You can read my latest column for The Crafts Report magazine here:
You can read my latest column for The Crafts Report magazine here:
Some things in life–kids; dogs; art–just don’t much much sense. Until you look back and try to imagine your life without them.
My husband and I, we weren’t too wild about kids–until we had kids.
We weren’t too crazy about dogs, either–until we got a dog.
So what, you say? What does this have to do with art?
I’m saying there are some things you can’t make a rational decision about. Until you jump in and embrace them fully.
Kids. Dogs. Art.
Stand on the outside, and it doesn’t look very practical. It’s all very well to say “Follow your bliss, and the money will follow.” It’s another thing to wonder just how you’ll pay the mortgage with that fancy art degree you just got.
If you’re on the outside looking in, it’s very easy to say, “Well, there’s just no way.”
Some people take a quick peek, but say, “Well, it’s just not a good time. Maybe next year.” To which my mother wisely said, “It’s never a good time to have children.”
This was some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten. Because once you step inside that world, you will somehow find a way to make it work.
Because you have to.
Some of us cobble it together. We work part-time at our art, and have a day job somewhere else. We take on other creative ways to generate income: Teaching, writing, consulting. Or we work full-time at our craft while a spouse, hopefully following their passion, carries the bulk of the financial load. Some of us do a lot of production work that pays for the big intuitive projects, the ‘big art’, that may or may not ever sell. Some of us actually hire other people to help us get our vision out into the world, and we end up running a real business with real employees and sick days and benefits packages.
It’s all okay.
The important thing is, we knew deep down inside we had to do this–and we do it.
Something inside said, “If you don’t do this, there’s a chance you won’t miss it.
But there’s a bigger chance you’ll passed by the opportunity to experience something really, really important.”
Art isn’t for everyone. Just like kids and dogs aren’t for everyone.
But once you embrace that destiny, there’s a good chance you’ll find you can’t imagine your life without it.
When I published the PUPPIES article, people asked me what “torch wipes” were.
I had no idea. Googling didn’t turn much up at the time.
But I kept thinking about it. Gentle readers, I am nothing if not concerned about you getting answers to all your questions.
Well, I just found out what torch wipes are.
I found this wonderful article by Elizabeth Dodd, director of the creative writing program at Kansas State University.
Ms. Dodd was fortunate enough to be invited to actually visit the cave of Chauvet in France. I envy her with all my heart. In a good way.
…At some point in time, other visitors to the cave marked their way with torch wipes, rubbing the burning surface to knock off ash and renew the flame—and perhaps if the way was unknown to them, to leave signs of the route back up and out….
So there you have it, folks. Torch wipes. Who knew??!!
And what will I do with that envy?
I will put it to good use.
I’m thinking it’s time for another trip to France, to visit the caves I can. I found other sites in Germany, sites that were the home of wonderful artifacts (including the oldest horse artifact ever discovered) that might be open to the public.
If anyone knows someone in the “cave art biz” (is there such a thing??) or someone who can pull strings in the French or German government, start pulling for me now!
I just realized I never republished my article “Puppies” that I wrote for The Crafts Report. And I already have a P.S. to add to the article! So….here it is.
It’s been a typical wild and crazy month, craft biz-wise. Someone filmed a video of me and my work; I was artist of the month at a local gallery; I had my first trunk show, I had some great sales off my web site.
All exciting stuff. But not funny.
“Write about the puppies,” my husband said.
The last few weeks we were foster parents for two rescue puppies—street dogs, or “Potcakes” from the Turks and Caicos islands in the Caribbean, where we got our own puppy, our first dog, last year. Tuck adored the wee visitors and played with them constantly.
Yesterday we found the puppies’ forever home, a little family that is the perfect fit. We said goodbye to our little wards last evening. We woke up today to our first morning sans puppies. We all feel a little sad. Tuck sits with his head in my lap, gazing woefully at me. A line from the song “Puppies” by the Incredible String Band wanders through my head….”Hey, hey, the puppies, they are gone. Left me here, holding this song….”
