MAYBE IT’S YOU: Staying Creatively Centered When Creativity Changes Things

A few days ago, I wrote about how people who are less than gracious about our creative efforts. I’ve learned that some relationships change when we begin our creative journey as an artist. I shared how some friends and family members will react badly–or not at all.

Today I want to talk about the other factor that changes:

You. (I can almost hear you…. “Wha-a-a…???”

Here’s a quick story to illustrate.

I start every day with a freshly brewed cup of coffee. I use the same coffee maker, the same filters, the same amount of coffee, and the same mug. (My favorite one!)

Why do I love this mug? Big (16 oz.), beautiful aqua color, holds the heat, flat bottom that doesn't collect water in the dishwasher.
Why do I love this mug? Big (16 oz.), beautiful aqua color, holds the heat, flat bottom that doesn’t collect water in the dishwasher.

Yet every single time, something feels different. And this happens when I pour the finished coffee into my mug.

Some days, the pot feels light. “Dang!” I think as I pour. “I didn’t put enough water in!” Other days, the pot feels heavy. “Dang!” I think. “I won’t have enough room for cream!”

And yet every day the cup is filled to almost exactly the right level. Because I put almost exactly the same amount of water in each time.

The reality of the coffee hasn’t changed. What changes is my perception. Daily.

This morning I realized this is also a big piece of why creativity changes things.

If your creative efforts are new, or if you’ve made a major shift in what you do, you’ve changed, too. You’re on strange new ground. You may feel excited, anxious, happy, scared. You most probably feel open–and vulnerable. What people say suddenly matters–a lot. The things people do and say may carry more power, more impact on your psyche.

This is what spiritual, emotional growth does–it changes how we perceive what is going on around us. The same stuff is there, but now we’re reading it differently.

The person who was a little less supportive than you’d like? Well, that imbalance of who-does-what-for-whom has probably always been there. But now you see it’s falling short.

The person whose center of the universe is always themselves? That’s been there, too. Only now you actually see how quickly the topic changes from your new venture to theirs, or their kids’, or whatever.

The person who’s always been hyper-critical? Or worse, silent? Perhaps you didn’t notice it when you stood on more solid ground, or you were confident enough that it rolled off your back. But now it hurts.

YOU have changed. They haven’t.

Is this good or bad? Neither. Or rather, irrelevant in the long term.

You’ve taken a major growth step. It isn’t easy, not for any of us. Being open to growth, being willing to learn in any major life change, is an acquired skill. Some people learn early, some late. (Me? I’m kinda behind schedule. But I’m getting there.) Some are not nearly as far along on their journey as you are, and some are way ahead of you.

And yes, even other artists can be shadow artists. No matter how long they’ve been at it, no matter how excellent their work, no matter how well-known they are, some artists may not actually be very far along on their own spiritual/emotional path. These “big circles” may still try to take a few bites out of you. (For an excellent, quick, simple read on this phenomenon, grab yourself a copy of THE NIBBLE THEORY by Kaleel Jamison. It’s a little book worth its weight in gold. I still reread it!)

In the end, your job is to make your art and get it out into the world. Sometimes that’s easy, sometimes it’s hard.

But don’t make it harder by focusing on the drama these people will try to bring into your process. Focus on what you need to do, and how you need to grow, as an artist.

Don’t take the silence, the criticism, the lack of reciprocity alarm you or anger you too much. You’ll get over it, and you’ll get better at ignoring it. You can choose to forgive, you can choose to accept and move on, you can choose to set boundaries, or you can choose to hurt.

I’m still a little stuck at “hurt”. But those life travelers who are further along than I am keep reminding me that this is my journey.

And my time and energy are better spent concentrating on that, than on the direction of, or the lack of, “journeying” by others.

P.S. In the spirit full disclosure, me telling you to do this, helps me do it, too.

I’m Getting Ready for Art Walk and the Art Tour!

Today fellow artist Tina Siart Boylan and I put together our window for Keene Art Walk (which opens officially this Friday.) Tina is sharing my studio space for the Keene Art Tour, which also starts this weekend–Saturday and Sunday, May 3 & 4, from 10-5.

Tina’s art is different than mine. She paints lush florals, delicate treescapes and small robin’s nests with acrylics on canvas.

But the window came together beautifully.

Our window at The Knitting Knook, right on the circle on downtown Keene.
Our window at The Knitting Knook, right on the circle on downtown Keene.

