!” Bear with me again!

First there is the creative process of story-telling: What we choose to tell people about our work. Some focus on the “how” and the “what”–How did we come to do this work, and how did we get here? (We focus on our resume and credentials.) What did we see, and how do we did we try to capture that? (We focus on our technique and skills.)

For me, the “why” creates more power: Why do I get inspiration from this cave? Why does making this work bring me joy? Why do I use the techniques and materials I use?

But that may not be enough. So here’s where the next creative process comes into play….

We create ways for our audience to make their own connections.

They are the ones who will assign new meaning to what we’ve made. They will fit it into their lives, their homes.

This is where we let our audience tell their story.

Now it’s time for us to ask them questions. Now we ask them the “why”.

Ask your buyer: What attracted you to my work? Why does it bring joy to you? What do you see? What does it remind you of? What does it say to you? And why do you desire to have it for yourself? What place in your home would you hang it, and why? If it’s a gift, why did you select this piece for that person? Who is this person to you, that you are giving them such an amazing gift?

And when they come back to you next year for more, they will have even more to tell you. What else they’ve noticed. How it’s influenced, or even changed them. What other people have said about it. How much the friend enjoyed it.

These are the foundation blocks of the selling process. We establish a way for our audience to connect emotionally, spiritually, to us, and to our work.

When I first started getting my work out into the world, it took me awhile to get this concept. I thought it was all about me, the artist. And so I talked as much as people let me. I sold quite a bit of my work, so I figured it was what worked.

But one day I realized something was missing.

I was focused totally on my experience. I was not giving attention to my customer’s experience.

When I stopped talking and started actively listening, I was astonished by what I heard.

People saw things I hadn’t seen. They told stories I hadn’t thought of. Their connection to what I’d made was just as powerful as the connection I had through making it.

People always ask me what the markings mean on my artifacts. I had my thoughts. But I was astonished what other people saw–sometimes with profound possibilities. Some folks saw musical notation–and now we know how important sound was to ancient people. Some saw a map. A child saw constellations.

The Lascaux Bull now thought to depict the world's first star map (Taurus, of course!)

The Lascaux Bull now thought to depict the world’s first star map (Taurus, of course!)

None of these had ever occurred to me. Yet now I can’t see those markings without a ginormous sense of wonder. A miracle has occurred….

My world was changed and enriched by their connection.

Now when I sell a piece of my work, whether it’s a $50 pair of earrings or a $2,000 framed piece, there is a satisfaction way beyond the actual money transaction. (Although when someone exchanges with me their hard-earned money for my work, that is high praise indeed!)

The satisfaction comes from my feeling the circle is complete.

So why did I mention miracles earlier?

Because miracles are a shift in perspective, from fear to love.

Here is the final miracle:

We can lose the fear of selling. And instead, we can embrace the deep, powerful connection with the world, it represents.

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MY MONKEY DISCLAIMER (and my new bumper sticker)

Some readers have been asking what the heck is going on with the monkey thing. (You can read the previous two posts here

I just wanted to clarify that the most recent event is not the bigger event. It was just a tiny piece of straw on the camel’s back.

Every year, it seems I “take on” a friend in need. I pour all my extra energy into helping them take “that next step”. I totally get that sometimes it’s a way to distract myself from my own stuff. But sometimes it’s just about being there for someone who needs you.

When it works, they step forward. And I step back. They’re grateful, but they don’t need my support more anymore. I know I did the right thing, and we both move on.

Sometimes it ends badly. I get that, too. That’s the whole a reason, a season, a lifetime story when it comes to friendships.

The biggest one, the one that really blew my powder keg, was almost a year ago. It hit very close to home. So close, I don’t want to publish the details on the internet. I apologized for getting upset (but not for saying my truth). I am very proud that, despite my anger, I left certain words unsaid (which I can’t say for the other people involved.) ‘Nuff said.

The circus/monkey mantra thing simply saved me from going any deeper into the latest, more recent circus/monkey things.

I don’t blame the people involved. I will never stop “being there” for people when I feel the call.

And I don’t blame myself. I’m usually pretty good at getting out before things go south.

But sometimes I overstay my welcome. And that’s why I ordered a new bumper sticker yesterday. It says, “Not my circus. Not my monkeys.”

You can get yours at Zazzle.com!

You can get yours at Zazzle.com!

Right next to the one that says, “Brake for moose, it could save your life.”

I love it when we drive to Pennsylvania, because it puzzles people.

I love it when we drive to Pennsylvania, because it puzzles people.

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MORE ABOUT THAT: Circuses, Monkeys, Big Effin’ Fence

This is my circus. Please note: No monkeys. (I gave them all to Barb G.) Any monkeys involved are YOUR monkeys. Thank you.

This is my circus. Please note: No monkeys. (I gave them all to Barb G.) Any monkeys involved are YOUR monkeys. Thank you.

So my post the other day on the frustration of not being accepted for who you are, and not being respected for what you know, was actually more like hurt feelings and anger.

I got that as soon as I wrote it. (That’s why I write, after all. To figure all this stuff out.)

But it felt wonderful to be able to say, “It hurts! And you were only allowed to hurt me because I trusted you! Because I thought I had something useful to share, information that could help YOU!!”

The next day came this new mantra:

Not my circus. Not my monkeys.

That’s when I realized everything that was hurting me and stressing me, were things I’d picked up. Things I wanted to fix. Things I thought I could help with. (Hell’s bells, where did my hospice training go??!!)

I had the experience, I had the knowledge, I had the training, I’d even made it through the aftermath. Surely someone might benefit from that! (After all, part of my mission is that I some share things I’ve learned the hard way, so that you don’t always have to….)

And I ended up in someone else’s circus, with someone else’s monkeys.

So what do you do when you want to be open and you want to be vulnerable, so something new can come in? But you’re also sick and tired of said heart being emotionally and spiritually trampled?

Here comes the next step in my mailbox today: “Open, gentle heart. Big fucking fence.”

Danielle LaPorte is much braver and fierce than I am. I’m in awe of her.

I see where she’s going with this, and I want to go there, too. I’m going to keep that practice, of doing the work and growing. I’ll be brave, and I’ll do the work.

But the big fence is okay, too. You don’t get in until you show me you can act respectfully of what is being given. And if you do make a mess, and don’t clean up after yourself?

well, that’s my own damn fault for believing you were who you say your are.

I wasn’t wrong for giving you the benefit of the doubt. But I will be slower about letting you in the next time, and quicker to boot you out if you fustlecate. (I just made that up.)

Just in time. Because right now things are hard. But they don’t have to be.

Deep breath.

Let it go.

And get back out there, back into the game.
Into the big wide open adventure of my life.

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