Tag Archives: life

THE YEAR OF (PAINFUL) GROWTH

We’re still in February and it’s been a rough year already.

We thought 2011 was bad. My best friend/lover/husband/sounding board and I hit one of those places in our marriage–you know what I’m talking about–where we’d look at each other and think (or even worse, say), “Who the hell are you, and what have you done with my husband/wife??!!”

Oh, we’ve gone to couples therapy before, for short-term help. And I mean really short-term. Sometimes we’d only need to meet with a referee counselor two or three times to get clear on our stuff. We jokingly referred to those interludes as ‘tune-ups’–just like a regular oil change to keep our partnership running smoothly.

This time, like our Subaru Forester, we went in for what we thought was an oil change, and ended up having to pull the engine. (No, we are no longer happy with Subaru.)

The repair process was simple, but not easy. If you want a year’s worth of couples counseling reduced down to a few suggestions, here are mine: Don’t assume–ask. Then listen to the answers. And don’t eat those restaurant leftovers unless you ask their owner first. (It’s one of those situations where preferring to ask for forgiveness instead of asking for permission will backfire. Just trust me on this one.) Oh, and the biggie: Value the relationship over having to be right.

It was a tough process, but we’re on the home stretch. We can now afford to look back and say, “I almost lost you” and be amazed. A good thing.

So what could be worse than almost losing your marriage?

Almost losing your kids.

Last fall was the time of extreme anxiety. Finding out your kid is in an abusive relationship? It’s the worst (or so we thought.) We had to tread carefully, keeping doors open, staying grounded, trusting in….well, trust. Putting our faith in the love and trust we’d built over the years.

We were rewarded with a happy outcome. Our child is safe. Life is good. We’re moving on. We breathed a grateful prayer. 2012 was going to be so much better!

Then, a few weeks ago, we got ‘the phone call.’

It’s the one in the middle of the night, the one you never want to get.

The police telling us there had been an accident.

Before my heart could stop, the caller rushed to assure us, “He’s okay! He’s okay!”

We nearly lost our other kid. To a car accident so fierce, our aforementioned Subaru Forester would now probably fit inside a large refrigerator. I still can’t look at the pictures without choking up.

He’s okay. Or rather, he’ll be okay. Miraculously, though his injuries are numerous, he will recover fully. It will be a long, hard journey, but someday he will be able to put this behind him. And I am very aware that this is not always the case, for so many people or the families they leave behind… My heart breaks for them.

Of course, there are blessings in all of this. I learn from everything, even the bad stuff. But sometimes it’s just too….too. As one of my sisters said years ago, delirious with pain after burning her hand badly while dealing with a small kitchen fire, and listening to us all tell her how lucky for her it was her left hand, not her right, just her hand, not her life, just the kitchen and not the house, etc., “Well, I don’t feel so damned lucky!!”

I just spoke with my beloved hospice supervisor, Lorraine, who struggled to find the right words today. I finally said, “Oh, yeah, there are are blessings here…..DAMN IT!!! And we both burst out laughing.

But…there are blessings.

I am grateful we both believed our marriage was worth fighting for.
I am grateful that my kids know for sure how much we love them. Or, if one of them isn’t sure, we’re getting another chance to prove it to him.
I am grateful for the people who listened. Really, truly listened
I am grateful for the small courtesies received from friends, and family, and complete strangers.
I am so, so grateful for the people who do not judge.

I’ve learned a lot, too.

I know now that a good day doesn’t depend on the weather, or how much I got done, or what didn’t go wrong. Sometimes a good day is simply a day where nobody dies.

Some people think we are ‘bearing up’ well. It’s simple. I know now that there are times when you know the worst has already happened, and times where you know the worst might yet happen. The first is a piece of cake, compared to the latter. I know now that the latter is much, much scarier, and harder to bear.

I know now that no matter what you’re going through, there are other people who understand. Those powerful words of Rosanne Cash, from her book Composed: A Memoir, still resonate in my heart:

You begin to realize that everyone has a tragedy, and that if he doesn’t, he will. You realize how much is hidden beneath the small courtesies and civilities of everyday existence. Deep sorrows and traces of great loss run through everyone’s lives, and yet they let others step into the elevators first, wave them ahead in a line of traffic, smile and greet their children and inquire about their lives, and never let on for a second that they, too, have lain awake at night in longing and regret, that they, too, have cried until it seemed impossible that one person could hold so many tears, that they, too, keep a picture of someone locked in their heart and bring it out in quiet, solitary moments to caress and remember…

I’ve learned that people will judge. It’s a knee-jerk reaction, though. I want to say to them, “Look, if the universe slapped us down or tried to KILL US whenever we did something careless, there wouldn’t be too many of us still walking around…” But I know it’s just human nature. It’s how we convince ourselves that something like that would never happen to us, a way to distance ourselves, a way to protect ourselves. “Well, my kid/husband/daughter would never do that!” Really? Huh…..

Today, my wish for you is what I would wish for myself.

Today, may your blessings be small ones. Simple ones. Easy ones.
May they involve a hug or two, and perhaps a good laugh, and someone to share it with.
May you get a chance to learn something the easy way. Not the hard way.
And may you always get a second chance, another chance to say, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” To say, “Thank you.”

To say, “I love you.”

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Filed under art, craft, gratitude, lessons from hospice, life lessons, life with teenagers, love

What Animals Are REALLY Thinking

You can read my latest column for The Crafts Report magazine here:

What Animals Are REALLY Thinking (About Us Craftspeople)

Enjoy!

Tuck as a puppy with his innocent look.

Bob, the very nervous guinea pig.

One of our many birds.

Chai, the world's funniest cat. Also the sheddiest.

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Filed under art, craft, funny, humor, The Crafts Report column

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 HATE WORDS (and Zen)

Sometimes I can be in the moment for like….60 seconds? If that. But today is one of those times where I just can’t fit the wisdom of zen into my life.

It’s one of those days where I made the mistake of comparing my words to someone else’s words, and theirs were better. A day where I realize how really, really, really jealous I am that someone else’s words have more recognition than mine–and MINE are better.

A day where my son and I, and my husband and I, exchanged all these words, sharp and angry and cutting…and I have never felt so far apart from understanding either of them, nor they me.

A day where someone’s careless words, admonishing me to “hurry up, people are waiting on you” erased my happy little moment. A day of my words, spilled in anger at a telemarketer–why didn’t I simply take a few seconds to be kind rather than righteously indignant and pompous? A day of words I used to try to curry favor from someone, hating myself the instant they were out of my mouth.

Even my shipment of custom mats for my new work turned out to be the wrong size. Because–yep, you guessed it–I used the wrong words to describe what I wanted.

I’m ready to spill over, frustrated with my lack of patience, my lack of self-respect, my lack of insight and tact and balance. I found myself actually crying in the shower. That time of month? Hah. That train has left the station, baby, and good-bye.

