I subscribe to Seth Godin’s blog. He may be an expert on marketing, but a lot of his posts also offer incredible insights into how to have a life well-lived.
Yesterday’s post was no exception. I was gonna skip it, because the title was odd. “Abnormal” did not sound like a good fit for my day.
And yet, it was exactly what I needed to read:
“Are you hesitant about this new idea because it’s a risky, problematic, defective idea…
or because it’s simply different than you’re used to?
If your current normal is exactly what you need, then different isn’t worth exploring. For the rest of us, it’s worth figuring out where our discomfort with the new idea is coming from.”
I’ve been writing for the online art marketing newsletter, Fine Art Views for many years now. At first, I focused more on marketing, salesmenship, display and lighting at fine craft shows, etc.
But more and more, as I struggled with my own role as an artist in this modern world, I shared deeper thoughts and musings: What it’s like to be a woman in the art world. (Kinda scary, sometimes!) What it’s like when you realize your sales aren’t great, and it’s really hard to figure out how to change that. (Do you quit? Or do you keep on? What’s the point??) What do you say when someone insults your work? (Snappy comeback at their expense? Or something so deep and embracing, it challenges them to look again?)
I write mostly what I’ve learned along the way, the powerful things others have taught me, and how to be a force for good in the universe.
I try to tread carefully on posts I know may trigger critical comments, and use humor often. Most of the comments complain my articles are too long. (To be fair, they complain all the FAV articles are too long, but especially mine. I started finding the word count and adding “7 minute read”, so that people who don’t have seven minutes could pass.)
But nothing stops a truly negative person. I actually did a series called “Haters Gonna Hate”, about how we cannot possible please everyone with our work and how to move on to focus on the people who do…..
And almost every article drew a comment (or three) complaining about me using the word “hate”. Because….I kid you not….they hated it.
I am always happy to engage in a discussion, because that benefits everyone in the end.
But over the last few years, I’ve gotten some toxic comments that were so out-of-line, they took my breath away. And although every writer on the site gets slammed from time to time, I seemed to get more. (I seriously think it’s because for a few years, I was the sole female writer in a historically male-dominated art world.)
I’ve learned not to slam back. (Not my usual style anyway.) I’ve tried to explain why my reality may not be theirs, and that’s okay. (Though the commenter usually thinks THEIR reality is the “real one”.) I always wait until the pain and frustration softens, so I can respond with my highest, best self.
And now, my editor has agreed to move the weekday my articles are published, so they can monitor those toxic posts better. (I chose Saturdays, but because the editorial staff is not available on weekends, I had to sit with that poison for two more days before they could be deleted.)
So back to Seth’s blog post yesterday.
I think this is why I get such blowback from some of my columns.
I’m sharing something so different from the traditional definition of “artist”, the way an artist measures their success, and including those who don’t even consider themselves a “real artist”, it is
People accuse me of misreading the term “triggering”.
But I think that’s exactly what happens. What I’m writing about is a different thing from what they believe is “true.” So they find it problematic, defective, instulting….instead of just “different.”
I love it when people sit with the “different”, and reconsider their assumptions and definitions about “real art” and “real artists”.
It means I did it right.
I’m comfortable exploring the “different”. I don’t need to change because they aren’t.
I’ve always said, from the very beginning of my art career, “My art isn’t for everyone.” I can sit with that.
And I also know my writing is not for everyone, and I can sit with that, too.
No one is forced to buy my art, nor read my writing. (In fact, even now, if you hate reading this, you can…..delete it! (Takes a second, and poof, it’s gone!)
But here’s who I write for.
People who struggle constantly with, “Am I good enough?”
People who work hard on their art, their art skills, their marketing, their social media, and still can’t rely on good sales.
People who wonder what the point of making art is, if no one wants to buy it.
People who think they’re doing it wrong.
People who think everyone else is doing it right.
People who don’t see other artists like them in the world.
People whose social circle constantly diminish or demean their choice of subject, medium, color palette, style, etc.
