Tag Archives: mindfulness

LEARNING TO LOVE YOUR TO-DO LIST

My to-do list: It's not what you think it is!

Your to-do list is really a travel brochure.

My plate is loaded. Full up. Spilling over.

I have so many projects in the air, I’ve been suffering major brain buzz. I hardly even know where to start.

Now, life coach and writer Martha Beck has a great article on how to unhook yourself from a to-do list. I think she actually suggests scheduling “empty time” in there.

And I know my life is so much more than a to-do list. One of her clients, on her deathbed, jokingly said, “At least this is one more thing I can cross off my to-do list!”

But I needed something more. Something that felt more like my whole approach to life. And this morning, I found it.

I was writing my morning pages–the “brain data dump” I try to do every morning. Sure enough, “more things I have to do” kept popping up as I wrote, and I dutifully added them to today’s ever-growing list. It’s already so long, I couldn’t possible complete the tasks in a week, let alone a day.

With a big sigh, I started to prioritize my tasks. What could wait? Which ones were more important? Which IS more important–the ones about my family? The ones about the latest foster puppy? The new open studio tour I’m working on? Cleaning my studio so I can HAVE an open studio? What about my upcoming surgery? Should I focus on getting healthy? What about my phone date with Lyedie this afternoon? (You can read more about integral coach Lyedie Lydecker here and read my article about her here.

Ah. Lyedie. What was that she said about time?

It’s not about priorities. It’s not even about balance–balancing family time with art time, friend time with exercise, pet care with health care.

It’s about awareness, and intention, and engagement.

For me, it’s about crafting a whole life. Seeing, learning, participating, growing. Not sideways(sigh), but inside-ways.

That’s when it hit me. What my to-do list really is.

It’s a travel guide for my life.

It’s not an AAA road map. It’s a list of possibilities.

Priority be damned.

Some of these tasks aren’t high priority. But they also won’t take much time or effort. Or I can do them on my way to another, “higher priority” task.

Some are totally unimportant. But I like doing them. They look like work, but they are actually fun.

Even some of the most important ones aren’t necessarily time-sensitive. They’re big, but they can wait. And sometimes, they can’t happen until other smaller, simpler steps are taken.

But what really blew me away today was thinking about the unimportant, quick, not fun, actually dreaded tasks on my list from a week ago.

It involved picking something up from a person I’ve had totally negative encounters with. This person is sarcastic and resentful, in a job they hate and not getting the recognition they feel they deserve.

I thoroughly dreaded the pick-up, and had to force myself to do it. Actually, I did it first because I wanted to get it over with.

I decided to be my higher self for just a few minutes. I said I was sorry for the circumstances behind their donation.

And the walls of anger came tumbling down.

I’m sorry to be so circumspect, but want to protect their privacy. Let’s just say that I saw another side to this person, a totally different aspect of their life that blew me away. They opened up to me, sharing their sadness and joy, their dreams and hopes.

It turns out I was able to speak to that in a way that encouraged and supported them. I gave them the small thank-you gift I’d prepared, and they were delighted and grateful.

Now, the point here isn’t that all people (okay, almost all people) have an inner beauty, if only we knew where to look.

The point is, this was an item on my to-do list I’d dreaded. And it was actually a door into something powerful and profound.

There was a connection, a reconciliation, a new way to interact with this person in the future.

And it all came from a place I never could have predicted.

Now I’m sitting here with that same to-do list.

It looks different. It doesn’t seem to fill me with as much anxiety. Time doesn’t seem like a upside-down bottle of sand with grains running out the bottom.

It looks like a travel guide to a mysterious, exciting and beautiful new country, a country I’ve wanted to visit all my life..

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Filed under art, balance, craft, life lessons, living with intention, mental attitude, mindfulness, to do list

WAITING FOR THE COOL: That Copying Thing Again

CONCRETE ADVICE FOR HOW TO SUPPORT ARTISTS….

Sometimes–no wait, always–it’s a good idea to cool down before you speak your mind.

A few weeks ago, not one, but TWO small drama played out in my studio.

At the very same time I was dealing with someone using my identity to post disparaging and rude remarks about another person…

…It felt like someone else was publicly scolding me on a professional polymer website for me getting upset about people copying my work.

Their article was written in response to MY article, What is the Story Only You Can Tell?