“I can’t write about puppies!” I exclaimed. “They have nothing to do with my craft biz.
Jon just smiled and said again, “Write about the puppies.”
I’ve always resisted doing “any old animal” in my art, despite many customer requests. And I get requests all the time. “Do you do dolphins?” “Can you make a turtle?” Resulting in my favorite cheerful yet gentle response to one inquiry, “Sorry, there were no kitties in the Lascaux cave.” (Interestingly, this remark also appeared in the video, as a shot of a page from one of my countless journals…)
But having a dog has changed my life, no doubt about it. And the presence of this intelligent, highly intuitive, mischievous creature in our home has me wondering…. What is the “Ancient Contract”? And just how long have dogs been with us humans??
The old answer, 10,000 to 11,000 years, was based on actual dog remains in burial mounds. So, after Lascaux. But DNA studies now suggest the break of dogs from wolves started earlier, up to 100,000 years ago, perhaps the result of changes in behavior and diet. Marks of a human hand? Perhaps. And new evidence found in older European caves indicate the dog domestication process surely began as long ago as 30,000 years.
And to clinch it, here are the words that grabbed my heart today:
“…ancient, 26,000-year-old footprints made by a child and a dog (discovered) at Chauvet Cave, France…(Evidence from) torch wipes accompanying the prints indicate the child held a torch while navigating the dark corridors accompanied by a dog.”
The words of my own artist statement echoing back to me: “Born by the flickering light of torches….”
So I’m writing about the puppies today.
After all, just as I can’t live my life without making room for my art, I cannot make my art without my life spilling into it, either. Just as my art informs my life, my life—with children, with silly pets, with the lessons I’ve learned from climbing, and martial arts, with chickens and yes, puppies, informs my art.
I suspect there is a dog artifact wending its way in the days ahead into my art. I know I will use my art in some way to support the Potcake rescue foundation: A fundraiser with my jewelry, perhaps some artwork to sell in their shop.
And here I am, writing about the puppies.
How did Jon get so smart?
And if he’s so smart, how come he can’t remember to wash the outside of the coffee mugs?
I know something of the puppies will remain with me, always. I know because I just found a last memento of our time with these little creatures….
A big pile of puppy poop in my studio.
Last week I made my first little dog artifacts.
Today I have pics of my very first dog pack. I love them so much already! I stayed with a very ancient-looking prototype, with long snout, upright and slightly cocked ears, and a curly tail. The curling tail seems to be the discerning characteristic of a dog versus a wolf or coyote. I could be wrong, but I’m going with it for now.
I also have two little otters who are different from their brethren. Their backs arch up. I think they look like they’re doing that thing kittens do, when they arch their backs and hop sideways. And look–see the tiny toes on this one’s feet??
Last summer, we came back from our first Caribbean vacation with a rescue dog. A puppy, in fact, from the Turks and Caicos Islands. Most people bring back a t-shirt or some shells, we came home with our first dog.
Watching him grow and adapt to our household has been a treat. I don’t think a day goes by that he doesn’t make us laugh.
He’s desperate to belong–a potcake cannot survive on the islands without his mates. Here in our home, it means fitting into our family. Watching his antics as he tries to befriend and play with our cats is a hoot.
There are no other dogs in our household, so of course he mimics many of the our cats’ behaviors. He has been around other dogs, of course. But he and the cats are together 24/7, so they are his first source of observation. For example, he noticed that both our cats take a piece of kibble, drop it on the floor, then eat it. And so he does the same.
The funniest cat imitation is how he goes up and down stairs. He watched our cats closely as a pup to see how they did it. Aha! One step at a time.
It worked when he was a puppy because he was the same size as our cats.
But he’s a lot bigger now. As he grew to the size of a border collie, it got harder and harder to scrunch up his body to take each single step. His contortions were extreme.