And of course, people who want advice on selling, marketing, customer service, display, etc. etc. etc.
I always preface or end with the statement, “If what you’re doing works for you, don’t change it!!”
And yet, although, of course, I always think I’m right (I’m human!!!) I also recognize the power of emotional and social growth. The power of changing my mind. Seeing the life lessons and tiny gifts in the hard times. Crossing the path of people who DO know better than I, and who share their hard-earned insights with people like me.
And so, although sometimes my words hit the wrong places in the wrong people, I will keep on writing until I can’t.
A big thank you to those who like what I write (at least most of the time) and who share your own comments and insights. You are proof that we all have something that can lift someone’s heart and encourage them to pursue their own creative work. You also show that you are a true, open spirit in the world, embracing every step of the journey. You make my heart sing!
Because the world needs our art, no matter what form it takes. Creativity of any kind is a force for light in the universe. (My Star Wars mantra!)
In this vein, if you are reading this today and like it, pass it on to someone else who might enjoy it, too.
And if someone who has your back, forwarded this to you, and you like it, you can sign up for more at my blog here.
THE AGE-OLD (war) STORY: Art vs. Craft
If you found this article helpful, feel free to send the link to someone else who might, too. (Thank you!!)
And if you received this from someone else, and liked it, you can sign up for more of my scribbling here.
Geez, I’m starting to feel like I’m preaching about this! For the record, I am not the wise woman you think I am. I’ve just gotten good at observing the journey, and sharing what I’ve learned along the way.
Yesterday’s post shared my latest insight on forgiveness, and anger, thanks to an article I read a few days ago. Today, I’m sharing an exercise that helped me–and a lot of people in our grief writing class–get over a major bump in life. (Like, a big rock in the middle of the road kind of bump.)
In hospice, there were certain deaths that were especially hard to deal with, and they weren’t the ones you’d expect. Yes, losing someone we’ve had a beautiful relationship is hard, hard, hard, no matter how gentle or peaceful their leaving.
But there are other deaths we call “complicated”. Perhaps it was a terrible bit of fate: An accident that yanked them out of lives suddently, horribly. Perhaps a suicide, where we are nearly destroyed by our helplessness to change anything. Maybe they were murdered. (This was my first person to write about, because their murder haunted me for decades.) Perhaps the person was struggling with addiction, with all the incumbent behaviors associated with that. Perhaps the person had mental health issues. Or perhaps they were abusive, or narcissistic, or simply toxic, or a sociopath, which feels more like a choice and hurts even more.
They have moved on. But sometimes we can’t.
In our grief writing workshop created through the agency I volunteered with, we dealt with people who were suffering from grief long past the “normal” length of time. (Although in our society, our “normal” is extremely short by any standard.) For many reasons, people could not feel the pain soften enough to take up their “normal” lives again. And because I’m a writer, I geared the class towards people who process life’s puzzles and muddy places through writing themselves.
I put together together various writing activities to use throughout the six-week sessions. But the most powerful one, originally my idea but modified to an even more powerful excercise by my supervisor, we saved for the next-to-last session.
It broke me very single time.
Imagine the person whose death is haunting you, crushing you. Imagine them now, whatever your own religious/spiritual beliefs (or non-belief) are. Imagine them in a different place in the universe, one where they are fully healed and restored to the best possible version of themselves they could be.
Now write a letter, from them, to you.
Every single class struggled with this concept.
“We write a letter to them.”
“No, imagine the letter they would write to YOU.”
“But…they would never do that!” (or “Wha……??!!)
Again, imagine. Imagine they are now a whole, healed, healthy, redeemed entity, somewhere. They are aware of their actions, they are everything you could have wanted them to be, here.
What would they say to you?
Now write that down!
Everyone would struggle with this concept. They hesitated to write. They would write a few words, frown, heave a sigh, look out the window. “Just write,” I’d say. “Just keep writing.”
So they did.
And then the words, and the tears, poured out.
People sat and scribbled for a long, long time. They cried. We cried. I still cry, just thinking about it.
I’d wait until everyone was done. No timer on this one!