If this is confusing, the chain of events were 1) I write the “What is the Story Only You Can Tell” article; 2) I get an emotional phone call from the victim of the identity theft issue; 3) I wrote an article about the experience; 4) Kerrie read my WITSOYCT article and publishes her response on the IPCA website; 5) I found the article and wrote my response to Kerrie’s article; 6) and now I’m publishing this article. Got it? Whew!

My first emotional response was the lizard brain talkin’. Anger. Resentment. Fear. Even humiliation. And my first article draft in response showed that clearly. With brutal sarcasm and my debate team finesse, I quickly tore apart every argument offered in the article that defended copying.

Fortunately, I WAS embroiled in that identity-borrowing thing. It kept me from immediately publishing my response to Kerrie’s article. The identity thing was a very prickly situation, involving a group of rowdy local activists a sane person just wants to avoid at all costs. In the end, as upset as I was, I resigned myself to damage control–and moved on.

But I was delayed in writing that original response to Kerrie. And I’m soooooo glad.

I realized the identity issue all started because a person had written in anger, fear, resentment, and perhaps a haze of alcohol. (Not Kerrie! The anonymous poster identity-blurring person.)

They may not have even deliberately chosen to “look like me”–as Katherine Tyrrell (whose Making a Mark blog is an astonishing artist resource) posted in my blog comments, it looked like a clumsy effort to use one of my blog articles to bolster their argument, and that came off as appearing like “me”.

So I sat on my hands for a day or two. The anger dissipated. Cooler heads (not Bobohead Lizardbrain) prevailed.

Instead of the wrathful diatribe I’d prepared, I wrote a nicer article in response to Kerrie’s article. I hope it’s nicer. I meant it to be. You can read the discussion in full here. And you can be the judge.

I wanted to write a better response, because I realized, after much deep thinking about where my anger, fear and pain came from, the real issue is our current culture’s LACK OF SUPPORT for artists.

DIY (Do-It-Yourself) and “I can do that!” prevail. “That’s so cool, I want to make that, too!” The internet makes it soooooo easy to do that, too.

I’ve actually had visitors to my booth pressure me to tell them exactly how I make my horses, because they want to make them, too. Their attitude is I actually owe it to others to share.

Aside from the fact that I choose other ways to share, this attitude is the extreme end of this condition:

This a very natural, very HUMAN response to the new, the beautiful, the powerful. We want it for ourselves. We want to touch it, do it, have it. We want it to be a part of us, in any way we can. We all feel this. And throughout time, all humans have. It’s part of being human.

After all, didn’t I respond to the cave of Lascaux with my own desire to make work that would resonate in the hearts of others long after I am gone?

It’s what we do, and where we go with that natural, human response that’s important.

My request is simple:

Rather than give in to the notion the artist owes us something…(beyond what they’ve already done by bringing their work into the world…)

Instead of “using up” the artists whose work inspires this in us….

Instead of only seeing these artists as a source of great ideas for our own amusement and use….

Instead of just viewing the work of these artists as a sort of “cosmic clip art”….

Why don’t we REWARD them for their efforts?

Why not give back to them, for the joy they’ve given us?

Why don’t we figure out some way to support them, whether that be financial, emotional or spiritual support?

We should consider supporting them….If only so they’ll keep making the beautiful work that inspires us. (It’s okay to be a little self-serving in our altruism.)

So in the end, I’m glad I waited to respond. (And, after reading my eventual response, maybe I could have even waited a few more days. I still sound exasperated. (But hopefully, not as angry.)

I truly appreciate the support and the good wishes of all involved.

Copying is a spectrum of behaviors and decisions–some useful, some unavoidable, and some outright hurtful. I know everyone’s intentions were good, and I hope this all brings about the desired result–a CONSTRUCTIVE dialog about copying, and one that helps people make thoughtful decisions.

So, taking my own words of advice, and being open to the gifts in front of us, I thank Kerrie for her honesty, for putting into words what many of us think when we justify our actions.

I thank her for loving my work.

And I thank her, and the International Polymer Clay Association for giving me the chance to publicly respond.

I am grateful I had the chance to work through this issue, and get to the other side. The place where I should be….

…In a place where I can leave this behind, and go make my art…

…And tell the story only I can tell.

