THE POWER OF TINY CHANGES

I had surgery last week, and am only starting to feel back to normal now.

It was much, much more exhausting and debilitating than I’d thought or planned for, starting with the hospital stay.

My room was across from the nurses’ station, and I could hear EVERYTHING going on. I had a talkative roommate who never quit. She was very nice, but the last straw was the “Are you asleep?” queries at 2 a.m., 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. Between that, and the almost hourly nurse visits (alternating between me and my roommate) and I was a basket case by 6 a.m. When my husband showed up the next day to take me home, he asked brightly, “Did you catch up on your sleep?”, I dissolved into a puddle of tears.

I couldn’t wait to get home and sleep, sleep, sleep. After the two-hour drive home, that is.

Finally, I was home, sweet home. And I DID sleep, off and on, almost all of that first day.

By the second day, though, I had a most unwelcome visitor. Racking back pain, sciatica, brought on by inactivity and too much bed rest. The powerful meds I was on couldn’t touch it. It was so violent, I could only find relief by walking or standing—NOT what my exhausted body, already nauseated by the strong meds, could cope with so soon after surgery.

I was in major pain, and I was terrified. I imagined every single worst case scenario: blood clot, slipped disk, permanent pain.

I felt totally out of control of my situation.

Absolutely nothing gave me any comfort, or interested me, beyond the pain.

I thought it would last forever. That’s what it felt like.

After a few phone calls to my doctor and some adjustments to my medication and regime, I was able to get some relief by the next day.

But I was STILL exhausted. And worse, still depressed. The worst of the pain was gone. Hallelujah! (The blessing was, by contrast, my incisions felt great! But I still found absolutely no interest or comfort in anything. Not my family, not my home, not the beautiful June day. I felt exhausted and used up.

My studio and the orders waiting for me there felt like a burden more than anything.

I tried thinking of the simplest pleasures—coffee and chocolate (can’t have any for two months); alcohol (can’t have any for two months); sex (OW! I don’t even want to think about it!); yard sales (What?? Bring home more junk? No way!); movies (can’t sit that long). Even reading, usually my prime escape, seemed dull and sad.

The list grew longer. This scared me almost as much as the pain. I went to bed last night feeling pale and wan and futile.

But then something happened.

I woke up this morning.

My first thought was, “I could make the bed.” (I don’t know why, but I always feel better when the bed is made.) That thought felt pretty good.

My second thought was, “I could fold some towels.< That wouldn’t be too hard.”

I did. That felt pretty good, too. (I was sure to not think too hard about the other baskets of laundry sitting there looking hopeful.)

I felt better.

My third thought was, “I could clean the rat’s cage. That wouldn’t be too hard.” Mavra is the sweetest animal on the earth, but she is a bit smelly in her old age.

My fourth thought was, “Maybe I could just do one or two things in my studio today. Maybe just get one surface clear.” I knew I would feel better if I could accomplish that.

My fifth thought was, “I can’t believe how much better I feel just doing these tiny tasks!”

My last thought? “I should blog this!”

So here I am, before I’ve even made the bed or had breakfast. Before the thought fled my mind, which so many do with frightening frequency lately.

Why do making these small changes to my environment make me feel so much better??

I think this is another version of the micro-tasks I’ve written about before. The one where, if you are trying to exercise more but can’t find the time or inclination, you just put on your work-out clothes. Because just committing to that tiny action often leads to the bigger commitment, to actually work out.

There’s something good about realizing you can make tiny changes and achieve small—very small—results. Results that make a difference.

There’s something empowering about those tiny changes, in themselves, that can make you feel much, much better about yourself. BEFORE those changes can even really make that difference.

Oh, yes, and getting some sleep.

The next time you find yourself overwhelmed about life or your work, first take care of yourself.

Focus on getting through it, even if you can’t see the end. Know that it WILL get better, eventually.

And as soon as you can, make some teensy, little changes for the better. Even if you can’t see where they fit in the bigger picture.

Because just CHOOSING to make those changes is a good thing.

And making even TINY changes is a better thing.

They WILL add up. And you will quickly move on to even bigger and better changes.

But even more importantly, they will change YOU.

WHY, WHY, WHY?? How to Write a Stronger Artist Statement

I’ve just finished the final edits for an article I wrote for FiberArts magazine. You can learn more about the magazine here.