Yesterday, he had a sort of doggie breakthrough.
For the first time, he took the stairs in great, bounding leaps, three at a time. He practically flew up those stairs.
The look of pleased astonishment on his face was delightful. “Aha!”, he seemed to say. “I can bound!”
There’s a lesson in here for us; you know that, right?
When we have no other examples to learn from, we believe the right way–the ONLY way–is what we see around us.
We look to the people around us to learn “the right way” to do things.
That’s perfectly fine, if we are surrounded by excellent examples. But ask yourself: Perfect examples of what?
Not many artists grow up surrounded by artists and encouraged by other artists.
If you are a dog, there are only so many things you can do like a cat. No matter how many cats you surround yourself with, you cannot be a cat. No matter how much those cats wish you were a cat, you are still a dog. No matter how much they wish you were not a dog, it ain’t gonna happen.
If you yearn to make things with your hands, if you love to draw or paint, if you love to make music, or you must dance in order to think… (I urge you to listen til he gets to part about the little girl who could simply not sit still in school. It is astonishing.)
…And the people around you do not understand that….
What contortions would you put yourself through to fit in?
I scrunched to get up and down those “stairs”, for years. I’ll bet many of you did, too.
When I finally broke through, and created my own paradigm, I felt a freedom of spirit I hadn’t felt since I was a kid.
Ever since, I’ve encourage others do do the same–to find some way of getting their heart’s work out into the world.
Because when you try to bury who you really are, bad things can happen.
If you cannot be the artist you are meant to be, you may become a shadow artist.
I guess you CAN teach an old dog new tricks.
Where NOT to let your dog ride in a car.
We just learned a very expensive lesson today.
When we go in the car, our puppy Tuck rides in the back seat, preferably on the floor. He immediately would scrunch under the driver’s seat, which we thought was cute. “Oh, look!” I’d say, “He’s trying to get closer to us without actually getting in front!” (Which isn’t allowed.)
Two days ago, my “air bag” warning light came on. I took it in to the Subaru dealer today.
The service manager called me back a few minutes ago with an odd questions.
“Do you have a dog?” he asked.
“Yep”, I replied. How did he know??
“Is it a small dog?” he asked.
Wow, I thought, this guy is amazing! “Yes, he’s a puppy.”
Then I thought, did Tuck poop in the car??
Nope. Much worse. And much more expensive.
Turns out our little Tuck chewed through the air bag harness which is located…..under the driver’s seat. It will take at least four days for a new one to be sent, and it will cost $545 for the harness and it will take 2-3 hours of labor.
So here is my public service announcement: Do not let your darling little puppy-or-small-dog crawl under the car seats.
Because in addition to the candy wrappers/empty pop cans/gas receipts/other assorted trash, there is evidently a pricey little part under there that dogs just love to chew.
That, or Tuck is actually a gold-digging puppy who hoped to inherit our estate after we were killed in a car crash.
Naughty Tuck! But he’s in good company, as you can see from our other pets who create havoc with their chewing.
Living with intention makes for better dogs, and makes us better artists.
Our new puppy Tuck (he’s the stylin’ dude in the blue bandana) is a delight. Tuck is our first dog ever. He’s a little too smart, but funny, sweet and eager to please. He has already added a lot to our lives. Including a few little puddles and stinky poo piles. (He’s getting much better with housebreaking, though.)
Actually, we’re getting much better with housebreaking. Which is the point of today’s post.
We’re learning that training our dog means retraining ourselves.
This weekend we hired our local “dog whisperer”, Perry Davis, for a one-hour intensive puppy training class. Perry is amazing with dogs. He doesn’t have a website (yet) but if you are interested in his services, please email me privately and I will send you his phone number.
We found we were doing some things right. But there were quite a few things we could do better. And the time to start doing better is right now, in this stage of deep learning, before Tuck hits the human equivalent of adolescence. (Parents of teens know this is when you seem to become invisible and mute to your child.)