Today, I wish I’d had no words. Bah! Who needs ‘em?? They just get in the way of everything.

In the moment? I HATE this moment!!

But then I remember the sweet words I gave my horse today. She met me halfway when I asked her to do something. “Good girl!” I trilled. I know she heard me, too.

I remember I tried to make it up to my son. I reached out, let him know I’m just trying to figure out how to be a good mom to him. “I love you,” I said, as his door closed in my face. I could almost here him mutter “Whatever…” behind it.

Soon I will have to say, “I’m sorry” to my husband. Even though I still think I was right. I’m trying to remember that new mantra we’re working on: “Who’s right?? Who cares?!!” It’s the “us” that matters.

Hospice is teaching me that I can’t count on words, not all the time. Sometimes, someday, they won’t be there, and sometimes they just are not enough anyway.

But for now, I realize I just want to look up again at that beautiful New Hampshire sky, so blue today, so swept through with lacy sheets of clouds fanned by unseen winds above, and in the silence so deep I could hear the wings of a wren a dozen yards away, I, too, yearn to hear a sweet, small voice trill…

Good girl!

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Filed under art, humor, jealousy, lessons from hospice, life, life with teenagers, love

OPEN TO THE GIFTS IN FRONT OF US

It’s been a very difficult last few days. I won’t even dwell on what happened, that’s not important. What IS important is the lesson I’ve learned.

When weird things happen, my brain (and your brain) leap forward to figure out WHY. Why did she say that? Why did they do that?? What else should I have done? What did I bring to that situation?

In the end, some things cannot be “figured out”. People will overlook your good intentions, life will not be fair, hard times will come no matter how much we try to protect ourselves.

But if we let our brain continue to spin and fret and fuss, the real tragedy will overtake us…

We will be focusing on the bad stuff, trying like heck to figure it all out.

And we will not be facing the right direction for the next blessing that awaits us. The next “namaste” moment. The next recognition of the of the miraculous in our lives.

So I’ve had my little hissy fit, I’ve cried and felt sorry for myself.

And now I’m ready to see the blessing already in my life, and be grateful for them.

I’m ready to turn in a new direction. And see, with an open heart, where the next blessing is coming from.

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Filed under art, craft, gratitude, mental attitude

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

WE CAN ALWAYS USE ANOTHER HERO Part Deux

A visitor read my essay on being a hero. But, she asked, between babies and butterflies, cleaning and cooking, finding time for her partner and every else in life, how the heck do you find time to paint??

For Crystal: I feel your pain, and I remember those days. It ain’t easy, and I never said it was.

You are absolutely right. Those days when our children are young are so fleeting. It seemed endless at the time, but when I look back, I am amazed those tiny children are now young adults. As someone said, “The days are long, the years are swift.”

I chose to help them find butterflies, too! In fact, I did, over and over again. Time spent with your children is never wasted time. Even today, I hardly ever miss a chance to hang with my daughter, or spend some time with my son. When my husband says, “Do you wanna go for a walk?”, I rarely say no.

I get pretty lax about my work time in the studio, too. A friend in need, a bouncy dog on a beautiful sunshine-filled day, the giant dust bunnies under the table (oh, heck, I’ll be honest, all over the house) and there sits my latest project, taking a back seat to “something more important”.

But not for long.

It’s not about how much time you can spend in your studio. It’s about spending SOME time there. If all you can carve out is an hour every other week, then that time should be sacred.

It’s not about waiting til you have MORE time. That never comes. We all have our stuff. If it’s not our kids, then it’s a full-time job, or a more-than-full-time job, one that sucks up our evening and weekend hours, too. Or its other family issues–aging parents, a loved one with cancer. A flooded basement, a surprise visit from the in-laws, a party to prepare for. To quote Gilda Radner it’s always something. It’s recognizing the teensiest bit of time you can give yourself is precious.

It’s not about giving your all to one or the other. It’s about giving something to both. A wise woman once told me, “A woman CAN have it all. Just not always at the same time.”

And there is no simple, one-size-fits-all solution. Even when you find something that works, it can change in an instant.

I was very fortunate. I had a husband who fully supported my desire and worked with me to make it happen. A partner who recognizes your right to have space, and time for yourself, is a true lifelong partner. (You’d do the same for him/her, right?)

The first thing I needed was a place, a space, no matter how small, for my own. For MY projects, for MY supplies. Where I could shut the door when I left it, and know everything would be ready to go whenever I returned. No matter when that was.

We talked about how we could make that happen. The solutions changed with each child’s milestones, with our income, with our growing awareness that both of us needed this.

I used attic space behind a bedroom for a studio, working an hour or two the two or three mornings a week my daughter was in preschool. That handful of hours felt like a bit of heaven.

When my son was born, eventually he needed that room. I rented a small studio outside our home. (It was a very cheap studio!)

As they grew older and spent more time in school, or with their friends, or on their own activities, that was my chance to work more regularly.

Finally, we moved to a larger house, and the old attached barn became my studio.

Having a circle of supportive friends, who truly see you as an artist, and who remind you of that when you can’t remember, can be a life-saver. They hold your vision for you until you can carve out a little time for yourself. You’d do that for them….right?

My point was, if you would make that effort for your child, for your partner, for your friend…why wouldn’t you do it for yourself? Just a little.

And even when things get too crazy, don’t just don’t drop your dream and walk away from it forever. The hole in your heart, and your spirit, will remind you of your loss every single day.

That is not a good message to send to your kids.

Try to find a way to keep even a little of that dream visible in your life.

And never give up trying to find your own way to make that happen.

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Filed under art, balance, choices, craft, time management

LESSONS FROM HOSPICE #1

When someone is going through something profound and difficult, sometimes all that’s needed to make it bearable is the presence of another human being. A hand to hold in the dark. The soothing rhythm of someone breathing along with you.

It’s been a year since my initial training as a hospice volunteer. An amazing year.

I’ve had several assignments–clients–since then, too. As powerful as the training was, putting it into action is even more so.

As a “recovering fixer”, I was not surprised that the hardest thing to do as a hospice volunteer is…..

Nothing.

They told us that, they warned us. I thought I got it, too. (Remember how I let go of being full of knowing…?)

It was harder than I thought!

Every time I felt compelled to “do something” or “fix something”, it always became clear that was not my task.

Troubled family relationships? There’s a hospice social worker for that. Pain and disability? There’s a hospice physician and a hospice nurse for that. Light housework, feeding, cleaning? There’s a hospice nursing assistant for that. Questions about the soul, heaven, the afterlife, whether there IS an afterlife? There is always their minister or priest, or the hospice chaplain for that.

“Doing” was very hard to let go of.

As a hospice volunteer, all I had to do was be there.

Because that is what a volunteer does. We just show up. Sometimes, all we do is sit.