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Filed under art, choices, copycats, craft, creativity, mental attitude, mindfulness, What is the story only you can tell?

WHAT ARE YOU CALLING?

IMPORTANT! On 9/2/2010, an anonymous poster on a local website published derogatory, insulting and personal comments under a pseudonym. They then linked their pseudonym-signature to this article.

It would be easy for a casual reader to assume I wrote those comments.

I did not write those comments, and I do not know who did.

I am extremely upset that someone, to hide their own ugly act, then impugned and sullied my professional integrity and reputation.

Regular readers will know I have never, ever written anything as hurtful and unkind as that unknown poster did.

You may see my thoughts on this incident here.

We now return to Luann’s regularly scheduled post for today…..

What is it you really want in your life?

A local lawyer was in the news recently, for allegedly shortchanging the interests of his client in order to line his own pockets.

Soon after the story broke, we walked by his office, a building that sits prominently on our Central Square in downtown Keene.

We saw the strangest sign on the building. It read something like this:

$$ John Doe Law $$

We’ve walked by that sign several times a day for years now, and never noticed the dollar signs used as brackets til then.

Obviously, money was very, very important to this man–and/or his clients.

We all get caught up in money. I do. You do. Can’t live without it, right?

And yet….

What is it about money that we want it so badly? That we call for it so passionately, so persistently?

And is money what we really want?

What we really want is what money represents. Security–knowing we’re prepared if something goes horribly wrong. A roof over our head, preferably one that doesn’t leak. Food on the table. Maybe really, really nice food on the table. Travel. Adventure. Education.

But if these tangibles and intangibles are the things we really want, why do we focus so completely on the money?

What am I calling for in my life?

What happens if I call for money, call for it more powerfully than for anything else??

I know money is a means to an end. In the case of this lawyer, however, it may be that the pursuit of money, over the best interests of his client, became the end. The end of his career. The end of his reputation in this community. And probably the end of a whole lot more.

What I’m thinking about today is not how evil money is. It’s not. But I’m thinking about what money represents to me.

I’m wondering if some of those things, maybe I already have ‘em.

And thinking maybe there are other ways to get the ones I don’t.

What do you intend to call for in your life?

P.S. A dear friend in the biz once wrote me to say, “You’re one of the few craftspeople I know who evaluates their success in many other ways besides money. I like that.” I still treasure that remark.

P.P.S. Just in case you’re thinking I’m trying to get nominated for sainthood here (ho ho!….NOT!), let me say I’m expecting a visit this afternoon from an African bead trader.

And I never say no to African trade beads.

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Filed under art, balance, business, choices, craft, privacy vs. authenticity and identity

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

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

NEW JOURNEY: The Eighth Step

Sometimes the hardest thing to do, is to do nothing.

Many of you have sent some gentle nudges my way. “You haven’t said much lately–what’s up?” “Is everything okay?” “Are you still dealing with crap?”

Short answer: Yes, I’m still dealing with crap. Mine.

I’m nearing the end of my hospice training. One more class, and that’s it. It’s been informative, exhilarating, intriguing.

And I still have no idea where to go from here.

I didn’t really expect to have a huge spiritual/emotional/professional/personal breakthrough, the answer to all my questions, at this point. But yes, I confess I had a sneaking little hope I might….

So I’ve been down. And embarrassed about it. Too embarrassed to even post about it.

Two things happened in the last day or so. I spent an evening with a dear friend, who simply listened. And I ran across another great article by Christine Kane on Why Your Ego Loves Airline Delays.

I wailed to my friend that I thought I’d have something figured out by now. Maybe not a new career plan, but at least a moment of clarity. Why can’t I get a head of steam going here?? Why can’t I get some traction on any of my projects?? What’s wrong with me, anyway?!?

Carol, bless her heart, reminded me that I still look like a success: My big retail show coming up with lovely new work, my magazine column for The Crafts Report, my new shop on Amazon’s 1000 Markets my blog. (BTW, she loves all the comments you readers leave, too!)

She also said I was an inspiration to her, professionally and personally. She says she sees me constantly, unrelentingly, trying to figure this stuff out. And she thinks I’m being too hard on myself.

