BIG MAGIC AND ME: What Elizabeth Gilbert and I Have in Common

In my last blog post, Maybe Languishing Isn’t So Bad? I shared how downtime/slow times may actually be a gift for me right now. I got many wonderful comments which will inspire some new posts. Yippee!

I was gonna get right on them. But then something happened that took priority.

Of course, I can’t find it now (!!!!) but someone mentioned Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic. (I highly recommend using Bookfinder.com to find the book at the price and in the condition you’re willing to pay for.)

Then an email newsletter featuring an interview with the author appeared in my inbox, with some quotes from the book. (If you prefer podcasts over a read, here’s an NPR radio interview with the author instead, to get a sense of what the book’s about.) Signs from the universe! I ordered a copy, and boy, am I glad I did.

First, Gilbert and I are on the same page about creativity. Her definition is wide and deep (like mine), she encourages us to make room for it somewhere in our life, whether we can earn a living at it (like I do), and whether or not we’re good at it (my creation story!) My copy of BIG MAGIC already has dozens of bookmarks with lots of exclamation points. I’m only four chapters in, and I have pages of notes.

Second, she has some unusual thoughts about where/why/how ideas find us, and her story about that is amazing. (For a short version, try this review: Ann Pratchett and Elizabeth Gilbert’s unknown collaboration. But trust me, the detailed version is jaw-dropping when it comes to its synchronicity!)

Third, we also agree that when it comes to the most important thing about our creative work, whatever it is, however it manifests itself: It’s not about having an audience, it’s atbout having a voice.

The weirdest insight? This one:

To put the story in perspective, consider this fact: The earliest evidence of recognizable human art is 40,000 years old. The earliest evidence of human agriculture, by contrast, is only 10,000 years old. Which means that somewhere in our collective evolutionary story, we decided it was way more important to make attractive, superfluous items than it was to learn how to regularly feed ourselves.

–Elizabeth Gilbert

And if we consider the fact that the world’s oldest-known human-made artifact (a shell drilled so it could be worn as a bead) is estimated at 100,000 years old, well, we have a lot of history/prehistory riding on human creativity.

And that ancient cave art, and even that shell bead, what do they signify?

A deeply-rooted desire to be part of a tribe, a community. AND to be seen as an individual in that community.

I’ll keep this one short today (NO CHEERING FROM THE BLEACHERS) because I want to address many of the other insights I got from the comments.

Yes, it’s a little bit woo-woo, and usually, I’m not into that. But I also have to admit, the synchronicity of my creative life, the little miracles that cross my path, have allowed me to at least say, “There’s a lot we just don’t know about our creative selves, and I’m okay with whatever encourages me to stay with it.” Because that’s what Gilbert does: Shares her insights, experiences, and observations that encourage us all to keep making the work that heals us.

Short story:

All humans are creatives, if we simply expand our definition and expectations of ‘creativity’.

Don’t measure it. Don’t question it. Don’t demean it. Don’t judge it.

Embrace it. Respect it. Honor it. Make room for it. Feed it.

Now git to your sacred creative space today, whether it’s a studio, a closet, a garden, a hospital, an office, or your computer.

And do/make/create/heal/edit/curate/fix/restore/grow/nourish/teach something.

Coming soon: The more practical insights into all the questions y’all asked last week!

I hope this helps you find your balance again today. If you’ve already found that place, share it in the comments. Someone else may find your experience enlightening!

If you found this helpful, and know someone else who might find it useful, share it!

And if someone shared this with you, and you found it useful, you can either follow my blog (upper right corner), or sign up for my email newsletter (at the top of my website home page) for more random (but free!) advice.

MAYBE LANGUISHING ISN’T SO BAD?

 

 

The Elk Horn Gate
I don’t know why I picked this image, I just like it, so there.

Let me tell you about my frustrations with social media marketing.

It’s a sad story. On one hand, I applaud the internet, blogs, social media sites. I think of the people throughout history, okay, even before history, people of different cultures, races, times, gender, who had the chance of a snowball in hell of having their work read, seen, shared. I’m pretty sure Emily Dickinson would have given almost anything to have her work published. Vincent Van Gogh finally had his day in the sun, but he died before he actually saw it. (This Doctor Who snip always brings tears to my eyes.)

And for awhile, it was great to be able to share my work and my words so easily. The day I started my first blog at Radio Userland, I felt a surge of freedom I’d never felt before. I didn’t need an editor, a publisher, an agent, nada. All I needed was the courage to tell my stories, share my thoughts, give insights based on my own experience selling/marketing/making and hopefully offer validation and hope to others who felt less-than-successful with their own creative work.