And then, we offered them the chance to share, or not share, what they’d written.
Everyone wanted to share.
It was heart-breakingly beautiful. And it worked.
What they’d written was exactly what they wanted, and desperately needed to hear.
It was a tangible exercise in forgiveness. No excuses, no false apologies, probably something that would never ever happen in “real time”, in “real life.” It helped us understand that the person either could not choose, or chose not to be this “whole, healed person” in real life.
Like I learned and shared in yesterday’s post, we cannot change other people. We cannot change the past. We cannot control the future. We cannot control our feelings, only our actions.
This action broke our hearts wide open, knowing, feeling this, deeply.
It let us finally disengage from the pain, accept what it is, and let go.
It helped us imagine what that release, that act of forgiveness, could have looked like, and put it into action, now.
When I ran this class, I ran out of people to write about. Some co-workers (co-volunteers??) had the same problem. And one session, we realized we had all chosen pets to write about! One person imagined so deeply, her beloved dog had “written” “Dear Mom”. I magined my beautiful cat Gomez addressed me as “Kind Lady”, because he knew I wasn’t his mom, but he knew I loved him.
Even as I write this, I realize it’s time to do this again. It’s time to write those letters. There’s been a lot of loss in our little family lately. Time to take my own advice, and take that next healing step.
P.S. If you would like to try this writing exercise, but are a little unsure about it, do it with a good friend or two. Someone who loves you in all the right ways, all the best ways. Maybe you can both do it, together, and share your stories. For some reason, a witness is powerful magic.
And I promise to write about something cheerful next time!
Forgiveness is an act of commitment.
Forgiveness is psychological, not moral.
I’ve just discovered this incredible blog by Nick Wignall. It has already given me clarity on some of my “life issues”, good lessons in this confusing yet beautiful school of life.
The most recent one I’ve read is about anger, and consequently, forgiveness, both tricky issues to deal with even as an adult. This article wrapped up a lot of confusing emotions and tied ’em up with a beautiful bow. The following is a summary of what struck me hard, but be sure to check out the article as written, too. Because something different might resonate for YOU.
Last year, both of my parents died about 7 months apart, and I made four separate flights back home. One each to say goodbye, and one for their respective memorial services.
I had already done a lot of work surrounding forgiveness. Long story short, there were many times where I was not protected as a young person, and I suffered from not only the damage done to me, but also suffered from the lack of compassion from those who could have done better. There were also times where I was kicked out of the family because I was so vile and despicable. I had to come crawling back, not sure what I had done nor why it had been met with such an extreme response. And, like so many families, we were never–NEVER–supposed to talk about it, ever.
When a number of years ago, I realized my mother was now living with dementia, I knew I would never hear the words I was so desperate to hear. My work as a hospice volunteer taught me so much. How to sit with a client who is nearing the end of their journey. To understand the difference between “fixing/curing” and healing.
I realized she could no longer be my mother. But I could still be her daughter. I saw her as a person who deserved my kindness, and compassion, and that helped me deal with both losses without losing my mind.
It also planted the seeds of forgiveness. It took time for me to really understand what true forgiveness is, but it started there.
I was still living with anger, though. Many members of our family had different experiences, due to our ages and…er…experiences. It felt like a contest for ages: Whose version was “right”, and whose was “wrong”. How do we forgive people who are so sure we are doing it wrong? Especially when they never inquire what our own experience was like? Especially when we DID share those experiences, but remember them differently? Where is the truth when all we have is our own perception to rely on?
Nick covers forgiveness in the same way I finally reached it. Forgiveness does not mean “forgetting what happened” (because it is impossible to forget the pain). And it doesn’t mean the perpetrators are “off the hook”, and you have welcome them wholeheartedly back into your life. It doesn’t mean there has to be reconciliation–we are free to choose to protect ourselves, and we don’t have to accept “excuses” that are often at our expense. (For the record, “I’m sorry you got so upset” is not an apology.)
It’s about recognizing that other people are not under our control. We can only control ourselves, and there’s even a limit to that.