I hope you’ll join both Tina and I at my studio at 271 Roxbury ST in Keene this Saturday and Sunday, May 3 & 4 from 10-5.

And you can enjoy our window for the entire week, through May 11.

20140428_194201 (1280x720)

20140428_194213 (1) (1280x720)

20140428_194242 (720x1280)

20140428_194542 (1280x720)

You can read more about the process of window-sharing here.

WHAT MARTHA SAID: Staying Creatively Centered When Creativity Changes Things

My series on Lessons from the Move has touched some nerves. Turns out many people have encountered the sometimes wonderful, sometimes confounding experiences a major life change can trigger–in ourselves and in our community.

Someone wrote a poignant letter, describing the lack of response or support from their community, now that they’ve embarked on their own art career. Here was my response:

I’ve been pondering your email since it appeared in my in box.

You are just starting out with your creative work. And you’re finding that some people–friends, even–are not very enthusiastic. Not very supportive. Not even very interested, looks like.

Ouch.

You are not whiny and “small”. You are sharing your new-born creativity to your circle, and they are not reacting well. (Or at least not as you imagined they would.) Of course it hurts. Your sharing your new baby to the world, and the only response you’re getting is, “Cute shirt.”

It brings back so many painful memories. And I don’t have any answers, especially not easy ones.

The easy reply is, there are many kinds of friends. There are ones who come around only when things are going well. Others who come around only when things are NOT going well. Some people who can only give so much, and only at certain times. People you can call at 4 a.m. to bail you out of jail, and people who will never pick up the tab, or even split it fairly. People who love you on Tuesday and hate you on Friday. People who are grateful for your help, and then expect you to help over, and over, and over, and over and over again. Others who find it very difficult to accept help in any form, and those who would never even think to ask for help.

A friend once told me that even Oprah, who “knows” thousands and thousands of people, has only a very few that she can share her deepest self with. And this friend, who was very very good to me for years, couldn’t bear it when I became more successful with my art than she was.

Shadow artists are a subtle complication in life. Are you familiar with Julia Cameron’s books? These are people who can’t find their own creative life, whether from self-doubt or fear, or simply lack of talent. Some of them use their inner yearnings to support people who do create. Some become gate-keepers, dream-smashers, and detractors ruled by their lizard-brain jealousy.

I often recite the phrase, “A reason, a season, a lifetime.” (See quote below.) It refers to the people who cross your path briefly, to teach you something (not always something good, just insightful); the people who join your life for a longer period, to explore something deeper; and those who will be in your life for a long, long, long time. The latter are rare indeed.

I could make up many stories about why your friends are behaving the way they are. Maybe they see you as more blessed by life, and therefore not “deserving” of help or support. (Though everyone was to be supported for SOMETHING by SOMEONE.) Maybe they are envious. Maybe they are takers. Maybe their non-public life is nothing like what you see, and they are suffering horribly by something you will never know about. Maybe they have no idea what it means to be an artist, and our need to recognized for our gifts. Maybe they just don’t like your work. (I hate this reason, but there you go.)

Acknowledge the hurt. Consider what role these people will play in your life going forward. If there’s a particular friendship you’d like to salvage, then yes, talk to the person. Don’t get judgy, don’t assume anything. Just say what it looks like, and ask them for clarity. Then listen to what they say. Do they blame you? Or make excuses? Or do they respond with love? When I get to this point, I figure the friendship is already compromised, what do I have to lose? But if given a chance, these people step up to the plate, then it’s worth it.

And the friendship isn’t worth it, then simply put them on the shelf labeled, “Good for a, b, c, and d but not for w, x, y, or z.” Don’t expect them to change or step out of their box unless huge changes are observed. What they are to you, is up to you. What they are to god is between them and god, as a new friend just told me. (I use “god” to mean whatever/whoever you believe is “in charge” of the universe.)

You may have better understanding til then. But until then, only share your new work with the people you know will enjoy it. (Or at least have the integrity to recognize it for your first efforts and will tell you truthfully–and lovingly–how you can get even better.) As your customer base grows, they will be the ones who will wholeheartedly embrace your creative work. That’s why shows and open studios are so important to artists, especially those just starting out–we yearn for the recognition, the support and the admiration.

I hope this helps. I could go on and on (like I usually do!) But it boils down to what Martha Graham said:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.