“You’re already forming new plans and strategies,” she pointed out. “You took the setbacks and obstacles created by a few of your peers at your professional craft organization and overcame them. You have beautiful new work, and a beautiful new story behind it. You’re looking for ways to generate more reliable income for your family and your biz. You’re determined to follow through on your volunteer commitment to hospice, even though it’s terrifying you. You’re learning to set boundaries with groups and individuals in your personal and professional life, even when it’s tough. You’re doing the hard work. And you’re sharing that openly and honestly with your audience. Where…is the failure in that??!”

With a friend like Carol, I could move mountains–at least the little ones in my heart.

The Christine Kane article reminds me that what’s grousing here is my ego. The part of me that wants to figure this stuff out right now, the part that’s impatient with how slow and painful the process can be. It’s the part that wants to control and manage my life.

My ego has to accept the the parts of life I can’t control and manage… It–I–must learn to give in sometimes, so that love, and peace, and courage–yes, and faith–can come inside, and stay.

So today I’ve worked hard on my application for a little job at our local college. It looks like it’s within my skill set, and would leave me time to still make art, and write. I’m trying to face my next big retail show with peace in my heart (and nice new work) instead of anger and resentment towards those few who would like to see me fail. I’m taking it one day at a time, one thing at a time, and I’m trying not to fuss and worry.

And trying to eliminate a few of the “I” sentences that seem to predominate my life lately.

My mantra for this week: Slow down. Be patient. Listen. Forgive others. Forgive myself. Believe. Love. Breathe.

Breathe

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Filed under art, craft, inspiration, lessons from hospice, mental attitude

WILL THE REAL LUANN PLEASE STAND UP?

So should you believe everything you read here? Getting to the real “me” can be tricky.

Someone wrote me recently, commenting on the phenomenon that many writers don’t actually resemble in real life the personae they’ve created in their writing (or in their online presence.) People who seem so saintly are actually kinda mean and petty. People who seem so forthright and opinionated in online forums are actually too shy to ever say what they really mean in real life.

How do you know anyone is who they say they are??

Coincidentally, another friend recently accused me changing a word or two when I quoted him in an article. I lied, he said.

So…Are all writers liars??

My first reaction was, Ruh-ruh. They’re on to me.

I try to be calm and loving and accepting, always looking for the lesson, always looking for the other side of a situation.

But sometimes that all goes out the window when someone cuts me off in traffic, or when somebody gives me attitude. Or when I simply don’t get what I want.

I try to to be cheerful and upbeat, and a good friend.

But sometimes I just want to crawl in a hole and die. Sometimes even my best friends really piss me off. Or worse, are highly annoying.

Much as I pour my heart and soul into these articles, you can’t get around the fact that I write them.

I get to decide what parts I put in and what parts I leave out. I get to frame the problem, and I get to position the answer.

I get to be too hard on myself, and I get to fudge the happy ending.

So who IS the real Luann?

1. Is she the compassionate and wise, thoughtful and kind person some people think she is?

2. Or is she the verbally quick and bright-haired woman who always feels she has to be the smartest and funniest person in the room?

3. Is she the loving mother who will fight fiercely for her children’s right to simply be who they are? The supportive wife who is always there for her husband?

4. Or is she the screaming shrew who actually once yelled at one of them, “If I had a pointy stick, so help me God I’d use it right now!” Or the bickering partner who says, “You know I’m right, so why don’t you save us both some time and just throw in the towel on this argument now?”

5. Is she the writer who publicly shares a struggling, sometimes painful spiritual journey to understand her place in the world, with anyone out there who will listen?

6. Or is she the self-righteous indignant and angry crabby person who still has the self-awareness to laugh when the writer Ann Lamott writes,

“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

7. Is she a person with a core of hot truth who examines what role she plays in the sad places of her life, and willingly embrace the lessons she finds there?

8. Or is she the idiot who falls back into the same patterns that didn’t work before, and has to learn those same lessons over and over and over again?

9. Is she the nicest person you ever met?

10. Or is she so empty inside, she still believes that being nice is more important than being honest/whole/self-reliant/herself.

11. Is she brave and fearless in her approach to love, life and art?

12. Or is she hanging on desperately to what she already knows, because anything else is too terrifying to contemplate?

13. Is she an amazing artist whose work with texture, color, mixed media and narrative has resulted in a formidable body of work?

14. Or is she that woman who spent an hour in Home Depot’s paint section, agonizing over what color to paint her bathroom?