If we need to be there but the client doesn’t want us to–say, a spouse or family simply need respite care–we read a book in another room and simply give peace-of-mind to those who just need to get out for a cup of coffee or a haircut.

If the client asks for a volunteer and later they change their mind, then we come for a little while–then leave.

If the client simply wants someone there to hold their hand, that is what we do best.

We can be the most expendable part of the team, or the most important, for a few moments, a few days or few weeks.

But here’s what’s certain–it’s impossible to try to be the best.

It’s very hard to be the best “be-er” in hospice care.

In a world where we are encouraged to always be our best (like the sad little refrain in Joss Whedon’s TV series Dollhouse), it is very hard to let go of that.

Even as I urge myself and others to recognize the creative spirit in ourselves, to nurture the skills, talents and passion within, it was profound to learn another truth:

Sometimes, all you have to be is….human.

Was it boring? Never.

There is something deep and real about serving in this way. I will have to work my way toward recognizing what that is over the next few months…or years.

Was it depressing? Not really. There is something about being allowed into this person’s life, at this time, with all the clarity that brings to your heart, that made it always poignant, and often exhilarating.

And oddly, I think it made me cherish my art all the more, even knowing that it could be taken away from me in a heartbeat. Even knowing (because I’ve seen it) that there will come a day when I would leave it all behind without a thought, without a regret.

So the first gift of hospice is to recognize the power of simply being.

Tomorrow I will share another gift of hospice.

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Filed under art, humor, lessons from hospice, life, perfectionism

THE DEVIL AT WORK IN THE WORLD

The Devil’s two most powerful tools in this world are vanity and envy.

I’ve written so much about jealousy and envy, I thought I had nothing left to say. But I do.

I know that technically speaking, the terms are not identical. Envy is wanting what someone else has. Jealousy is fear of losing what you have.

But the premise is the same: Your perception is, you fear you have something to lose, and somebody else is responsible for that fear.

Envy has been a powerful thread in my life. No matter how “enlightened” I get, I struggle with it. Either I’m preoccupied with someone else having more skill/good fortune/attention, or someone is giving me crap because they envy me.

Seems like much of the trouble in the world is based on envy, from my own small woes to those of great nations.

If someone copies your work, part of that is because they see you have skill/success/attention/money/whatever. They think if they simply make the same work, they will have that, too.

If someone is envious of your artwork, and they are in a position of power over you (a juror for a show, a standards committee member), they can make life miserable for you in countless small and subtle ways.

If they are a peer or a friend, it’s even worse. Suddenly, everything you say or do draws a sarcastic remark, a biting comment, a moment of ridicule. A once-promising friendship warps into something sad and rueful.

When I allow myself to envy, it’s just as bad. Trust me.

But the real sin in envy is not in the behavior itself, or the misery it causes.

It’s because by giving in to it, we give away our power.

We give away everything beautiful, unique and wonderful that’s in us. We destroy the gifts that are given us–our talent, our perseverance, our joy–and turn them into dust.

Earlier this month, I almost left my dojo for another that seemed more compatible. I thought I would join a school that was less physically demanding, more sympathetic to my aging body.

I talked with my head instructor; he reluctantly agreed my reasons were sound. But he said I had to let the head of my school know.

I have one thing I do well that I’m proud of. I make the hard phone calls. I arranged to meet with Mr. R in person.

What happened then was one of the most powerful experiences of my life.

I will make a long story short–this was a complex situation, with a long history, involving many talented, good people. Much of it is personal and not tangent to the story, so I won’t go into it.

But the heart of this story is, Mr. R quoted that opening line to me. He told me when he’d heard it, and why.

Envy was at the root of the long, sad story that had left so many people deeply unhappy, and not at peace with themselves.

That’s when I realized that another, deeper reason for me leaving was not simply the tough work-out. The real reason was, I was envious of others in the class. I felt stupid having to step out when things got hard. Others were moving ahead, and I was not.

That was bad. Because I had lost track of my true reasons for practicing Tae Kwon Do.

I’d forgotten that my practice is always, for myself.

Not to be better than so-and-so, or to get to my next belt, or have my teacher praise me.

I must practice because I love what Tae Kwon Do can teach me.

I must practice because I love the discipline of trying to be my best.

I must practice for the joy of mastering something–sometimes in a horribly pathetic long drawn-out process, to be sure–to get good at something simply because I keep doing it, no matter what.

I, and I alone, am responsible for pacing myself within the class. If I can’t do sets of fifty push-ups anymore, then I must break it down into sets of 25, or 20. Or seven, if that’s all I can squeeze out.

If I can’t run fast laps on the hard floor, then I can run slow laps on the mat. Or walk, if that’s all my body can handle that day.

And there is no need to feel embarrassed when I need to step up or slow down. Because 1) it’s not anyone else’s place to judge me, and 2) I must stop judging myself.

Can you see the implications for our art?

I have quoted Martha Graham’s quote many times, but I’ll do it again. And I see I’ve lost the copy I used to hang prominently on my bulletin board, so I’ll print it out again for me, too:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique.

And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it.

It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions.

It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. …

No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

from The Life and Work of Martha Graham[

Everyone always has there own reasons for their behavior. If they are envious of you, it has nothing to do with you. There is nothing you can do to deflect it, or control it, either. Sometimes we have the luxury of removing ourselves from the situation, sometimes we can’t.

Understand that envy is based on fear. Fear that there is not enough love, or not enough attention, or not enough money, or not enough opportunity for all of us. Fear creates a little death. It takes the joy of living away from us.

We can only manage ourselves. The only thing we can change is how we respond. The only thing to do is to keep doing what we’re supposed to do, on the very highest level.

We can only try to make our decisions out of love, and hope, instead of fear.

We can only keep making the unique work, the art, that is in our hearts.

I have had the support of amazing people in my life, who have helped me internalize that. I may need a refresher course from time to time, but I always get back to the same place, the place of inner strength and conviction.

This is my gift to the world, the work of my hands, the work of my words, the work of my heart.

It is all we really have, but it is astonishingly powerful.

And when we truly understand and embrace that, we are astonishing, too.

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Filed under art, copycats, craft, creativity, envy, inspiration, jealousy, life, mastery, Nibble theory, professional jealousy

FLEETING BALANCE

Perfect balance is not only overrated, it’s not necessarily desirable. The only perfectly balanced pot is one with a flat bottom. And flat bottoms are good for pots, but not for people.

Balance. We know it’s a good thing. When it comes to our bodies, our professional and personal goals, our relationships, perfect balance is a good thing to strive for, right?

Well…some concepts about balance are good for you. And some aren’t.

Balance regarding bodies makes an excellent metaphor, so let’s take a look.

Balance as parity can save us a few tricks to the doc.

It’s widely accepted that we all have one leg that’s longer than the other. Right?