Do your work. Keep doing it. Get better. Bring it out into the world. Rinse. Lather. Repeat.
hugs,
Luann

Reason, Season, or Lifetime

People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.
When you figure out which one it is,
you will know what to do for each person.

When someone is in your life for a REASON,
it is usually to meet a need you have expressed.
They have come to assist you through a difficulty;
to provide you with guidance and support;
to aid you physically, emotionally or spiritually.
They may seem like a godsend, and they are.
They are there for the reason you need them to be.

Then, without any wrongdoing on your part or at an inconvenient time,
this person will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end.
Sometimes they die. Sometimes they walk away.
Sometimes they act up and force you to take a stand.
What we must realize is that our need has been met, our desire fulfilled; their work is done.
The prayer you sent up has been answered and now it is time to move on.

Some people come into your life for a SEASON,
because your turn has come to share, grow or learn.
They bring you an experience of peace or make you laugh.
They may teach you something you have never done.
They usually give you an unbelievable amount of joy.
Believe it. It is real. But only for a season.

LIFETIME relationships teach you lifetime lessons;
things you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional foundation.
Your job is to accept the lesson, love the person,
and put what you have learned to use in all other relationships and areas of your life.
It is said that love is blind but friendship is clairvoyant.

— Unknown

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: It Gets Easier

I am more than a warehouse for my vast collections. When they no longer serve my needs or my wants, it’s time for someone else to have them, time for someone else to learn from them, to admire them, to enjoy them.

My column today for Fine Art Views tackles another chapter in our big life change.

See anything you like in here? Make me an offer!
See anything you like in here? Make me an offer!

All I’m gonna say is, a whole lotta books are involved.
Enjoy!

GO AWAY ALREADY!! Part Deux

So what happened after my plea for the last of the snow to just go away gracefully? (Or else…)

This:

It's just not fair.
It’s just not fair.

That’s it, New Hampshire. Now you’re just messin’ with me.

I am breaking up with you.

And Dear Readers, before you start telling me about the joys and gifts of winter, let me just share something I’ve noticed…

Everyone who feels that way? They haven’t been around winter as long as I have.

GO AWAY ALREADY!!!

New Hampshire pile o'snow, will you please go NOW??  (Sung to the tune of "Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now!")
New Hampshire pile o’snow, will you please go NOW?? (Sung to the tune of “Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now!”)

Ode to the last bit of snow in a New Hampshire spring….

Dear little pile of nearly-melted snow in our front lawn,
Yesterday it was 78 degrees. Last night it rained. Today it is still raining.
And yet you are still here.
All the other little piles of snow have gone. They have moved on.
They have returned to the Great Water Spirit in the sky.
Some have already returned to us as gentle rain.
Some have merged with the Big Ocean Waters.
Some may come again as snow. (But hopefully, not until November. Or even December. And certainly not in California.)
And yet you are still here.
What’s keeping you??
Is it the fear of melty death?
Fear not, for all snow eventually meets its end. And you will, too.
Are you striving for some sort of new record?
Alas, that is beyond your grasp already. You surely cannot last past Easter, and yae, I have seen snow in the late spring many, many, many times in New Hampshire.
Are you just trying to piss me off?
Give it up already. You’ve succeeded.
So melt away, little pile of snow.
No one shall mourn for thee, especially if you hang around much longer.
Go in peace,
Or I shall return tonight with a kettle of boiling water,
And send you on your way.
With loathing and dire threats love and fond memories,
Luann.

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Transition is a Hard Place to Live

I keep forgetting to let you know about my Fine Art Views articles! Today’s post is available here.

Takeaway: Change is hard, being in the middle of change sucks. Unless you embrace it and find the blessings. My favorite quote so far: “Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace within the storm.”

Enjoy!

ASK THE GURU (NOT!)

Why a tree picture today? I have no idea. It just felt right.
Why a tree picture today? I have no idea. It just felt right.

Way, way too many days ago, I received a letter from a reader, begging for advice.

It’s ironic, because in her story is a lot of heartache, a ton of perseverance, a long journey of pursuing her craft despite loss, setbacks and disappointments and one simple request: Would I give her one word of advice about her next big step? (Which, by the way, she’d already thought out and which also sounds pretty darn marvelous.)

I promised her a response and here it is:

I am not the wise woman you’re looking for.

And of course, because I am me, and why use one sentence when a couple hundred will do, there are many threads behind that response.