15. Is she someone who understands this is her journey in life, accepting it with a whole heart (only having to be dragged kicking and screaming to the next step occasionally), doing the best she can? That it’s not about what others think of us or what we do, we just need to do the right thing?

16. Or is she fearful that others might think she is putting on a pretty good but false persona, too?

Answer:
a. All the odd-numbered statements.
b. All the even-numbered statements
c. Some of the above.
d. All of the above.
e. None of the above.

If I’m learning anything in this strange journey called life, it’s that we’re all very different, and that has to be honored. And we all have a lot in common. A lot.

We all have our dark side, and our bright side. We all struggle to love and be loved, and by the “right” people, too. We all want to be recognized for the incredible things we do, and we all wish the bad things could go in a closet somewhere, forever.

We all have the “inner work” to do, and most of us will never finish it. In fact, some of us will never even acknowledge there is inner work to do. “Oh, that’s, someone else’s inner work!” they’ll exclaim. (I just corrected a typo here that read “sinner work” & realized, that works, too….)

And they’ll be right, too. (And wrong.)

You see where I’m going with this.

If you met me for the first time, and I were having a good day, you might think I’m delightful and funny. Or you might think I simply talk too much.

If you met me on a bad day, you might think I was thoughtful, a compassionate and ready listener. Or you might think I have a chip on my shoulder the size of a Buick, and I whine too much.

Some people love the fact that three years ago, for the first time in my life, I dyed my hair. A deep, rich, intense auburn color. They think it’s brave and cheeky and fun and artistic. Other people think it’s pathetic that a woman my age is so desperately hanging on to her youth. Who does she think she’s kidding??!

The real me? Your guess is as good as mine. I only know it seems important right now to accept all these things as true. Without judgment or censure. Without pride or smugness.

Because what I do, or what I think, or what I have, or what I choose, are all aspects of myself that could disappear in a heartbeat. What is left then?

And that’s what my journey is about.

Because I think what I’m going to find out is, who I really am–just me–in the end, is something much, much bigger–and much, much simpler–than all of these other things.

And that will be….enough.

Just remember. We’re all in this together, and nobody gets out alive.

p.s. My friend, who has mental illness, objected to my use of the word “crazy” to describe the way he’d “altered” his rented room. So perhaps I should have been more sensitive to his condition and used a less volatile adjective.

On the other hand, the other word he complained about was just way too picky. So I think–you guessed it!–we’re both right.

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SAYING THANK YOU

Saying “thank you” not only makes others feel good, it can make YOU feel GREAT.

Saying thank you is a common theme in my blog. I’ve shouted out my share of of thanks to the many, many people who have supported and advised me on my artistic journey.

Lately I’ve been doing something a little different.

I have a line of simple jewelry–earrings, necklaces–made with semi-precious stones, vintage glass beads, odds and ends I have lying around the studio. Sometimes I use wire-wrapping techniques a la Deryn Mentock’s work. Sometimes I use salvaged chain in antiqued brass and oxidized silver. Sometimes I combine old buttons and antique beads or even vintage radio resistors.

I can’t sell them at the handmade craft shows I do, because I’m using “purchased components” rather than making my own beads and buttons. I sell them on Etsy, out of my studio, and at some of the smaller shows I do. They’re usually inexpensive–under $25–, they’re fun to make, and they’re always different.

After my holiday shows, I had a lot left over. So I started giving them out as thank you gifts.

If a sales clerk went out of her way to smooth over a sticky transaction, I’d leave a pair of earrings for her. If my photographer squeezed me into his schedule when I had an urgent deadline, he got a few pairs for his wife. When I got my first flat tire last week, and the tire dealer fixed it and remounted it at no charge, I left a few pairs for his wife.

Here’s my point: It’s one thing to say “thank you” to all those who go out of their way to make my life easier.

It was another thing entirely to actually reward it.

I never kept track of how many times I actually say thank you. When I hand out earrings, I notice.

It’s an odd experiment, I know. But if you are feeling like life just sucks right now, try it. Make up something that’s simple and inexpensive. Keep a few tucked in your pocket or bag.

The next time someone does something nice for you, surprise them with your little thank you trinket.

Just see how many more you’re gonna be making each week.

And marvel at the amount of kindness in the universe.