The article is about exhibition proposals–the “pitch” you make to a venue for a solo exhibition. It’s scheduled to run in the September issue, so put it on your calendars!

I think it’s going to be a slightly different take on similar articles. I actually went “behind the curtains”to see how such proposals are evaluated. I got to see firsthand which ones had pizazz and which ones didn’t–and more importantly, why.

Coincidentally, I also just finished my first proposal for public art. When a federal building project is budgeted, a certain percentage of the money involved is dedicated to providing art to decorate it–an amazing concept, and one that has long interested me.

You can read more about public art here.

Usually the scale is out of my league, and many designated sites are not conducive to fiber (outdoor installations, for example.) But this one was of manageable size. Best of all, I instantly felt it was a good fit for my artwork.
Why? Good question.

I’m not being facetious. When it comes to submitting a great proposal, writing a press release, or creating an astounding artist statement, WHY? is the very best question you can ask.

I found this out a few years ago while teaching a workshop on press kits.

My message was, the whole point of a press release is telling your story and getting it published in a newspaper or magazine.

So how do you tell a compelling story? I started with the 5 W’s (who, what, when, where, why, and how). That’s easy for most people.

But everyone was getting stuck on “why?”

They couldn’t get past the cliches we fall into when we are afraid to dig deeper.

“Because I just love color.” “I just love fabric.” “I dunno why I do it, I just like doing it.” “It’s so much fun!”

Even more telling, no one got WHY the “why” is so important.

I had a flash of insight.

Why?” is “Why do you care?” And “Why should I care?” (Sounds harsh, but true.)

To temper the process, I would just keep asking “why?” until I got a strong answer.

So I just asked “why?”

I asked “why” over and over and over, until we got to the heart of their story.

It’s simple. And it works.

I’m reading a terrific book called MADE TO STICK by brothers Chip and Dan Heath http://www.madetostick.com/ I was delighted to read the same technique recommended to get to the “core idea” you are trying to sell to people.

I use “sell” loosely, because whatever your product is–a movie, a car, a cleaning service, a painting, a charity–you have to make some connection with your audience in order for them to want it.

That connection, that “story”, can be about value, prestige, entertainment, convenience, whatever.

For most of us, “Why?” will get you to that story faster than the speed of light.

Here’s one example. Years ago, a friend who works with young adults with special needs complained about one former client he worked out with regularly.

His complaints were funny and amusing. But his experience sounded like so much trouble, I wondered why he continued to spend time with this young person.

I kept asking him why. He kept making vague excuses, none of which made sense. I kept saying, “But if this person is SO ANNOYING, why do you continue to do this??”

Finally, our friend burst out, “Because these people are different. They’re a little weird, they’re a little goofy. It can be scary if you don’t understand. In our culture, this tends to set them apart–they get marginalized, they get put aside. “

But the conditions that make them seem “odd” also give them amazing qualities. They have strengths and opportunities to offer us. Their “differences” are just part of the full spectrum of being human.”

I’ve always felt that, if only we could learn to be a little more understanding, a little more tolerant, then all our lives would be so much richer.”

As I heard this story, I felt myself determined to be a little more understanding, a little more tolerant.

The “why” had come through. My friend had made that connection by sharing that true story.

FWIW, in my book, one powerful story comes when we are motivated to be the best kind of person we aspire to be. To see common ground with others, and thus chose to act out of love, courage, passion and grace instead of fear and hate and pettiness.

So here I was with my first public art proposal. I found many of the same principles I’d learned from my research on the exhibition proposal article applied. But the biggest hurdle for me, as I said, was simply “why?”

WHY was my artwork a good fit for their proposal?

Once I answered that question to my satisfaction (and hopefully theirs!), I felt I had a good, strong proposal. I sent it off knowing I’d made my best effort.

Try this, the next time you need to really connect with an audience. Before you write your next artist statement, or submit your next exhibit proposal. Before you do your next show. Before you are interviewed by your local newspaper.

If this gets hard, ask a trusted friend to ask you, and tell them to push until they get the real answer.

Ask yourself “why”.

But ask it more than once.

Keep asking yourself “why?” until you get to the very heart of what motivates you.
Don’t stop til you reach the truth.

Trust me, you will know.