That’s where the anger issue came into play, and I love how he framed it.
Again, lots of quote and part paraphrasing:
Anger is a “positive” emotional feeling–we feel that we’re right and they are wrong. But it’s really an anti-depressant with potentially nasty side effects, and the consequences are often negative. LOVE THIS!
Anger helps eliminate sadness, boredom, feeling helpless, etc. It’s a crutch that makes us passive. It creates “opportunity cost”: Sucking up time and energy we could devote to learning better behaviors. It also reinforces our deep memories of the wrongs done to us. (Yup!)
The right approach, according to Nick, is to validate that anger. But don’t feed it.
The way there is acceptance–not for that person’s actions/inaction, but to acknowledge and accept we cannot change the past.
Thinking we can change the past helps us feel more in control, but it’s an illusion.
As I read this, I began to understand where my own residual anger comes from:
I hate it when other people diminish my pain. “Oh, that’s not what they meant, get over it!” “I don’t remember it that way, so that means you’re remembering it wrong.” When compatriots agree with me “in theory” but still defend “the group”.
And the reason I ghost them, I now realize, is because it feels like the only thing I can control. I can avoid any further interactions, and avoid the snark, the disbelief, the snide comments, or subtle “betrayal” of not standing with you even though they know exactly what it was like for you
So I’m still learning about forgiveness, and I’m beginning to distrust my anger, especially as it often serves only to feed the flame, or grow the sadness.
The last take-away from this article is, forgiveness is not ONE decision. We have to get there over and over again until the process gets “learned”. And it won’t “feel good” in and of itself. Because not only can we not control other people, we can’t control how we feel. Feelings are part of us, forever.
We may be able to soften the feeling. (The common phrase in a grief support group I attended was about how grief never disappears, but it does “gets softer” as time passed.) But it will always be there. Feelings are us. (Apologies to Toys R Us….)
All we can control is our actions.
This was exactly what I needed to hear.
For years now, I’ve written about the power of our choices.
We all have a lizard brain (aka “monkey mind”, “reptilian brain”, etc.) But when we learned to recognize those instinctive responses (anger?) to perceived danger (a rude customer, a snide family member), we can choose how we respond. We can choose “better”.
I am grateful that I found the way to continue the work of true forgiveness. I am grateful to find a better understanding of how my anger does not serve me, but I can never make it go away. I can choose to truly understand that in the short run, righteous indignation feels really good, but does not serve me in the long run.
And whether I have decades yet to live, or only a few hours, this is who I want to be.
This is who I can choose to be in the world.
I wnt to bed last night, dreamed, and woke up today with the usual buzzy brain thing going (aka “lizard brain”.) I don’t even remember what I dreamed about. I just know it was the usual–me trying to figure out something that would seem trivial, pointless, or absurd in my waking hours. (n.b. Almost EVERYTHING I worry about at 3 a.m. is rarely worth the expended energy by breakfast time.)
And even though I tried to not check my email “one more time” before I left for the studio, I’m glad I did. Because I found this article on how we tend to sabotage our own happiness.
We have a lot of stuff on our plate these days. Some are things we can’t avoid. Some are things we’ve wanted for years, but now that it’s in process, it brings its own set of worries. Worst of all, we left a strong network of good friends behind when we moved to California five years ago, and we are just barely starting to reboot that here. (See point #2. I’ve actually had that happen here several times, starting to share something that’s hard and having people shush me because I’m “not grateful enough” and “this is not something I want to hear, just be happy!” That. Sucks.)
None of these suggestions require a strict work-out schedule, or a major time commitment. None of them require we take up meditation, or exercise more. (See point #5.)
Just being aware of better ways to frame our situation, our mental habits, our life. Understanding what we can control, and what we can’t. And accepting that we CAN change the things we CAN control.
I’m feeling better aready. And I hope it helps you feel that way, too!
Thanks and a hat-tip to Nick Wignall!
OH, and if you know someone who’s struggling with the same issue (lizard brain!) pass this (or the above link) on to them.