Tag Archives: writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are writing down the bones.

There is forgiveness. There is gratitude.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m left with peace in my heart.

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

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

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Filed under art, grief journaling, hospice, life, writing

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

TELL ME A STORY: Proximity

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

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

Tell Me a Story: Proximity

by Luann Udell

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

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

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

For a complimentary subscription, visit: Fine Art Views

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Filed under announcement, artist bio, Fine Art Views, marketing, social networking, Tell Me A Story, telling your story, writing

HOW TO SOUND SMARTER THAN EVERYBODY ELSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My first result using the Arty Bollocks Generator was promising:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These actually sound like real artist statements..

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

Remember–It’s our choice.

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

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

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

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

Say what is in our hearts.

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

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

LESSONS FROM HOSPICE #3: The Grief Writing Workshop Continues

What will survive of us is love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What will survive of us is love.

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Filed under art, death, grief journaling, hospice, lessons from hospice, love, writing

PRACTICE AND NOT PERFECT

I was writing my morning pages today. And I got stuck.

I did what I tell my students to do when they get stuck. Just write something, no matter how silly or tedious. For me, it’s often, “blah blah blah” or “I can’t think of anything to write. I can’t think of anything to write.” I kid you not.

Today I was writing, “Keep going. Keep going.” Actually it read like this:

keep going keep going keep going

Because when you’re doing morning pages/free journaling, the trick is to not even stop for correct spelling or punctuation. No editing, no anything. Just write.

And the miracle happened. As it always does.

Sometimes this silly repetition keeps my inner critic/left brain busy, just for a few seconds–long enough for my inner wizard/right brain to grab the steering wheel and hit the gas pedal. Many of my insights, over-the-hump strategies and yes, gentle readers, even blog posts, come from this wild ride in the kidnapped taxi cab that was going nowhere slowly.

Today’s insight was the writing itself. Though I rarely focus on good penmanship when I doing this exercise, suddenly the repetition took me back five decades, to third grade. (Yep. I’m old.)

I wasn’t a bad kid in grade school, but I would get in trouble for talking (surprise!). Or for drawing pictures when I was supposed to be paying attention. And then I’d be assigned that infamous penance: Writing 100 sentences that began with “I will not….”

“I will not talk during geography class.” “I will not doodle while the teacher is talking.” “I will not wait until the very last minute to ask permission to go to the bathroom.” (That was an awful day!)

I didn’t mind it, though. I loved to write, even the same stupid thing over and over and over.

It became a little game to me. How perfectly could I form each letter, each word? And could I actually write the entire sentence perfectly, beautifully?

I never could, of course. At the last second, my pencil would skitter, or my lead would break. Oh well. Plenty more sentences to try!

And suddenly, I realized the beauty of that 8-year-old’s spirit. Perfection may be only a few pencil strokes away. I never got there.

But simply trying was…..fun.

Somehow I knew, and accepted, that it wasn’t about being perfect, or doing perfect. It was the practice that brought the joy. There was plenty of paper, and a pencil sharpener right near the door. I had all the time I needed. (I wasn’t in a hurry to get back to geography, after all.) I liked being indoors and didn’t mind missing recess.

With another stroke of insight, I realized this powerful attitude drives all my practice. All my interests and processes.

Except, of course, when I’m not messing myself up by falling into the adult’s version of private hell….PERFECTION.

Lose the striving for perfection, and I’m in heaven.

It’s why I can write about the same topics in my life, over and over, and never feel like I’ve written the definitive take yet. It’s why I love to ride horses, though I’ll never be a great rider, and was certainly never a natural rider. It’s what kept me going through tae kwon do, kick boxing, and back to tae kwon do. That’s why I can do kata all through tae kwon do class, and never feel like I’ve quite mastered Basic 1.

I may never get back down to fighting weight. I may never get my black belt. In fact, as I struggle back from yet more injuries and another upcoming surgery, I may never even regain the level I was at six months ago.

None of that matters. Just the practice.

It’s about the joy, plain and simple, we can find in our practice, if we let go of the outcome, the “finished product”. Because we are human beings, and there is no “finished product.”