This is the time to take advantage of natural tendencies in a puppy (eager to please, follow the leader) to lay down a good foundation for all future training.
Our dog sees us as either a leader, or a follower. We need to establish ourselves as the leaders in every situation.
For example, we’ve been using “come” to get Tuck to go along with us. And already it was not working as well as it should. He was beginning to resist going for walks on his leash, and would end up sitting in defiance while we tugged and lugged on his collar. He loves to go home, though. So I would drive Jon and Tuck downtown, and then they would walk home from there. Not something we want to become a habit.
Perry showed us that we were giving Tuck mixed messages, and not taking advantage of a built-in tendency: A dog his age (four months) wants to follow.
In order to encourage him to do what he naturally would do, we should not face him and ask him to “come”. (“Come” should ask a dog to return to you, not go with you.) We were to turn around, face away from the dog, and go, with the firm command, “This way!”.
We tried it. Sure enough, his compulsion kicked in, and he hurried to catch up. It was amazing! It worked every time. Soon Tuck was walking downtown and back with us again.
My husband Jon, as always, was quick to see the subtle structure beneath the advice and suggestions Perry offered. It was Jon who noted that the sequence also trained us.
Changing the command and the posture also changed the whole balance of energy in the interaction.
“Come” asks for something to come to you–in this case, our dog. It hopes the “something” will come.
“This way!” is you taking charge, you going your way. And expecting that “something” to go along with you.
What an intriguing metaphor….
Of course, there are many times when it’s nice to ask.
And hope is a good thing. It’s always good to have hope.
But there are also times when you need to just get going. “This way!” This is what I want. This is where I want to go. Making our intention clear to the universe.
When we know what we want, when we take responsibility for our journey, all our energy will go into supporting that. Naturally, without fuss, with enthusiasm.
Not without obstacles, of course. There are busy streets and high hills to cross on our walk. There may be setbacks and issues.
But knowing we want to go there will give us the good energy and zest we need to make our way.
Such a useful management tool for dogs. And for us.
P.S. The title comes from an old joke about a guy who named his dog “Physician.” When they went out for walks, he could say, “Physician, heel thyself!”
My sun-lovin’ husband is happy, happy, happy, but despite avoiding the sun between 10 and 3, applying not one but two layers of sunblock (we’re talking zinc oxide here, people) and staying in the shade, I managed to get so sunburned I needed medical intervention. I love the idea of a tropical island, but I’m afraid I could never really survive on one.
Most people come back from the islands with seashells, or maybe a t-shirt. We came back with a potcake puppy.
We actually adopted our little sweetie (a male–we’re still arguing over names) from the Turks & Caicos SPCA. The folks there arranged every single detail of our adoption and transportation of this pup, and another one who will be eagerly welcomed at our own local animal shelter.
Our Monadnock Human Society has had such incredible success with their spay and neuter program that we actually have a shortage of mixed-breed dogs available for adoption in the region. The TCSPCA, on the other hand, is desperate to find homes for these abandoned dogs. They already have connections with other shelters in the U.S. We’re hoping this newest connection with our local shelter will result in more wonderful new homes for these amazing island dogs.
Traveling with these two puppies through three airports, customs, immigration, one delayed flight and a long layover, was a piece of cake. Many airport personnel were familiar with the dogs; you haven’t lived til you’ve seen a stern and proper customs official melt at the sight of one of these pups. One former islander laughed heartily and said, “Yah, we say ‘potcake’, but you say ‘MUTT’!” That’s exactly what they are, of course, lovable, affable mutts.
People unfamiliar with them cannot believe how relaxed and happy the puppies were. They really are mellow, loving dogs, and we hope more can find their way to the states.
And to get right back to business, here is this excellent article on fire safety for your booth by Candy Adams in Exhibitor magazine. It’s one of the best I’ve seen on the subject, and though it’s written for “the big guys” at major trade shows, it offers good insight and clarity for us artists/craftspeople and our more humble booths.