Wrong. Our legs are petty close to being equal lengths. What happens is we tend to favor one side or the other. We tend to use our “strong” leg, and end up standing more on our “weaker” leg.

Try it yourself. Stand up, then assume a relaxed position, as if you were in for a long conversation with someone. What leg are you standing on?

For me, I put my weight on my left leg. It might be because my right knee has sustained a lot of injuries over the year, and it feels less “solid”.

But standing on my left leg also frees up my right leg, which is still stronger and faster for kicking. (Taekwondo, folks, not randomly kicking people in the street.)

Over the years, this gradually led to a shortening of the muscles in my left leg. It isn’t really shorter, I’ve squashed it!

I found this article on your golf swing as an excellent description of this.

This kind of “non-parity” also leads to more than a bad golf swing. It can aggravate problems with your back, shoulders, wrists. My husband makes a point of shoveling snow and raking leaves by switching his “lead” from time to time. It’s dramatically reduced his back problems.

It’s good to mix it up!

Just as lack of physical parity slowly creates big problems out of tiny choices over time, the search for perfect balance can, too.

People who should know–physical therapists, etc.–tell us that walking is a process of regularly losing–and finding–our balance.

We need that constant process to move forward. Perfect balance–when we stand only equally on both feet–is standing still.

Think about when we strike a tree pose, a great balance stance in yoga. We aren’t ever really being still. Our first efforts may result in widely flailing arms and torso. But even when we can hold that position for five minutes, our bodies aren’t actually static and immovable. Muscles in our feet and ankles are constantly constantly making tiny adjustments to keep everything in alignment. We just need tinier movements. How do you know those muscles are working? Think how exhausting it would be to stand in that pose all day.

How does this relate to our art, and to the business of exhibiting/marketing/selling/teaching our art?

Well, one way is how we think about a “perfect balance” in our art. We think there’s a perfect blend of art/business/family/other work/community, etc.

Some artists struggle to balance work, family, art. Sometimes they give up. There’s no way to make it work!. Sometimes all they need is permission to their art on the back burner–on “simmer”–for awhile. (But don’t forget to come back and turn the heat up someday!)

Some of us struggle to find the right balance in our art biz. Sometimes the business of getting our art “out there” more grueling and less exciting that actually making art. We force ourselves to do the inventory thing, the invoice thing, we apply to shows or write the press releases or whatever, grumbling as we go.

But if we aren’t careful, we lose that beautifully precious, joyful synergy that comes from making. There’s no way to “balance” that. It’s the spring from which everything else flows.

Some of us even find the balance of “making” to be difficult. Some days I come in my studio determined to make stuff and can’t decide where to start. Make more little horses? Cut some leather strips for necklaces? Mix some colors? Do more sculptures? I feel torn in eight different directions. Even when I start in on something, I feel guilty that I haven’t answered that email, or updated my store, or gotten those postcards out.

Yes, our art has to eventually be out in the world.

But we have to make it–bring it into being–first.

What sparked this post was a comment I heard of made by a 2-D artist. He said there was a discipline to his craft. He made sure he drew, even if just a little bit, every single day.

I was in awe of that. He’s absolutely right, in many ways. We need to make even tiny little spaces for our art. Because pushing it entirely out of our lives is never a good thing.

At the same time, I see he has a simpler life right now. Retired, no partner, no young children, a small apartment. He is able to make more balanced choices at this point in his life.

Like our bodies, the balance we seek in our art, and in the pattern of our lives, perhaps will never exist. Waiting for it before we make art is a trap. Even if you have to let your art “simmer”, think of ways to keep it in your heart. And never miss an opportunity to add a few carrots to the pot.

There will be periods where we are on fire with our creativity, and nothing can pull us out of studios. There will be periods where our children, our partners and spouses, simply need us profoundly, and time spent with them is not wasted. There will be times when we need to put down the brush or the blow torch and simply get outside and move.

Whatever your particular “blend” of life is right now, embrace it. Know that in a day, a month, a season, the demands will change.

And your greatest blessing–and peace of mind–will be knowing that you will change your particular balance right along with it.

P.S. How am I making myself lose my balance today? I wanted to write this post so desperately. I have so much to do today, I’m not letting myself do that series of final edits. I’m just publishing it!

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Filed under art, balance, business, change, choices, craft, creativity

FIXING A FIXER

Why it’s okay to say no sometimes. Maybe a lot of times.

Years ago, an older gentlemen came to my booth at a big show. His visit changed my life.

He was so excited by my work. He was an artist himself, and he had incredibly rich things to say about my art. And about me.

“You’re a shaman!” he exclaimed over and over again. “You’re a shaman!”

I felt uncomfortable with that. Who am I to say I’m a spiritual healer?? I can hardly figure out what MY life should look like. Where would I get the gall to tell someone else how to run theirs?!

He went on to explain. And I’ve never forgotten his words.

All shamans are artists. But not all artists are shamans.

All shamans are teachers. But not all teachers are shamans.

All shamans are healers. But not all healers are shamans.

He went on to say much, much more. And some of it I still work through. (For example, I wondered why I still feel uncomfortable telling people this story, until a new friend told me that “shaman” is never something a true shaman calls herself; it’s what other people call them.)

What do these shamanistic traits–creativity; healing; teaching–have in common?

They are all about seeing ahead to what cannot be seen right now.

They see possibility.

A healer sees a person with has discord, imbalance, pain. They also see the person person could have balance, comfort and peace of mind. (Like hospice, not necessarily curing, but healing.)

A teacher sees a person does not know, and cannot do. They also see the person could learn, and grow, and achieve.

An artist knows something is inside her that needs to come out into the world to be seen, heard, experienced. It is not there until she makes it.

Personally, I think we all have our moments of shaman-hood. A parent, a good friend, a stranger, all have the ability, perhaps for a moment to lift us out of ourselves and help us see our true potential.

But I digress. Because I think sometimes, these things that make us a good parent, or a good friend, or a good artist, or a good healer, also makes us a very bad “good person”…..

A…(gasp!)…fixer.

In hospice, “fixing” is akin to “curing”. It’s simply not what we’re here for.

But the healing/teaching/creative arts tend to call to fixers. (It has to be trained out of us.) One of my trainers calls herself a recovering fixer. I LOVE that phrase! Another name for it is “Helpful Hannah”.

I hate that tendency. If I’m not careful, I let myself get sucked into someone else’s little life drama. Or I’m soon handing out advice they didn’t ask for, or don’t even want.

Some people don’t really want to be “fixed”. They get something out of being the way they are, or being in the situation they’re in. (I love Dr. Phil’s line, “Is that working for you?”)

Because everyone knows (especially us who had to learn it the hard way)….

You can’t fix other people. You can only fix yourself. (And let me return to that statement, because even that can be a trouble-maker….)