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CLEANING THE ATTIC Tip #11: Remember What YOU’VE Been Given

A reader posted a good comment to one of my essays in this series, remarking that different purge strategies work for different people. She pointed out that she makes good money from regular yard sales, and that the motivation of making a chunk of change works really well for her.

The same day, I met up with old acquaintance through Freecycle. She told me I had quite a reputation in our local chapter for “giving away great stuff”.

Uh-oh. It got me thinking….

Was I being an idiot, giving all this “great stuff” away?

I got caught up again about how much money I’d spent of this stuff. I wondered if I should be consigning this stuff, or selling it. It affected my ability to make quick decisions about each item.

And the purge process slowed down. Way, way down.

This weekend, I showed someone my newly-organized attic, with all my booth stuff stored neatly away to one side. There against a wall was my big insight.

I myself have been given so much.

I saw a set of panel walls (sort of old versions of MD Propanels, sort of like these. And a big set of Abstracta. A set of black puzzle floor mats; a shipping container; and a number of other items….

Things other artists had given to me.

It came about this way:

One year, I opted to do a sales/demo booth at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Annual Fair. It was a huge undertaking in so many ways, not the least of which was designing a gallery-like setting and a demonstration station in a 600 square foot tent space.

Yes, you read that right. I had to equip the equivalent of six standard-sized booth spaces.

I needed six times the walls I normally used. Six times the display structures. Six times the lighting. I needed a way to cover the floor, create signage, create traffic flow that made sense. Additional sales staff and inventory.

It was almost insurmountable. But I turned to my community–and my friends–and asked for help.

I posted on a few forums asking for ideas and suggestions.

Several artists responded not only with advice, but with stuff.

Thank you to Jill O’Reilly, who invited me down to her studio in Massachusets, and gave me her old wall set-up, flooring, and a ton of Abstracta parts.

And thank you to Amy Peters for giving me a ton of flooring and a shipping case to store it in.

I could not have created such an incredible presence at that show without their incredible generosity and support. What they gave me was worth hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. And neither of them asked for a penny, unless I “felt like” giving them a piece of my jewelry or something.

So when I start to fret about giving away a $25 object, or a $50 object, or a $100, I stop and think….

So much has been given to me. It’s my turn to give back.

For me, for right now, it would feel small-in-spirit to stop that flow, to hoard what I can’t or don’t want to use, until someone pays me for it.

That’s just where I am in my karmic cycle right now.

So as my reader said, if selling your discards works for you, go for it! If you need that money to finance your next step in your dream, do it! There have been times in my life where I needed the dough, and I truly understand.

But if you find it hinders instead of helps, know this:

You could be helping someone else take that big step forward, if you can simply let it go.

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IMP AGAIN

One of my favorite columns by writer Martha Beck is “You Spot It, You’ve Got it!” It appeared in the July 2004 issue of Oprah Magazine.

The article describes a cognitive phenomena that psychologist Daniel Wegner calls IMP: ironic monitoring process.

In essence, IMP is our powerful tendency to recognize our own faults in others.

We need to feel good about ourselves–it’s human nature. To do so, we often tend to overlook our own flaws and shortcomings.

But since our brains also tend to think about the things we’re trying not to think about (“brass monkeys!”), this “blind spot” makes us hypersensitive to the same flaw we’re trying to repress, in others.

The result is a dynamic of “you spot it, you got it.”

Hence the artist who reamed me out a few years ago (“for your own good”) about me being stuck with “same tired old techniques and the same tired old designs”…whose own work had not changed in 20 years. Hence the hypercritical teacher who, it turns out, was battling the same demons I was.

And hence my impatience with people I see making the same mistakes I struggle with.

There are some people who take this tendency to extremes. Their cognitive dissonance about what they’re doing makes them difficult to even be around. Once we recognize what they’re doing, we can take steps to avoid them.

But there’s also an interesting flip side to this tendency. And there’s something positive to be gained by recognizing it.

Sometimes, I find that the people who are the most aggravating in my life have much to teach me….about myself. It’s an opportunity to work on the same tendency in me.

And sometimes, I find the people who are hounding me the most about some perceived “lack” on my part, are simply looking for me to be their hero.

In their mind, if I can overcome this flaw, this adversity, this setback, this roadblock….

…then maybe there is hope for them.

Maybe they can overcome theirs.