I love Pinterest, because I can create an online scrapbook of images that inspire me, intrigue me, give me ideas for my own projects. ) I love Instagram too. It’s a great venue for artists, I’m told, and I have a pretty big audience there, too. I can share all kinds of images of my work, inspiration, process, etc.

Then Radio Userland died. I moved to WordPress, but I did some great writing on Radio Userland. For awhile, I couldn’t even access my own articles there, until my hubby used his tech skills to create new urls for my blog there. Now I can find them, and republish them occasionally on my WordPress blog.

Then Facebook got bigger, and then it was/is immense. It also became all about the money. Facebook bought Instagram, and now it’s headed the same way.

I read a transcript of a Zoom video by Dave Geada, marketing guru at FineArtStudiosOnline (FASO.com) where I have my own website, and where I wrote a regular column for 12 years for Fine Art Views until a couple months ago. I still love the support structure of FASO for artists, and I’m glad to hold on to my website there.

Dave is as heart-centered as I am when it comes to marketing, I love almost everything he has to share on how to up our marketing skills, and many of the Zoom meetings are free to all. He loves Instagram, too, and has created many videos on how to use it effectively. I’ve gotten great tips and insights about social media markting (especially Instagram) from his Zooms, and many are free to ALL artists. Check out their Art Marketing Playbook here: AMP

But I’m beginning to feel lost in a huge dust storm that is suffocating.

Dave points out that Facebook regularly introduces new algorithms that block who can see our posts, forcing us to consider buying ads so we can grow our audience.  Suddenly, a thousand followers shrinks down to a handful in my Facebook business page. 

Instagram hashtags are a hot mess for a creative like me. I’ve tried hundreds of them over the years, tags that sound extremely descriptive of my style, my subject matter, my materials, etc. And yet, when I take the time to test them out, not very many put me in the company of other work that’s anything like mine.

In other words, it’s a blessing to be making work that’s unique, easily recognizable as mine, etc. But it’s frustrating to realize the tags I use regularly either throw me into a bottomless pit with hundreds of thousands of other people’s images, most nothing like mine, and ensuring I’ll be in someone’s feed about ten thousand posts down. (So, almost zippo visibility.) I’m lost in the shuffle. Or worse…More finely-tuned tags find me in a pond that’s way too small (although the images will hang around longer.) One example: I use #blackhorse for my faux soapstone horses. But I’m the only little handheld black horse sculpture in a sea of images of REAL black horses.

In the end, I can’t think of any way someone could even imagine my work, and look for it, unless they already know it, or they know my name. (Don’t send me suggestions unless you’ve researched them yourselves, okay?) (I mean, thank you for thinking of me, but it’s just not that simple.)

And the biggest surprise of all? I just found out that two superstars in the polymer clay world have quite modest followers on Instagram.

Ford and Forlano have been megastars for decades, two of the first polymer clay makers to hit it big with their work. It’s fabulous, beautifully made, expensive, and carried by the finest galleries in the country. Their Instagram following? 1,500 people. About the same as mine, a relatively-nobody/not nearly as famous nor successful.

Cynthia Tinapple is a polymer clay artist/teacher who has curated polymer clay work for decades with her Polymer Clay Daily newsletter, and her weekly subscription-based Studio Mojo newsletter. (WOW! I just tried to see when PCD first started. It looks like the first post was published on September 11, 2005. MY BIRTHDAY!!) She knows all the top makers in the pc world, she scours the internet for makers old and new, innovators, and whoever is making something intriguing, different, powerful, featuring around 250 makers every year. Her following? Well under a thousand. (To be fair, it looks like she’s just getting started on Instagram. But if every person she’s featured in her newsletters followed her, she’d easily be classified as an “influencer”!) (Six days of incredible posts for closing in on 16 years….) (OH, even more, because Studio Mojo usually has at least half a dozen little features on artists and resources.)

Next, my frustration with most hosting sites for artists, including FASO: Almost all of them focus on 2-D art: Painting, drawing, etc. I took a survey on mine, to get a “roadmap” for my marketing plan, and the first question was, is my work abstract or representational. (Um….jewelry?? And is anyone looking for my work going to use either of those terms to describe it? I don’t think so.)