I read a review about this book Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses by Claire Dederer. (It’s being billed as the not-so-exotic-and-more-domestic version of Eat, Pray, Love.) Some people love it, some people hate it. But what I loved in the review was the comment that the practice of yoga isn’t about getting to perfection in yoga. It’s about practicing yoga imperfectly and doing it anyway. I like that.

So yesterday I went to yoga, for the first time in six months. I’ve lost strength, and flexibility. I have to watch the twists, and I had trouble bending.

But it felt…wonderful.

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Filed under art, craft, inspiration, martial arts, mental attitude, mindfulness, perfectionism, writing

WE ARE ALL MADE OF STARS

Do you realize how amazing you are?

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

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

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

I agree with her friend.

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

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

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

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

Oy.

It’s time to quit apologizing for ourselves.

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

Taking ourselves for granted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then something wonderful happens.

I realize how amazing I am.

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

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

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

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

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

And how I still end up there again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are afraid we are not enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I realize we truly are all made of stars.

I am. And so are you.

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

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

GRIEF WRITING WORKSHOP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TURN ON YOUR (CREATIVE) LIGHTS!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s one concrete example for writing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I always come back. Because they work.

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

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

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

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ANOTHER LEAP INTO THE SKY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The way of love is not
a subtle argument.

The door there
is devastation.

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

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

— Mawlana Jalal-al-Din Rumi

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

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

BLESSINGS

I keep a gratitude journal (irregularly, but it’s there.) It’s a powerful tool for attitude adjustment, especially a few years ago when I had three surgeries in six months and was in constant, frightening pain. The journal really helped me see what my blessing were, even though, during that time, the lens I viewed them through had grown very small.

I also have days where I wonder if the time and energy I put into my art and my writing have had any effect on the world. On those days, I console myself with the image of a pebble thrown into a great lake. We know we throw that pebble with our greatest intention. But we may never know how far the ripples travel, nor what shores they eventually fall upon.

So those are my tips on how to get over the Eeyore thing.

Yesterday was a perfect day for me. I finished up a new series of small framed pieces for a little art show at a friend’s coffee shop, Prime Roast, in Keene NH.

Judy Rogers roasting coffee at Prime Roast Coffee in Keene, NH. Photo from the Keene Sentinel.

Judy Rogers roasting coffee at Prime Roast Coffee in Keene, NH. Photo from the Keene Sentinel.

That’s my friend Judy in the photo. She hosts exhibitions for emerging and local artists, supporting our community artists.

I’m thrilled with the new work, and I had a few compliments before I’d even finished hanging them.

The icing on the cake was finding this reaction to articles I wrote recently.

Is it bragging to share with you? I dunno. Well, yeah.

(Remember, I said I’m trying to be a better person. I didn’t say I was perfect.) (VBG)

But it’s not often we get to see the shore where the ripples gently fell. And when we do, it’s a blessing.

So I am grateful to LaDonna today. Thank you, LaDonna!

P.S. And just in case you think I take myself too seriously, here’s one of my favorite movie quotes, about what Conan the Barbarian thinks is good in life.

I don’t think he keeps a gratitude journal, do you?

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COUNT THE HOURS

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

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

Here’s another thing to consider….

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

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

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

In three months, they wrote 50,000 words.

That stopped me in my tracks.

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

But others don’t.

So two possibilities are open to you:

Work in smaller time chunks.

Or….

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

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

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

How did I do? :-)

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

NEW COLUMN AT Fine Art Views!

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

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

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

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

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

Oops, you didn’t hear me say that!!

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WRITING A BOOK

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

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

You know me. I got a million of ‘em.

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

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

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

DO IT!!

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

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

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

So how much money are we talking about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things to keep in mind:

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

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

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

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

You really can’t change your mind halfway through.

A lot of people START books.

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

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

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

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

Good communication is key.

One last tip:

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

And one last thought:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I still think it’s worth doing.

Any questions?

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TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS #12: The Muse Never Falters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It hit me like a ton of bricks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because it has to. Or I’ll die.

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

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

What’s important is–it’s back.

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

I just have to do it.

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

NEW JOURNEY: The Tenth Step (I think)

Sometimes you don’t know how you get there, but it’s still nice to know where you’ve been.