This actually happened to me recently. There was someone who seemed to be pushing me about overcoming injury, who seemed determined to not take my age into account when it comes to my abilities.

It turns out that person needs to know they can overcome their injuries. And they are hoping age will not eventually hamper their efforts.

The artist who thought I was stuck, made huge creative leaps forward, and is enjoying huge success from it. (I wish I could claim credit, but she did it on her own.)

Sometimes we are the very demon we fight against.

And sometimes, we are someone else’s angel.

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ARTIST AND WRITER

A friend read my blog entitled Is That a Book I See Before Me? and had some powerful comments on my choice of words.

She said (accurately) that I tend to downplay my writing and promote myself as simply an artist who writes about her art. My writing is sound.  So why was I being coy about putting as much energy into it as my art?

Why was I burying a link from my website to my blog way back in the “About the Artist” section?

Why did I always say “…and I’m also a writer….” instead of “I’m an artist AND a writer”?

When I went back and looked at the text she was looking at, I saw she was absolutely right.

And I realized I have been tentative about pushing my writing forward, yet I say it’s as important to me as my art.

Where did that come from??

There are several issues involved here.

1) In a marriage, usually one spouse takes on a set of tasks, and the other spouse takes on another set of tasks. We may complain that it’s usually gender-based, but it is a valid strategy for an organization (a household) to make. It’s more efficient to have every person good at a few things, rather than everyone sort of okay at a lot of things. Until you lose one person, that is.

In my case, Jon has been earning a living as a writer since he graduated from college. It felt awkward to think I could write, too, or that my writer would be as “excellent” or as “important” as his is. (That didn’t come from him, it came from me, unconsciously.)

In the last few weeks, Jon has made a point of telling me my writing is good–really good. I was surprised how wonderful it felt to hear him say that. A sign to me of how worried I was to be seen as competing with him in his area of competency.

2) It took me years of making art before I could confidently state, “I’m an artist” and feel like it was the truth, not puffery. It’s just taken me a little longer to get there with my writing.

3) I’m aware that my website is all about my work and the mystique I’ve created in my processes and my story. The blog feels more exposed, more exploratory. I always wonder what my customers would feel about me struggling with this issue or that, or complaining about the “difficult people” in my booth, for example.

This led me to the heart of it.

4) Years ago, someone (anonymous, of course) posted that it was a bad business decision to write so honestly about the ups and downs of being an artist, to admit setbacks and disappointments. It made me look unprofessional. An artist is supposed to look like a duck–swimming along, with all the hard paddling work unseen beneath the water.

I would alienate potential customers and galleries with all my whining and struggling.

There was just enough truth in that snarfy comment to let the knife slip sideways between my ribs and into my heart.

So I felt like I had to keep those two worlds separate, at least until I was famous enough to have a coffee table masterpiece of a book dedicated solely to my artwork written about or by me. Then people would want all the stories.

This latest “challenge” was made with love and respect and good insight. It got my dander up just enough to realize I do care passionately about my writing, too, and would be devastated to give it up. I am going to proceed with all the conviction it needs.

It also came with some really great advice on how to proceed, so it was a double gift.

I am blessed with such a wonderful readership, with people who read regularly and offer support and encouragement along the way. Thank you all!

I thank my husband Jon for his instant support when I told him it was time for me to write another book. Thank you, sweetie!

And a special thanks and a hug to Amy Johnson, for your bravery to ask such hard questions of a new friend. I am grateful. Thank you, Amy!

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MORE BUNNY LESSONS

My rabbit Bunster (she looks a lot like this rabbit) pretty much has the run of my studio. Sometimes this is not fun. She chews a lot, for one thing. If I don’t pay enough attention to her, she will even chew my pant leg. All my pant legs have rough spots where she’s nibbled the edges.

But she amuses me with her little bunny romps in the early mornings and evenings, when rabbits are most active, and I love the fact that she always hangs out near me when I’m working or writing.

And the lessons she teaches me are useful, too. I’ve written about some of these lessons before here and here.

Last night she taught me another lesson.

I often run back and forth between the main house and my studio. She hangs out happily in the mudroom in between sometimes. But every time I open my studio door, she runs over as if she wants to come inside.

If I opened the door to let her in, she stops and just sits there.