Last, photographing my work is really, really tricky. Oh, photoing jewelry is okay, and the shrines come out well, if a professional photographer is doing the picture-taking. But decades ago, another polymer clay artist said, “Your photographer is one of the best, and yet they still can’t really capture the look and feel of how wonderful your little artifacts are in person.” That was true then, and it’s still true today. In fact, I believe the biggest factor in building my audience is when people come to my studio, and can actually pick up a little bear, or a horse, and hold it in their hand. It’s magic.

To sum up: I have a powerful creation story. I’m pretty good at telling stories. I’m good at the work I do. Good enough, anyway. I’m good at interacting with studio visitors, and engaging them with my work. I take a lot of pictures, I get professional ones when I need them (and can afford them!), I’ve gotten better at editing them, etc. I’ve done some major fine craft shows in my art career, my work’s been published in dozens of magazines and newspapers over the years, I grew a loving and loyal audience at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Annual Craft Fair, and I have some wonderful followers and collectors here in California, too.

But if I’m struggling on how to get my art to cross the path of people online,struggling to find more people who might also become fans, and maybe even collectors some day, then how is everybody else doing?

I know Cynthia occasionally feels ‘less-than’ as she comes across astounding new, young polymer clay artists. She wonders if she’s doing a good enough job, if what she posts is interesting and relevant. (YES, YOU DO AND YOU ARE, CYNTHIA!)

And in writing this, I just remembered my very first blog post at Radio Userland on December 1, 2002: What Meryl Streep and I Have In Common

Okay, this just blew my mind: I started with how, reading that Meryl Streep struggles to own her own skill and body of work, made me realize this is “normal” for creatives. We all have that little voice that says we’re not good enough, we aren’t as great as others think we are, that we are doing it wrong.

So let’s just kick that little voice outta the park today. Or at least let it out into the backyard so it can take a pee.

I believe, so far, that my art has brought many, many people a bit of joy and wonder into their lives. I love that, and I’m grateful.

I also believe that, from how people respond to my articles and blog posts, that hundreds, maybe thousands of people gain hope from something else I offer the world:

  • You matter.
  • Your creative work matters.
  • It matters because it helps you be the best person you can be. It lifts your heart.
  • And when you share it with the world, it will lift someone else’s heart, too.

I’m not the wisest, kindest, smartest, most talented cookie in the box, not by a long shot. But I know how much my creative work means to me, and I know it will call to me until I die. (Or dissolve, or lose my marbles. Whatever. It could happen.)

But I know this:

It’s not about the money.

It’s not about the likes.

It’s not about the number of followers, the number of comments, the awards, the sales, the money.

In fact, the more I learn about “influencers”, the more I don’t want to be one. And let’s face it, some dynamics rule the game. Actors are going to get more publicity/fame/likes than the people who actually help put movies together, right? We just see the actors more easily. There are plenty of people behind the curtain, people who do incredibly powerful, good work in the world, and it’s rare we ever even hear about them.

It’s not about how to game the system, because the system is too big, and makes too much money for the people/corporations who created them.

It’s simply about using the systems to share your work with others, as often as you can.

It’s about doing the work that matters to YOU.

It’s about supporting the people, the causes, the programs that help others, that heal others, that heal our planet.

It’s about doing what you can to be the best person you can be. Even if, like me, you suck at it sometimes.

So use social media to help share your work with others. If you find strategies (and hashtags!) that work for you, good on you! If you don’t, you are not alone. But you can still have a voice in the world. Your audience may be huge, or it may be small. But they love you and your work.

Sales are wonderful, but there are a thousand reasons why people don’t buy our art, probably because there are more artists/creatives in the world right now than in all the rest of human history. If you’re work isn’t selling, don’t take it as a measure of your worth. You just haven’t found your peeps yet, and they haven’t found YOU yet.

Don’t count the likes. Just hang on to that feeling when you realize something you’re working on is finished, and it turned out well, and how happy that makes you.

Works for me!

Now go make something.

(Ahem. If it’s cupcakes, I’d be honored to taste-test them for you.)

 

 

LANGUISHING: Finding Our Way in the Dark

Fortunately, my little critter artifacts usually get along very well together.

 

(6 minute read)

It’s not just you. We’re all feeling little (or a lot) out of it these days. I came across the new diagnosis for this a few days ago, as I wrote about my own lost-at-sea feelings here.

This New York Times article explains this “middle child” of emotional health, between depression and joy, as “languishing”. (I was relieved to read this is a ‘thing’, and I hope it helps you, too.)