I read Canadian artist Robert Genn’s latest newsletter A Treasured Mapbook, this one on the joys and advantages keeping a journal while traveling and painting. Mr. Genn writes often and well about issues concerning art and artists. You can read my tongue-in-cheek response below his article.

What delighted me was another reader’s comment on the accompanying image of my small bear sculpture. She thought that the markings on my little bear looked sort of like a map, too. I was thrilled by her observation, and it got me thinking.

There are so many kinds of journeys we take, and so many ways of recording them. Ways that may help us, looking back, to see how far we’ve come from. Perhaps, in journeys where we feel we travel without a map, this backward look gives a hint of where we’re headed, even when we aren’t sure ourselves.

Perhaps my very body of work is such a map. And so is this blog.

Re: the markings on my artifacts, I’m often asked what they mean. I have to say, I really don’t know for sure. And even when I do, that changes over time.

Some echo the markings in actual cave paintings. Their meaning is not clearly understood, though many new theories abound. Even the myriad hand prints only confirms that many ages of people frequented these places, not why.

So I add my own little handprint, and add mysterious little dots and scratchings.

I work quickly, not thinking too much about where I mark, and how often, sometimes falling into compelling rhythms (“One-two-three-four-FIVE, one-two-three-four-FIVE…”) or compulsive counting (I try to always have odd numbers of marks, such as the incised lines in a horse’s mane.) For awhile I felt I had to etch tiny fern-like patterns on each one, a urge that eventually manifested into this pod series.

Each little animal or artifact seems to call out for a certain “look”, and I do my best to oblige without always understanding why.

Then I listen to the stories my collectors tell about what they see in the markings. One, a musician, sees an ancient scale of musical notes. Another, an astronomy, cherishes the thought that the seven dots in a bull’s face is indeed an ancient star map of the Pleiaides. The hand prints often speak to healers.

I am delighted and enchanted by such stories. It means the piece has left my hands, and has truly become an object of meaning to the new owner.

So the idea of the markings-as-map, as I chronicle this “word map” blog of my latest journey, appeals. Once again, just as I wonder what place my art has in the world, it calls me back. Encourages me to take “one more step” with this work, with this incredible journey called life..

My art still urges me to look around and see, to really see. And to reflect and record what I find.

It’s always been there for me. I’m the one who walked away. And now, perhaps, I find my way back again.

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New Journey: The Ninth Step

Class is over, and now the real learning begins.

I really need to start renaming how I number the posts in this series, or someday I’ll be up to “The Hundred-and-Fifteenth Step”….

Yesterday was my last hospice volunteer training class. I’ve been gently, quietly freaking out. The time for talking the talk is over. Now it’s time to walk the walk. And I’m not sure I can.

I thought I was the only one that felt this way. But of course, a little talking among my classmates quickly overturned that little paranoid delusion. We all felt anxious about actually doing what we’d signed on to do.

This week, we had current volunteers as guest speakers. They were relatively new, having completed their training only a year or two ago. And they had this to say:

The first time is scary. You want to do a good job, and it feels like there is so much to remember! But it changes into what it needs to be….

You’ll get your cues about what is needed. The patient will let you know if they need interaction, or quiet, to be touched or left alone.

The things you thought would be easy, might be hard. What you thought might be hard, will be easy.

Try not to anticipate what will be needed. Don’t be a “fixer”. Let go of that need to jump in and take over. Hold that part of yourself down.

And open yourself up.

Center yourself. Get quiet. Be peaceful. Observe. And be present.

We also had a hospice nurse talk with us. His final words of advice: You are all ready for something different in your life, or you wouldn’t be here. Don’t consider yourself a gift to others. Don’t worry about that part. Just consider the gift you are being given…. (to be with someone at the end of life.)

And now I can I see where my anxiety is coming from.

I’ve been working too hard on giving.

That sounds silly, I know. Here me out.

Lately, it feels like my gifts aren’t needed or wanted. Neither my art, nor my self, nor my intentions feel honored lately. My artwork sales are falling, the galleries say no, the memorial service I felt I was not welcome at, my artist friend who did not enjoy the article I wrote about him–one of my best, btw!–my son who does not want my mothering right now. All feel like failures, failures in what I do, what I don’t do, who I am.