This always infuriates me. “Come in or go out!” I exclaim. “Make up your mind! It’s cold out here! I can’t leave the door open all day!”

She always ignores me, of course. I think she’s teasing me. Or trying to figure out where I’m eventually going to land, so she can hang out there, too.

Last night, she paused in front of the door, refusing to come in. But when I started to close the door, she reached and and grab the edge with her teeth and start to gnaw. I would open the door. She stopped. I go to shut the door again. She grabs the door again.

This went on and on.

Finally, I scolded, “Come in or stay out–but quit eating the damn door!!”

And then I started laughing.

I’ve been caught in the same dilemmas all season. Rest and recuperate? Get back to work? Start production? Clean the studio? Explore new ideas? Get caught up on the old ones? Chuck it all and move to Hawaii??? I just can’t decide what I should do, what I want to do, what my next step is. Someone tell me what to do!! All I want to do right now is hole up in a warm corner and knit.

As my rabbit twitched her nose at me, I realized it doesn’t matter which way I decide to go. In, out, in. If it’s not right, I can always jump back.

But there’s absolutely no point in sitting in the doorway and chewing the door.

Time to simply DO.

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BORN TO BUZZ: Create Your Own Reality

I believe we chose our own reality.

I’ve seen that process in action—two people interact, and both have their own very clear ideas about what actually took place.The same event happens to two different people–one views it as a blessing, the other as a blight.

But saying we choose our reality sounds so very lightweight. There’s no getting around cold hard facts, right? Reality is reality—if your car is going off a cliff, no amount of wishful thinking is going to keep you from eventually hitting the ground.

Well, I guess there is reality, and then there’s reality. So much of what holds us back in life, and in our art, is NOT about cold hard fact, nor is it as concrete as driving off a cliff.

Most of our obstacles are tied up with perceptions and misperceptions, based in fear, in indecision, or results from unclear goals and unfocused efforts.

And all of THESE conditions are, indeed, things we can choose how we think about them.

I wrote recently about actually experiencing a thought burp up in the middle of the night—and watching my mind literally pounce on it and begin to worry a solution out of it.

Til I realized, “This is not a problem I have to solve. It’s just a thought!”

And I’ve been reading more and more about “mindfulness”, the process of observing and naming your thoughts without the compulsion to act on them or even judge them. “Oh, look, there’s that insecure feeling again….” “Wow, I feel like smacking my cat. I must be having an angry thought about her ralphing on the couch.”

But why do I…we…have to go through these processes to achieve inner peace? Why is my brain always buzzing? What’s wrong with me and my brain, anyway?

I’ve been blaming it on menopause and looking for a cessation any day now. But more and more women are telling me, “Oh, it’s not that simple….”, sending me into new panic. You mean it’s not going to just go away on its own?? Horrors!!!

But yesterday I found hope.

I read the most remarkable book excerpt in the July 2007 issue of OPRAH magazine.It’s from Ruth King’s book, HEALING RAGE: Women Making Inner Peace Possible”. You can read more about Ms. King’s book here.

The excerpt reads:

“The mind’s job is to be busy with thought—24/7. The problem is that we often confuse the activities of the mind with the whole truth…A single wave of emotion can feel like the vast ocean at any given time, yet it is still only a wave, to be followed by another…Emotions are fed by thoughts that believe they are the only reality…We can be informed, even entertained by [them] without the urgency to believe them or act on them.”

I have read and reread that excerpt.

“The mind’s job is to be busy with thought—24/7.”

Our consciousness constantly creates thought because that is its function. There’s nothing wrong, that’s just what it’s supposed to do. That’s why it’s so hard to “empty your mind” when you meditate, so hard not to think of brass monkeys when told not to.

We have brain buzz because our brains are born to buzz.

And notice the next big sentence:

“Emotions are fed by thoughts that believe they are the only reality…”

If this is true, then here is the linchpin behind the whole “choose your own reality” philosophy.

If how we feel is based on thoughts, and any given thought can be given credibility if we let it, then we can CHOOSE which thoughts we give credence to, and which ones we won’t.

I don’t think it will be easy. I’m sure it takes practice, practice, practice.

But if such peace-of-mind is really so within my grasp, I’m willing to put a little time into making that happen.

I feel like this marshaling of my thoughts and processes is going to be so good for my art, and for my life.

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