The problem is, it always does feel like it’s just us. Social media can help us stay connected even during pandemics and shut-downs. But it can also portray “everyone else” as having their sh** together, when we don’t.

I’ve shared my own experience getting through this in my last few blog posts. And I admit, after writing about them, I did feel better. For awhile.

Tiny steps forward in the studio, ala Garfield’s 10 days of 10% effort, which equals 100%.

One day, or ten days…It’s ALL good!

I committed to making one….ONE….new artifact a day. And shared it on Instagram/Facebook.

Realizing deadlines can inspire action, but reading about deadlines doesn’t.

Realizing some problems have very simple answers.

Realizing small acts of kindness and appreciation, which led to others engaging this way, helped, too.

Yet every day, I still go to bed exhausted, and wake up just as if I haven’t slept at all. My dreams are about trying to solve insurmountable problems, striving to achieve one step forward, without success.

What’s up with that?? How do I get back to my happy place? And who even cares if I do???

Welp, turns out there are even more ways to feel better than I thought!

First, while reading similar articles on emotional health, I realized one of my standard practices is considered the easiest, and the best: A gratitude list. Sometimes I’m just not feelin’ it. But when I make myself take ten minutes to list ten things I’m grateful for, no matter how hard it seems, it doesn’t take long to recognize the things that are actually going well for me: Having a loving, supporting partner. Having a studio to go to. Having a home. Access to physical therapy for pain and discomfort. I could go on….

Simply recognizing what’s good in our life doesn’t “fix” the bad. But it can shine a little light at our feet so we can take one tiny step forward, in the dark. (Now I can’t find this quote by Ann Lamott from her book, BIRD BY BIRD, but here are some others that are just as great!)

Second, my second favorite advice columnist (after Captain Awkward), Carolyn Hax , responded to a letter writer who said they can’t tell if their relationship with their partner is still based on love, or if it’s become merely “transactional”. We tend to think it’s one or the other right? Either things are great, or things are “meh”. Hax said that hitting such points can happen. But in the end, we can simply decide to choose love.

Choose love.

Yes, our ancient lizard brain tends to see the world in black-or-white, good-or-bad, happy-or-sad, etc. Human nature. Hax reminds me that we always have the power of our choices. We can be overwhelmed by everything that’s wrong with the world, and we can choose to be a force for good in it. We can seethe with anger and resentment, and we can choose not to act on it. We can have compassion for someone, and we can still set good boundaries.

For some reason, in spite of my exhaustion, my sad, hopeless thoughts, my “meh” outlook, I realized I can choose love. (I feel a little better already.)

Last, the Tokyo Olympic Games. My husband is an avid fan. Me, not so much. But I’ve learned a lot this year from this world event. So many firsts, so much empowerment, so many surprises. And so much controversy.

Simone Biles drew sympathy, compassion, and support for her own recognition of the “twisties” (aka, “the yips”), those moments when our brains disconnect, muscle memory fails, and our greatest efforts can turn into embarassing flops, or even horrifying injuries. (LINK? I was going to link to a horrible injury in a competition a few years ago, but it was TOO horrible. We don’t need that right now!) It took courage for her to take that stand of standing down when she knew it wouldn’t serve her, nor her team.

She also faced a vicious backlash of scorn and insults, being called lazy, cowardly, etc.

In an incredible article in the Washington Post recently, Kate Courtney, world champion mountain biker, shares her own experience with bombing at the Olympics this year. The self-doubt and ensuing criticism was devastating, it was humiliating, and it crushed her. She says,

At the Olympics, in particular, uncertainty and loss become visible and visceral. The challenge is clear, the emotions raw, and the outcome broadcast for the world to see. It takes courage for athletes to offer up true, heartfelt participation, knowing that very few will leave triumphant. And when the battle is over, those fallen competitors do not need to be kicked–they need to be carried. They need to be allowed to rest for just a moment and mend their broken hearts, so they can continue to bravely share their gifts with the world…. (Emphasis is mine.)

Her last paragraph speaks volumes to me today:

This is not the story I hoped to be writing about my Olympic Games. Like many others, I was searching for a sign that we could return to everything just as it was before the pandemic. But as I navigate my challenges around this experience, I am reminded that there are seasons of struggle and seasons of triumph–and that you don’t always get to choose when you jump from one to the next. Sometimes, you need help to keep going until the leaves change color. Exhaustion is not evidence of a lack of courage, but of its abundance. To deny the struggle is to deny the very thing that allows us to triumph in the end.