Just so I don’t sound heartless and unsupportive, what does help someone in dire straits is to simply….listen to them. Listen deep. Someone once said, the best gift you can give someone is to listen–really listen–to them. (I tried to Google the quote but came up with really naughty links…) Good docs listen to the stories their patients tell about themselves. Likewise, shrinks, social workers, priests, good friends, parents. This will also help you sort out the people who are really trying to work through something, and the time-suckers. Because the time-suckers just keep telling the same story over and over and over, as often as you’ll listen.

But I digress again.

So….Sometimes the things that make us a good artist–being open, trying to know what is inside us, being sensitive to what our work needs–makes us even more vulnerable to the influences of the outside world and other people. Because we can also be vulnerable, sensitive and open to the needs of others.

Especially situations and people who look like they need fixing.

If your art comes from a deep, healing place in your heart, this is especially true. You will be sensitive to people and situations that need healing. Your impulse to fix, if left unchecked, will pull you off track.

It’s a constant struggle. Hospice is teaching me not to be a fixer.

So why did I say “you can only fix yourself” is trouble-making?

Because sometimes it’s not about fixing yourself (which is linked to trying to be perfect.)

It’s about forgiving yourself for being human.

So don’t beat yourself up when it happens. When you drop everything to help someone. When you volunteer for every good cause. When you say “yes” to every question, to every phone call, to every excuse not to make your art.

Just ask yourself where the impulse comes from. To make that person feel better? Or to make yourself feel better?

Make a good choice. Know what you’re setting aside, what you’re giving up.

Sometimes, it’s the right thing to help someone. Sometimes, it’s you that needs to be the healing heart.

And sometimes, it’s your creativity, your art, that is needed to bring healing to the world.

Congratulate yourself when you make a good decision.

And forgive yourself when you don’t.

For more articles along this line, check out:

The Importance of Solitude

Everybody’s Mother

It’s Not My Problem

Helping

Oh, gosh, apparently this is a prominent theme in my life! So folks, do what I say, not what I do, okay?

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Filed under art, choices, craft, creativity, hospice, lessons from hospice, life, mental attitude, mindfulness, networking, time management

We Interrupt Our Program….OPEN STUDIO!!

Yes, you’re invited, and you, and you, and you!

Just in case you’re my mom (which you aren’t, because my parents have never been online. NEVER.) DO NOT call me and ask me if I’m lying dead in a ditch somewhere. A call which always came at 7 a.m. on Saturday mornings when I was in college, following a period where I had been incommunicado too long, and which always baffled me, because this was way, way before cell phones and so if I actually ANSWERED the phone, how could I be dead in a ditch somewhere??

I digress…. Because I HAVE been incommunicado. I have a good reason:

I’m getting ready for another open studio this weekend. And you’re invited!

In some ways, I’m on top of this one. The studio didn’t get too, too messy since my last one, there was a lot of publicity because it’s part of the NH Open Doors Tour, and I’m not driving myself crazy about preparations. For example, I’m not going to vacuum again unless the dog barfs. (Keeping my fingers crossed here….)

But in other ways, I’m behind–as always. I didn’t do any personal promotion–no postcards mailed out to my customers. (I’m kicking myself here.) I decided to redo all my signage. Even though there’s not a year’s mess in here, there’s still a mess.

And I’m adding my usual personal anxiety to the mix. I once had a party where only one person showed up. It was traumatic. She was a very nice person, and we did do damage to a bottle of tequila (which promptly did damage to me, which is why I never drink tequila anymore, but that’s a story for another day.) But I still enter each entertainment venture with a sinking feeling that says, “And what if nobody comes this time, either??”

So help me not support my therapist single-handedly. Come to my Open Studio this Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 7 & 8, from 10-5, or pass the word on to someone you think would enjoy it. Tell them what you want for Christmas (if I happen to make something you’d want for Christmas) and tell them it’s only available here. This weekend.

And we will be BFF. Especially if you are the only person who comes.

P.S. Full disclosure: To be fair, at the time of that party, I was living in a 10’x10′ room in a rooming house. I think everyone was afraid we were going to stay there.

P.P.S. And I kinda forgot to tell everybody til the last minute. Which is why I probably deserve to have slow open studios, since history is repeating itself here…..

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TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS #13: One Big Break is All You Need

Myth: If only I could get into X Gallery/get Famous Person Y to see my work/get a website, I would be successful!

Reality: No one person, event or venue will make or break your vision.

When I first started showing and selling my art, I read these very wise words somewhere:

Every day you will find an opportunity to move your art/biz forward. Every day you will overlook an opportunity to move your art/biz forward.

I quote them now because a reader posted this comment on my blog recently, and with her permission, I reprint it here:

Hello, again! I get what you’re saying, Luann, I really do. But right now I’m really in a down space.

Filled with excitement, I opened up a space in Etsy back in September thinking that *there* I would find people who would see value in handspun hand-dyed yarn. They do, apparently–there are lots of other spinners on Etsy–but evidently they don’t see any value in mine.

Lots of looks, a few hearts, no sales.

One part of me is bugging me to get busy and make more yarn, but the other part of me is saying, “Why make MORE beautiful yarn that no one will want to buy? What’s the point of doing that, when no one wants what I’ve already made?”

I’m sorry for dumping on you my own pity-party, but I need someone who is an artist and “gets it” to vent to. ..

Maybe the Lord is trying to tell me to give up and become a boring housewife who grades papers and washes dishes and remembers when she used to make beautiful stuff. I don’t know.

Dear Reader, I give you permission to wallow for awhile. Things do get hard, and we all get discouraged. (See Myth #14 about this.) (Not yet, I haven’t written it yet!!)

But I can assure you wholeheartedly that the Lord is not telling you to stay small and regret your lost dreams. :-)

Sometimes we take that leap and many things fall into place. Sometimes we take that leap–and things stay hard.

In fact, that is the major purpose of my blog: To chronicle my journey pursuing my art, with honestly and self-examination. And hopefully, a huge helping of inspiration.

Because, as my husband pointed out to me a short while ago, we always hear about the instant overnight successes. (What I call the Cinderella stories.) And we also hear about the not-so-overnight success stories, where the hero struggles and perseveres, and finally gets a lucky break.

The point is, we already know how those stories end. We know the goal was achieved, because the tales are always told afterwards–not while the ball is actually in play.

My blog is all about the ball being in play. And sharing that process with you.

So here are some possible scenarios regarding this handspun yarn biz, but don’t take the “you” thing personally. These are just some things to think about:

1. When we stand at the beginning of our stories, we cannot see the end.

Sometimes, we can’t even see what our ultimate goal will be. Longtime readers may remember my sad little story about wishing my handknit toy sheep idea taking off.

And when they finally did, how I discovered how much I hated knitting toy sheep.