And when I ask for help, I worry I’m asking for too much. It feels like I’m constantly asking for too much.

Now I see that in my search for the perfect exchange, that perfect moment when what is given is exactly what is needed, when what is needed is exactly what I have to offer, I have actually been selfish.

I’ve been trying to control the outcome. I have been driven by the need for gratitude.

And I cannot control the other side of that transaction. I have to let go of that. I can only control my actions, my intentions, my offering.

If my presence is not wanted, then at least I showed up. If my article caused anger, then at least I wrote out of love and respect. Doug may not accept it right now in this angry teenage phase, but my unwavering love for him is the greatest gift of all. I choose to give it freely, and he is free to not want it right now. Or rather, he is free to choose not to show he wants it right now.

And so here is where my real journey will begin. Next week, I go back to interview for my first volunteer assignment. It may be days, or weeks, or months before I am placed. I’m scared. But I’m going to do it.

I will show up, and see what’s there.

And I will be grateful.

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Filed under art, business, courage, fear of failing, gratitude, hospice, inspiration, lessons from hospice, life, life with teenagers

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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Filed under art, funny, inspiration, life, mindfulness, writing

25 RANDOM THINGS ABOUT YOU: How to Write a Better Artist Statement

Use a silly little Facebook game to put more passion in your artist statement.

An article in our local newspaper discussed the current Facebook phenomenon, “25 Random Things About Me”. Apparently, it’s the most popular Facebook “Notes” feature of all time.

Why??

The article suggests it proves that we all love to talk about ourselves, especially the younger generation usually found on Facebook. (Although it turns out every age group on Facebook, including mine, is hopping on the “25 Random Things” list. I’m always amused at how we talk about other generations’ differences as if they were a different species…)

Emily Nussbaum, editor-at-large for New York magazine, says the most decisive difference is that the Facebook generation “assumes they have an audience”: They have a mental image of a large group of people interested in postings such as “25 Random Things.” Part of their identity rests on an invisible entourage that accompanies them everywhere.

It’s also an exercise to creatively select “facts” about ourselves that puts us in the best possible light. A little humor, and voila! A captivating mini-bio that reveals us as a delightful individual.

Is that so awful?

“Random Things” lister (Joe) Diorio has his own theory about why the lists and commentaries have become so popular. It has a piquant irony: “We spend so much of our lives online with Facebook, LinkedIn, and we spend so much time connected that we feel disconnected. So we tell people these little things, to feel more connected. We put a piece of ourselves out there, to give it a try.”

Isn’t this what art is all about? To connect what is in our heart to a larger audience?

Look, it IS hard to “stand out” in a world of a bajillion people. I’m a fairly outgoing person with a variety of ways to connect to my environment–parent, artist, assorted pastimes, social networks. In my own smallish town of Keene, NH, there are 25,000 people. What percentage of those people actually know who I am? Or care?

And yet to effectively market my art, to create an audience for the work I feel compelled to make, I may need to forge connections across a whole region, a country, perhaps over several continents.

So how do I make my work, and myself, stand out? How do I connect meaningfully with a larger audience?

We always assume it’s only about the quality of the work. Is it?

Good work helps. Great photography (so people can see our good work) helps. Publicity, self-promotion, advertising, exposure/exhibiting all help.

But what always grabs me is a good artist statement–an exquisite example of creative non-fiction. The ultimate “25 Random Things” list.

It should be true. But specific enough tell us something. “I just love color” or “I just love music” doesn’t tell me a single damn thing about your work.

It can be about your education or training. But that can’t be the whole thing. Typical artist statements often list the other, more famous artists someone studied under. To me that reads as, “I’m ALMOST as good as they are, but my work is a lot cheaper!”

It should be so well written as to be elegant. More often, it’s full of jargon and buzzwords (aka “artspeak”) that simply hides who you really are and what you’re really doing.

Here’s what I think it should be:

It should be aspects of the world at large that you experience through the lens of your unique perspective, your individual experience–in a way that explores, reveals and creates wonder in your audience.

It’s your honest, thoughtful explanation of why you create the work you do.