As I read more articles about successful artists in our area, the major sales others have made from our open studio tours, even scrolling through Instagram and Pinterest and seeing the jaw-droppingly beautiful work of others that my own work will never achieve…

I realize my own struggles are simply mine. They aren’t created by others, they can’t be solved by others. I can only sit with them, sit with uncertainty, until Clarity makes her presence known. (Words of wisdom from a wise woman friend, Sheri Gaynor.)

We all matter, in big ways and small, in great acts of courage and in tiny acts of kindness.

We all have the power of our choices, to hide our gifts or share them with the world, to choose love over resentment, resilience over despair, to embrace our broken selves because it shows us how truly human we all are. Perfection doesn’t make us a better human, but compassion–for ourselves, and for others–does.

To all the people who reached out to me over the last few weeks, who sent me their own acts of kindness, purchased my work, gave me words of love and encouragement, thank you from the bottom of my heart!

If you have your own work-arounds for getting back to your happy place., please share in the comments! What works for you might be just what works for someone else.

And if someone shared this with you, and you found it useful, you can either follow my blog (upper right corner), or sign up for my email newsletter (at the top of my website home page) for more random (but free!) advice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

COOLING DOWN: Deadlines, Procrastination, and Inspiration

 

A gift for a friend. And the first NEW fiber work I’ve done in what seems like forever!

As I wrote recently, the pandemic, losing a long-time writing gig, recent surgery, a fall in my studio have all contributed to the doldrums in my creative life.

On one hand, my healing progress after knee replacement surgery has been spectacular, especially considering I did almost NO physical exercise during the year-long shutdown. (It hurt to do anything, what can I say?)

On the other hand, I have to make up reasons to go to my studio now. Fortunately, I found some work-arounds, shared them in that same post (making small gifts for non-profit staff, friends in need, etc.), and learned that other people found my experience helpful, too. It actually helped ME to learn that other folks were struggling, and I was not alone in my funk.

But it still takes mental effort to get outta bed and get there. Thanks to that Garfield cartoon, I adjusted my goals down to spending even just a couple hours at the studio. Anything above and beyond was gravy.

And today, I finally read an article by Rachel Syme called “What Deadlines Do To Lifelines” in the July 5 issue of The New Yorker magazine. I’d overlooked it, but checked it out when a letter to the editor mentioned that deadlines increase productivity. (Which is why I was missing my 12-year writing gig for FineArtViews.com. No more deadlines!)

And yet….

Halfway through the article, Syme wrote:

Everywhere you look, people are either hitting deadlines or avoiding them by reading about how other people hit deadlines.”

I closed my tab.

Here’s why:

Years ago, in one of the very first artist support groups I created back in New Hampshire, one creative struggled to do the work they loved. Some of our group exercises helped them get clarity about the corrosive, toxic voice in their head that told them they weren’t good enough. Yippee! They could move on and get busy, right?

Um. Nope. Instead, they began doing all the exercises in an otherwise very useful book for creatives, The Artist’s Way by Julie Cameron. Every meet-up, they shared their latest exercise proudly. Month after month after month.

By the time the group disbanded (people moving away, etc.) that person had not accomplished one thing with their creative talents.

It was a huge insight for me at the time, and one I constantly plug: Creative exercises are fun, they can be insightful and enlightening. Cameron’s book helped me stay grounded with my own creative work. Even today, in a gig economy when we feel pressured to monetize every bit of our creative effort, she is a godsend.

But they cannot replace the real work of our heart, our voice in the world.

And here I was, on a Saturday morning, with actually projects awaiting me in my studio, reading about how useful deadlines can be. Irony with a capital “I”.  (And not just because it’s the first word in that sentence.)

If you are struggling with reaching your goals today, consider this:

What works for you is whatever works for YOU.

Trying new habits and practices can help. But if they suck up all your creative juices, then they are not actually helping.

Deadlines work really really well for me. But they have their time and place in life, and are not always the best thing to get me motivated.*

And reading about the problem only goes so far. Sometimes, tiny steps, 10%, and a small reward for doing the right thing can carry us home, too.

***Bonus: If you love to read, and are not familiar with Bookfinder.com, this is your new, best tool to find that book you want, at the best price possible!

If you found this helpful, and know someone else who might find it useful, share it!

If you have your own work-arounds for procrastination, please share in the comments! What works for you might be just what works for someone else.

And if someone shared this with you, and you found it useful, you can either follow my blog (upper right corner), or sign up for my email newsletter (at the top of my website home page) for more random (but free!) advice.