If your handspun biz where to be an instant hit, you could be locked into a business that takes too much time away from your other pursuits right now. Or you might find spinning is fun for a few hours a day, but not so much fun doing it all day. Maybe you’ll realize you like writing about the process, or teaching the process, more than making yarn to sell. (Although that piece of it will give you the insights you need to do the other stuff–writing, teaching, demonstrating, etc.) Maybe you’ll end up developing a therapy program with your skills. Who knows what the possibilities are?

So maybe right now you think your dream is to sell handspun yarn. But maybe even bigger things are in store for you.

2. We cannot tell what strategy will work, and which ones will peter out.

Etsy looks like a “sure thing” from the outside, but having an Etsy shop does not guarantee success.

We dream of getting into “that great gallery”, sure we will be successful if they would only represent our work. We dream of finding “the perfect show” where we will find all the buying customers we need. We know if only we had a great website, we would be flooded with orders.

In reality, there is no “perfect venue” or “perfect strategy”. There is simply another opportunity to try.

Maybe e-commerce will work for you. Or maybe your yarns would sell better “in person”–at small local shows, or certain events. (We have a big “Wool Tour” here in New Hampshire on Columbus Day weekend. People come from hundreds of miles to tour small farms, see llamas and sheep and angora goats and bunnies, and buy fleece, roving and finished yarns.) Maybe people need to touch your yarn to fully appreciate it first, and then you turn those customers into online customers with reorders.

Maybe a “new product release” about your yarns to a knitting or spinning magazine would bring interested buyers to your Etsy store.

3. We may be trying to sell to the wrong people.

Etsy is the biggest and best-known venue for handcraft. But it’s also a huge venue for vintage goods and craft supplies. And it’s a big shopping venue for other artists. So you may be inadvertently trying to sell to people who can make it themselves.

At a friend’s suggestion, I used Etsy as a way to sell to my current customers. I didn’t actually think I could join an already established, close-knit online community (no pun intended) and create a strong presence there.

Even so, I didn’t have a single sale on Etsy. I’m exploring other ways to sell online, and will use Etsy to offload my old supplies.

4. It just may take more time than you think.

Another reader posted a reply to the original comment, and it’s a good one. (In fact, I just realized I’ve repeated a lot of what Kerin said!! oops…)

And see item #1 above, where things taking time can be a good thing.

5. And sometimes it’s just hard.

It’s true–it’s just hard sometimes. There are days when we just feel like the universe is saying “no”.

But what does your heart say?

Because if you give up, there is only one thing that can happen: Nothing!

If you persevere, anything can happen. Including failure, but failure is not necessarily a bad thing. (Go back to the knitted sheep thing.)

#5: What is “success”, anyway? What does it mean to Y*O*U?

Right now you haven’t had any sales. Is that your only measure of success?

Have you learned how to spin and dye beautiful yarn? You’ve successfully developed a product.

Have you learned how to photograph it? Have you successfully uploaded images to a website? You’ve successfully done something millions of people have no idea how to do. (Since I lost my photographer, I’ve had to work on developing a whole nother skill set, and that learning curve is steep!)

Have you learned how to talk about it, write about it? You’ve learned how to pitch your product.

And have you learned how to create a unique product? Which leads us to….

#6. Are you telling your real story?

Sometimes, especially when we first start out making stuff and getting it out into the world, we focus on the surface of the process. When you hear artists say, “I just love color!” or “I just love knitting!”, we are listening to someone who has either a) not bothered to dig deeper; b) doesn’t know how to dig deeper; or c) or is afraid to dig deeper.

What is it about hand-spinning and dyeing that excites you? What does it mean to you? Don’t say, “Oh, it’s fun” or “Oh, it’s relaxing.”

Tell us why.

Here’s a perfect little example that Bruce Baker tells in his seminars.

A potter makes tiny little pots with lids, very charming. But so what?

She explains that her life is so hectic, so harried, that when she takes time to make these tiny wonders, she envisions she is creating a little moment of serenity, of quiet. “And then she draws up the tops, and makes a little lid, and there is a little moment of time preserved….”

Doesn’t that make you want to own one of her little pots? And when you are harried and frazzled, you can lift the tiny lid….and there is your own little moment of quiet and peace.

She told us the “why”. And when you purchase her product, you can have a little of the “why”, too.

7. If it brings you joy, you should not–cannot–stop doing it.

It’s hard when it feels like the world does not want our beautiful work. But remember when I said, “I have to do it anyway, or I’ll die?” That’s what got me through.

Yeah, I know I wouldn’t drop dead if I never made another little horse. But I know something inside me would wither away. And the world, whether it knew about the loss or not, would simply be a sadder place for it.

I want to believe in my heart that somehow, in ways I may not see or could even possibly imagine, that the world is a better place for me making my work. For me being in the world. I have to believe that. Because to believe otherwise is to give in to self-doubt, and eventually, despair.

And whatever we believe in, whatever our religion or creed or ethics, if we are creative people, then we have to believe that creativity makes the world a better place. That anything we make–a lovely skein of yarn, a useful pot, an inspiration movie, a beautiful song, a warm and loving home for those we care about–the world is a better place for that.

Or what are we here for?

So keep making your yarn, because it makes you happy. Don’t give up, but be open to where it leads you (because it may not take you where you think you’re going!) Take the opportunities you find. Let go of the ones you miss, and move on. Think about the deep “why?”, and don’t be afraid to share it.

And know that whatever happens, it’s all good.

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Filed under art, business, choices, craft, creativity, depression, inspiration, life, living with intention, mental attitude, myths about artists, selling, selling online, telling your story, world peace

LOSING MY GREEN BELT

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a good place to be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now it’s gone.

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

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

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

And now I have no such dream.

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

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

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

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

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

TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS: A Segue

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

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

Several themes came to me after reading his thoughtful comments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS#10: You Have to Go to Art School to Be a Real Artist

MYTH: You need an MFA to be a real artist!
REALITY: The real proof is in the work.

I couldn’t get into the art school at the university of my choice (The University of Michigan.) So maybe my attitude about art school is pure sour grapes.

On the other hand, the reasons I chose U of M seem pretty silly in 40 years in hindsight. My best friend, my first boy friend and my first crush all went there, and they said it was the best school in the world.

So I wanted to go there, too. I gave up going to other schools with art programs that had accepted me, just to be with the boy who dumped me four months later.

I hope I’m a little more sophisticated about my choices now. (But I’m probably not.)

I’ve come to believe it’s a good thing I didn’t go to art school there (or anywhere.) I may have been an artist sooner.

But I would not be the artist I am today.

Getting a degree from an art school has its advantages.

Credentials, for one. A degree says you completed a course of study. It says somebody deemed you good enough to complete it successfully.

Art school gives you other precious gifts: Time, tools and resources to actually make art. You have many opportunities to experiment with different media and different techniques. Many students develop important relationships with teachers who become mentors, and with other talented students.