The first thread: I truly am not a wise woman. I have some life experience, but nothing that gives me the moral right to say anything about yours. I love to tell people what to do. But I’m also terrified that someone will do what I say, and suffer for it. (So I’m a bossy coward, I guess.)

Second thread: You already know what to do. I will share what someone told me years ago. Actually, what several people–okay, many people–have told me over and over throughout my life:

“Everything you need to know is already in your heart.”

They didn’t mean my heart can tell me how to perform brain surgery, or fix a sump pump, of course. But when it comes to making decisions, making good choices, taking even sought-after advice, it either feels right or it doesn’t. It feels good, or it doesn’t. And even if you do what you think is right, and it doesn’t work out, well, sometimes the wrong decisions get you to the right place to make a better decision.

Example: I went to University of Michigan not because it was good for my art career (it wasn’t) or because they offered me a good financial package (they didn’t) or because it was my first college choice (it wasn’t.) I went there because my boyfriend went there. The self-absorbed, emotionally abusive boyfriend who broke up with me half a dozen times, in cruel ways, before I finally wised up. (See? I’m actually a slow learner!)

But years later, that’s where I met my husband, who is wonderful and loyal and supportive, and we’ve now been together 35 years. A bad decision got me to a better place.

The third thread is, we are the story we tell about ourselves. Take that story about college. I could tell you about the sorry-ass people I dated, the dreary jobs I held (and the crazy bosses), the depressing living situations I put up with, how I couldn’t get into art school, how sad and needy and frightened I was, etc. (A beloved neighbor, an elderly woman, was murdered by a serial killer. That haunted me for years.)

Or I can choose to tell you the story of how the wonderful art history classes on prehistoric art became the foundation for my art later in life. Or the story told by an inspirational English lit teacher, whose retelling of the Battle of Hastings in the Norman Invasion forever etched the power of stories in my heart. Or the story of the friendships I formed there that have lasted a lifetime, the dogs I met that captured my heart forever, my first experience with volunteerism, and my first big, empowering, grownup decision to go to graduate school. And how that neighbor’s death inspired me to create a powerful grief writing exercise years later.

You, too, have choices on how to tell your life story. You can drown in the sadness and despair that life entails, or you can recognize what Jane Mcgonigal calls the gifts of post-traumatic growth.

Which this reader has done. And is doing.

The fourth thread is about the five regrets found at the end of life. (Were you surprised that the five regrets are the antithesis of the five gifts of post-traumatic growth? I was! And you thought I was wise…!!)

The fifth thread is what faith means to me: We never truly know the impact our decisions, our choices, our very presence in the world. When I receive a letter, like the one I got from Lorri, it is always out of the blue. It’s usually on a day where I’m feeling pretty frumpy, or useless, or negligible. It always says that something I said, made a difference–for a moment, for an hour, whatever.

And I know when I tell others who have made that difference, for ME, they say the same thing–that they don’t even remember saying that, or telling me that, or writing that.

Such is the nature of our presence in the world. Sharing our gifts with the world is an act of extreme faith in….something beyond what we can see or measure.

So Lorri, give it your best shot. If it means something to you, don’t give up. Until you feel it’s really time to give up and do something else. Maybe you’re thinking of something you’ve never heard of before. Maybe that’s because it really is new, and fresh, and creative.

Don’t wait for me to tell you it’s all right. I don’t know! But I cheer you on anytime you tell me you’re thinking about something wonderful, something you care about, something that makes you perk up and feel truly alive. Something that’s calling to you.

I’ve never regretted following that call. The few times I haven’t followed, that’s what I regret.

My one word of advice? Believe.

Because real faith comes from believing in yourself. Believing that you bring something to the world. That you are worth believing in.

Even if you fall flat on your face.

I remember Anne Lamott, I think in Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, saying when she prays, all she asks is for a light to shine at her feet, to show the way for one step. Just one little step forward. Because that’s all we need to make our way in the world. One little step at a time. (She also says her favorite prayer is, “Help me, help me, help me…”)

A truly wise woman told me recently, “You are a wise woman who creates your own wisdom. That’s a wonderful thing.” Everything I write about is just that–finding the wisdom, the blessings, in the ordinary things–good, and bad–that cross my path.

And so, Lorri, 900 words of advice. Or one. Whatever helps you get on your way, today. And I am truly humbled by the fact that you asked me. Which is precisely why it took me so long to get back to you.