And why we should care.

Because that’s part of our human nature–to be interesting to other people. And to be interested in other people. We are social animals, after all, from the exuberant “look at me!” to the thoughtful “I never thought of it that way before….”

But if really connect with an audience, you have to dig a little deeper. Reveal a little more. Be a little more honest. Be more real.

Show us something human.

To quote the article again:

That communal aspect is what so much commentary misses about “25 Random Things.” It’s not just a list; it’s a communal exercise. Posters post, and friends comment.

What’s that commentary like? An unscientific survey of more than 30 such lists has yet to uncover anything vicious or unkind. Mostly, the virtual community is, in Nussbaum’s words, “surprisingly supportive, sweet, even encouraging.” It is nurturing, a thing friends do.

And that’s what I love about the 25 Things.

Every time someone I “know” writes one, I’m amazed at what I read. New facets of their personality, their history, their hopes, fears and dreams are revealed. They seem deeper and richer to me. I’m in awe of what has been shared.

I feel more connected.

I care.

Don’t be afraid to do this with your audience, your customers. Give them something real about you to connect with.

Your homework for today, should you choose to accept it, is to compile your own 25 Random Things list about you as an artist. I compiled such a list for my biz awhile back. In it are some of the stories that compel me to make my art.

I think I’ll be revisiting this list from time to time. I think it will continue to change as I get closer to discovering what makes me tick. As I get more clear about what it is I want to say. As I get closer to figuring out what it is I want to contribute to the world.

As I begin to understand how truly and completely fallible, lovable, annoying, loving, inspirational, wicked, kind, forgiving….how human…I really am.

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Filed under 25 Random Things, art, artist statement, business, inspiration, life, marketing, networking, press release, self promotion, social networking, telling your story, writing

YOUR REAL CAREER

This is another party story, like Turning the Tables.

At this same party, there were so many new people I’d never met, unusual in our smallish town. I would ask people, “What do you do?”

It always feels like a hopelessly inadequate question. After all, a person working as a clerk in an office could also be an artist, a singer, a T’ai Chi master. You never know.

It reminds me of a section in Martha Beck’s latest book, The Joy Diet. In the chapter “Play”, she asks you to name your real career.

A real career is not necessarily what you’ve trained for, or what you do to earn a living, or even the job you’re currently in (or not in).

Your real career, as Webster defines it, is “…the course of action a person takes over a lifetime.”

It may not be what you do for money. It may not be anything you’ve ever done. It may not even be what you do in your free time.

It is, she says, “…the course of action your true self would take if you were to live to the limit of your potential.”

This is a harder concept to grasp–what do you dream of doing? What feeds your soul? What are you at heart?

And this could be, she says, a Japanese scholar, a scientist, a mother.

This reminds me of the older definition of amateur: What you pursue for love. Or perhaps what you would pursue, for love.

To cut to the chase, she often asks her clients, “What were you doing the morning of 9/11? And what did you do that evening?” What seemed most important to you then?

When I found out about the two towers, I was working in my studio. And making preparations for my birthday celebration.

My husband and I immediately went for a walk. And talked.

We observed that there was a new dividing line: The people who knew. And the people who didn’t yet know.

I held my family close, and struggled with what to tell my kids.

I went back to my studio to make little horses. I struggled with why I should still do this.

Then I wrote about it.

And then I went out to celebrate my birthday.

I had to write about the event to make sense of it.

I had to ask myself why why making those horses still had meaning for me.

It was because they were, for me, a symbol of everything that’s tender, and good, in the world.

So I know my real career is making sense of the things that happen to us in life. To write about them as I go through them. To mangle my intentions, to struggle with meaning. To find a little way through.

And then to share them, through stories, with other people.

And then make little horses that embody those stories.

Oh, and to always leave room for cake.

I’m curious.

Pretend we’re at a party, and we meet.

What is your job?

And what is your real career?

PS. Art biz tip: This should be someplace in your artist statement, you know….

PPS. For this exercise, if something spared you the sucker-punch-to-the-stomach reaction to 9/11, feel free to choose another life event that left you reeling.

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Filed under 9/11, art, artist statement, craft, inspiration, life, telling your story, writing