Art school also allows you to immerse yourself in a community that supports art. If you come from a family or environment that’s baffled (or even threatened) by your artistic attempts, this immersion can be powerful stuff. You may feel like you’ve finally found “your people”.

And of course, there is the confidence and validation you gain from holding a degree that proclaims you an artist.

But there is a downside to art school.

You spend a huge amount of time making work that fits someone else’s agenda and criteria, not your own.

You may find it hard to develop your own style. You are surrounded by the vision of other teachers and other students, and it can be hard to figure out what your particular vision is.

Or conversely, it’s all too easy to be influenced by the vision of others.

Or your vision doesn’t get the “strokes” from the group you desire, so you unconsciously begin to modify it so it does.

Or you don’t modify your style, and suffer the consequences We’ve all heard the appalling stories of vicious group “critiques” and the lasting emotional damage they can cause. We’ve all heard of the nasty teacher who never missed an opportunity to denigrate someone’s work.

You may fall for the tendency to make high-falutin’, theoretical, worldly/academic “statements” with your art. Read almost any art statement, preferably one you barely understand, and you’ll know what I mean. The actual approach to your art may be taught as a purely intellectual or academic exercise. There is value to understanding and practicing art this way, of course. But I personally feel something is lost when art is made only to provoke, or satirize, or insult, with no real emotional connection, personal experience, or “heart” in the effort. IMHO, of course.

And the biggest drawback–you may not ever actually encounter any working artists.

I once spent a day giving five high-school art classes a presentation of the business of art. I opened the first class with this question: “How many of you believe it is impossible to make a living by selling your art?”

The teacher raised her hand.

Some people who teach art do so because they don’t believe they can be successful selling it. (Though many teach so they can have the freedom to create the art they want, without worrying about having selling it.)

You can often tell which teachers are working artists and which ones aren’t. The working ones are making their art, at some level–entering exhibitions with new work, selling, taking commissions, whatever. The ones who gave up are telling you why it’s impossible to sell your work. These are the ones who make terrible role models.

Almost as bad are the teachers who convince their students that the art world is out there just waiting for them to graduate. Instant success is within their grasp. Famous galleries in New York City are eager for their work, and the party starts as soon as you walk out the door. Then, when it doesn’t happen in six months, or a year, or three, the new grad begins to think she doesn’t have what it takes–and gives up.

Some art schools now incorporate business skills for artists in their curriculum. Yay!

Either way, the art school experience can make the issue black-and-white. There are “artists” and there are “non-artists”. There are “rich/famous/successful” artists, and there are “failed artists”. No gray. No spectrum. No range.

Know that there are many “levels” of keeping art in our lives.

There are as many ways of making that work as there are artists.

Some will make good money with their pursuits. Others will cobble together different ventures and venues that makes them happy. Some will go into fine art. Some will go into design, or graphic arts. Some may teach. Some may do the show circuit. Some may find gallery representation. Others may find ways of using the internet to market directly to customers.

Some may find other work that is rewarding and makes them happy, and keep their art practice solely for their own enjoyment. And some will run up against life’s hard walls all too soon, and have to carve out tiny chunks of time to keep their vision alive.

Maybe we can’t all be rich and famous. But there are many ways to create a life that includes art as a daily practice. And there many ways of sharing our vision with others.

So go to art school, if that is your dream. Squeeze every drop of experience and knowledge you can from it. Revel in your freedom to immerse yourself in an art community. Learn to protect yourself against the nay-sayers.

But if you didn’t go to art school, know that you simply found your life’s work by another path. It may have wound around in the woods for awhile, it may have taken you longer to get here….

But you simply had a different experience. That’s all.

And those unique experiences are what made you the artist you are today.

UPDATE: See what Canadian painter Robert Genn says about artist credentials in his well-known Painters Keys newsletter.

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Filed under art, business, career, choices, craft, life, myths about artists, networking, selling, shadow artist

TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS #8: You’re only a REAL artist if you’re ONLY an artist

Myth: Real artists devote their entire life to art; real artists never compromise! (And its corollary: Artists sleep til noon because they don’t have real jobs to go to.)

Reality: Any time you can make art is a good time to make art!

I’m beginning to think that history books and movies have been the source of most our myths about artists.

Again, remember that what makes for a good “sound bite” doesn’t always reflect real life.

We’ve all seen the movies about artists who devote themselves passionately–and exclusively–to their art. Marriages, kids, friendships fall to the wayside in their relentless pursuit of their vision. Charlton Heston as Michaelangelo, lying on his back painting the Sistine Chapel as he exchanges barbs and retorts with the pope. Or Ed Harris as Jackson Pollack, fierce in his artistic throes, with the entourage that devoted themselves to promoting his art (who ended up tossed by the wayside as they burnt themselves out doing so.)

And what do we know about artists throughout history? Usually a sentence or two, or at most a paragraph in the history books. An entire chapter, or maybe even a book, for the stellar ones.

So we’re only a “real artist” if we devote every waking minute to our art, and plow through our personal relationships with the sensitivity of a back hoe.

There are other ways to make art, of course. And the artists involved are just as “real” as you and me.

Yes, some artists are fortunate enough to pursue their art full-time. But their art becomes their profession–they work just as hard at it as anyone else does in THEIR profession. If they sleep til noon, it’s because they just spent 36 hours straight completing new work for an upcoming exhibition, or they put the finishing touches on a new CD, or they finally figured out how to use QuickBooks to bill their galleries, or they just got back from a grueling four-day wholesale show on the other coast.

Real artists run the gamut of everything you can say about artists. Some are so successful selling their work, they can support themselves and a family doing so. Some work part-time or even full-time jobs to pay the bills, painting in their spare time. Or they marry someone whose passionate profession pays more money than making art does.

Some get famous, some don’t. Some blow through people like kleenix, others have solid relationships and happy families. Some create public murals that cover tall buildings that thousands see every day. Others make wonderfully tiny artifacts you can cup in your hand and known to literally a handful of people.

Again….there’s room for us all.

Of course, the converse is also true. If you work full-time or engage in other activities, and don’t make time to make art, then you may be an artist at heart. But there will be nothing in the world that reflects that intention.

If you watch TV, do housework, put everyone else’s priorities ahead of yours, then your art will indeed only take up only the tiniest space you’ve allotted for it–nada.

Yes, life happens, especially if you are the caregiver in your family, the social planner, the “fall-back” person. Our sales fall off and we have to scramble to pay the bills. We get sick or injured, or a loved one does. We enter periods of self-doubt and despair. Our desire to create can seem fragile, tenuous during hard times.

But ultimately, we have to come back to this–the only person who can make your art is YOU.

Whether it’s a song, a prayer, a painting, a dress, a garden, a play, a dance, a necklace, if it’s in you, find a way to get it out into the world as soon as you can.

So make time for your creativity a priority. Carve out a little space for it in your life. Plan for it. Honor it. Respect it.