MORE TALES OF THE BUNNY and More Lessons from the Move

The excitement of our anticipated move to California is wearing thin, as the stress of culling and packing piles up. I’ve had an indoor/online tag sale and a yarn sale. With the help of my good friend Roma Dee Holmes, the process was manageable and profitable.

But now comes the studio. And things are getting really, really hard.

Compounding the agonizing and confusing process of what goes and what stays is my upcoming Open Studio. I need to have my studio still look like…well, my studio, not a FEMA-worthy disaster site.

And of course, there is the Big Question yet to be answered:

What do I do with Bunster?

Bunster in her youth, with the run of my studio.
Bunster in her youth, with the run of my studio.

Bunster is about 129 in bunny years. She used to have the run of my studio, sitting at my feet ready to chew the hem of my jeans if she didn’t get enough attention. She would follow visitors around, knowing I’d given them Cheerios for her. She kept my friend Russ Moline of The Moses House in business by chewing through power cords for my sewing machine, my computer, and my work lamps. (He keeps my sewing machines repaired and happy.) He always had the same advice for curbing her chewing habit. “Hasenpfeffer!” he’d say cheerfully.

A few years ago, I realized I didn’t see as much of her. She hid. A lot. I realized she was losing her sight, and her hearing. She was stiff and moved more slowly. She stopped using her litter box. I hated to do it, but I set up a big cage for her with hidey boxes, a heat lamp and plenty of food and treats. She’s comfortable there, and I try to spend time with her every day.

Some days I look at her and think, “Not much more time.” Other days, she aggressively snatches a Dorito out of my hand with the same piggy grunt and runs off to happily munch her salty snack. (She’s 13, we think, and I now let her eat anything she wants.) She lets me hold her now, and I do so as much as I can.

But will I be able to bring her to California with me?

It’s one thing to have a huge cage in our mudroom. It’s another to have one in a small apartment (which is all we can afford in Santa Rosa). It’s one thing to to have her here with me today. It’s another to try to travel cross-country with two dogs, a cat and an elderly rabbit.

I’ve decided not to worry until it’s actually time to make a decision. But it’s still always on my mind.

Today I finished clearing off a huge work table in my studio, where I pile up the fabrics I’m working with. When I cleared out the space UNDER the table, I found Bunster’s last stash of….

See how Bunster turns an ordinary piece of fiber into a million tiny pieces.
See how Bunster turns an ordinary piece of fiber into a million tiny pieces.

Well, I don’t know what to call them. Except she does a beautiful job of chewing ordinary fabric into teensy-tiny frayed fragments.

Each tiny scrap is beautiful!
Each tiny scrap is beautiful!

In fact, the first time she found a fabric stash, I freaked out. Until I realized she’d shredded a piece of fiber (a kilim rug scrap) into tiny beautifully-frayed “dots”, something I couldn’t do myself. Her teeth give the perfect aged time-worn look to new and vintage fabrics. Early on, I realized they were the perfect size for little pops of color in my smaller fiber pieces.

There are some squares (how does she know??) but also delightfully free-form shapes.
There are some squares (how does she know??) but also delightfully free-form shapes.

She taught me that what’s in her nature–chew!–could be seen as a destructive force or a constructive process. Or better yet, a transformative process. She turns something ordinary into something else. Something with the look of antiquity.

Okay, just so we don't go too far with the woo-woo....She's also not too discriminating about WHAT she turns into tiny pieces. Like this plastic bag.
Okay, just so we don’t go too far with the woo-woo….She’s also not too discriminating about WHAT she turns into tiny pieces. Like this plastic bag.

My husband found me on the floor, picking up these last tiny Bunster-chewed scraps. He asked what I was doing, and laughed when I told him. Then he stopped. “You’re serious?” he said. “You’re really saving those little pieces?” Yes, I told him. I knew exactly which fabrics they were from, how little I had left of those special colors and textures, and they were the perfect size.

Yep, that's a Bunster-chewed scrap!
Yep, that’s a Bunster-chewed scrap!

And as I gathered them up, I realized this might be one of Bunster’s last gifts to me. I’ve learned so much from this fearful yet fierce, frail yet resiliant little creature.

Yes, I’ve given her a home, love, warmth, wonderful food. She’s given me so much more. Tiny scraps of color for my artwork. Lessons on letting go. Stories that help me find the blessing in even the smallest of life’s set-backs. The sure knowledge that there is a place for me in the world.

Beautiful stories are everywhere around us. If only we take the time, and open our hearts, to see them.