Because if, like I did once, you walk away from it entirely, you will always feel that empty space in your heart.

I will never go “there” again. And my wish for you is that you never go “there”, either, at least not for very long.

Tip: This is where a well-written, passionate artist statement comes in handy. The kind where you really talk about the WHY of what you do. When you read yours, YOU should be inspired to get back in the saddle and ride off into the sunset with your art.

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Filed under art, career, choices, courage, craft, creativity, depression, fear of failing, inspiration, life, mental attitude, myths about artists

September 11, 2009…and life goes on.

I meant to write this on my birthday, September 11. But I spent the day with my family.

Which is the way it should be.

And by waiting a day or two to post, I found that same ol’ three-of-a-kind thread thing goin’ again…. (I mean, sometimes an idea I’m mulling shows up in two or three or four variations in my life, which means I have to deal with it/write about it/ponder it.

I always think about THE 9/11 on my birthday, of course. Not because 9/11 makes me special–terrible things always happen on someone’s birthday.

But when something awful does happens on your birthday, I think it’s natural to think about your birthday in a different way.

I usually I keep my thoughts on that day to myself. I don’t want to sound glib about all those people dying so I can have little “aha!” moments at their expense.

This year, I did want to say something. And I wasn’t sure I could say it in a way that would sound right. So I waited.

Then yesterday I found this lovely article on a friend’s refrigerator. That was the second thread.

And today, once again, I found out that someone who seems to be making my life a little harder, is actually struggling with the same circumstances themselves. Proving once again that when someone says “it’s about YOU”, it’s usually about THEM. (And I say this with compassion today, because I get that sometimes they’re hoping you will figure out what to do about it, so you can teach them.)

So sometimes someone who’s giving you grief has their own bugbears that have nothing to do with you personally. This is the third thread, which ties in so nicely with that second one.

And so all three threads come together.

Because the first thread–what I wanted to say this year on 9/11–is that life….goes on.

Life goes on, even when innocent people die in an unfair attack. Life goes on, even when terrible things happen to us.

Life goes on, even when beautiful things happen to us. I look at my tall, handsome, silent teenage son, and wish I could have one week of his sweet childhood back (and knowing what I know now.) Oh, I would hug him, and do whatever it took to hear his beautiful, bubbling laughter again. I look at our dog, halfway to adulthood, and marvel that only a few months ago, he was small enough to carry in one hand. We want to hold on to the beautiful times, wishing, hoping life will pause, that time will stop. We swear we will never forget.

But life goes on. And we do forget.

Life goes on, whether we are brave enough to apply to art school, ask for that job, introduce ourselves to that lovely person across the room, join that tae kwon do class, learn to ride, climb, drive, sing….or not.

Life goes on, whether we stand up for something, or whether we remain silent.

Life goes on, whether whether we do the right thing…or not.

Life goes on, whether we have the courage of our convictions…or not.

For better or worse, for richer or poorer, we get our chance and take it (or don’t) and life goes on.

We have our turn, to be here, to do the good work that is within our grasp, to love the people that are in our care, to take care of the issues in our path. We are given that turn, every day, and the next, and the next.

And then our turn is over.

We know….WE KNOW….the good that is in us, the art that is in us, the music that is in us, the love that is in us.

And we also know so very well the fears, the resentments, the anger, the hurts, the weaknesses we carry, that hold us back.

That’s why Mother Theresa/Dr. Keith’s words resonate in my heart this weekend.

Ten thousand years ago, someone, somebody painted hauntingly beautiful images of horses, bulls and deer on a cave wall in what is now France. We know almost nothing about them, except that they must have had a compelling reason to do that. We only know they were people like us, who had their turn. And then they were gone. All that’s left (and we are lucky to have that) are the paintings.

Hard as it is to imagine, thousands of years from now, we’ll be fortunate if a handful of names–Charlemagne, Confucius, Mozart, Einstein–and hopefully more of those will be names of WOMEN!!–survive as anything more than a hero’s tale, a mythical creature. Maybe we leave a bigger footprint in the sands of time now. But maybe not.

So do it.

Be kind. Love. Do good. Forgive. Make stuff.

Just do it. Just do it anyway, no matter what. If it’s important to you, if you know it’s the right thing to do, just do it.

When you have a teensy glimpse, as I did this year on September 11, the tiniest little glimpse, that what matters is not how we love, or what we love, but that we love…..

That it’s not how good our making/singing/dancing/loving/caring is, but that we do it….

Because yes, there will always be someone to criticize it, to judge it, to sneer at it, to make fun of it (and sometimes that someone is me, I’m ashamed to say. Oh, I am merciless about bad singers. Move over, Simon Cowell.)

But you must do it anyway….because yes, it matters

Then suddenly, and for a moment, it doesn’t seem so very hard after all.

p.s. Yes, I know today’s column is a lit-tle incoherent. But hey, it was my birthday! :^)

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Filed under 9/11, art, courage, craft, creativity, gratitude, inspiration, life, mindfulness

MISS YOU, JEFF

I miss absent friends in little moments.

Today was a day where I really felt the loss of my friend, photographer Jeff Baird.

I finished a magnificent piece, a necklace, for the Craftwear exhibit at the League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair. A large faux ivory neck piece, ringed with polar bear and otter artifacts, with a central pendant made with a prehistoric carving of a woman suspended from a disk. Tiny, tiny birds hung off the pendant. It’s bold, it’s gorgeous, it’s one of the best pieces I’ve ever made.

For the past nine years, I’ve called Jeff to set a date to photograph the finished pieces before I deliver them to the exhibits. The minute I was finished, I’d dash over to his studio in Vermont. It’s a beautiful winding half hour drive over low mountains, across the Connecticut River and into downtown Brattleboro.

Jeff would always admire the new piece, commenting on my latest artifacts or an unusual composition. He’d take lots of photos–jury shots, some with dramatic angles for future ads and postcards, lovely close-ups and detail shots. He’d clean them up and load them onto a CD, all ready for me to take with me. We’d chat the entire time, talking about family, art, other artists, shows, the girls’ basketball team he coached.

Often I’d drive straight from his studio up to the Fair site and drop the exhibit pieces off. It’s always hard to let a piece go. But the thought of Jeff’s images, safe on a brand new CD, would cheer me as I drove back home again.

I’d go directly to my computer and look at his photography again, amazed at his skill and eye, secretly proud of my work, grateful I knew such a talented photographer to record each important milestone in my art.

This was the first time in nine years that didn’t happen.

I drove the piece up to the exhibit and dropped it off. And left with empty hands.

It felt unfinished somehow. A beautiful little ritual, a farewell ceremonial, that I took for granted until it was no more.

Just another reminder that he is gone.

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EXPENSIVE PUPPY LESSON

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.

Oh my.

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.

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Filed under announcement, funny, humor, life with a dog, life with pets, pets