LESSONS FROM THE GYM: Be Kind, Unwind.

Luann Udell discusses how to seek out what brings you joy, and peace in your heart.
Luann Udell discusses how to seek out what brings you joy, and peace in your heart.

LESSONS FROM THE GYM: Be Kind, Unwind.

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

Where is your happy place? Go there today!

I promise I will stop whining about my very hard year, but not yet. For now, it still holds many life lessons for me.

Life lessons are hard, though, especially when we love them so much, we learn them over and over and over again.

Maybe too many lessons this year? Loss. Grief. Forgiveness. Being vulnerable. Looking for the light. Leaving “the group”. Setting boundaries. Sometimes I think Brene Brown is writing just for me.

Mostly, though, I know we all struggle with who we are in the world, and who we WANT to be. Being human can be hard work. Being a good human is exhausting.

Except when it isn’t. And that’s what I want to share with you today, this holiday season.

Monday I spoke with a physical therapy person at the gym where I get (doh!) physical therapy. (I use their independent gym program. Most of the patrons are even older than I am. So at least I’m not looking at healthy, fit, beautiful youngsters working out at five times the level and six times the speed I am.)

I complained about the chronic aches and pains I’m struggling with. It never stops, and it never gets better. With everything else on my plate, it feels like injury heaped on insult. (Yes, I know I have that backwards, but it works here.)

They asked me about my activity level. I replied it’s minimal, because a) everything hurts, and b)….well, everything hurts!

They reminded me yet again that hunkering down makes everything worse. “Our bodies are made to move,” they said. “When was the last time you went for a walk?”

Er…..can’t remember???

All of us have some discomfort, or ache, or even pain. We all want a very simple solution: All of us want a pill to make it better.

A temporary fix, in most cases. And we all know the dangers of self-medicating. It helps for awhile. And then it doesn’t. Then the self-medicating creates its own problems.

So….no pill?!  Dang.

“Go for a walk,” they said. “If you can’t walk for 30 minutes, walk for 10 minutes three times a day. It’s not how long, or how hard, or how fast you do it. It all counts. Try it.”

Honestly, I wanted to cry. I want my simple, easy solution! It hurts to move! EVERYTHING hurts—my body, my feelings, my conscience, my spirit. I want to be distracted from my problems! I want to watch endless TV in comfort!! I want my Christmas cookies!!!

“Everybody hurts somewhere”, they said, with compassion. (The compassion part almost made me cry.) “Just try it.”

Fortunately, the next day was a beautiful, sunny day, a rare break from the winter’s rain. It was Christmas Day, but with no family here, a tight budget, a tiny tree that took 10 minutes to set up, there wasn’t much to do at home.

Remembering those words of wisdom, my husband and I went for a walk. Not a big walk. Just a walk through our neighborhood, but a new route. It’s a tradition we had back in Keene NH, where we would walk downtown every morning for coffee before we both started our day.

We’ve skipped that for years now. No coffee shop. Jon starts his day early, to catch up with co-workers on the East Coast.

We’ve missed it. So we walked.

It was great! We talked. The dogs explored new bushes to pee on. We imagined ourselves living in the pretty little houses with wonderful gardens. That garage could be a new studio! That house has a lemon tree! Wow, smell those roses!!!

We agreed it needs to be part of our day again.

I went to my normally-best happy place, my studio, to work. Unfortunately, it’s not my happy place lately. My future there is in upheaval, and everything there reminded me of that.

And yet….

I thought if I had more tiny wind-swept beach pebbles, I could use them to add a delightful accent to an assemblage I’m working on for an upcoming solo exhibition.

I remembered there are tiny, wind-polished beach pebbles on a beach at Point Reyes.

I’m a pebble puppy, and I’m proud!

I realized we had enough daylight left to drive out there.

I had a mission! And a clear destination. Fortunately, my hubby agreed, and off we went.

The drive to Point Reyes is exquisitely beautiful. Rolling grazing land with old valley oaks, amazing vistas, all bright green with the recent rains, and big blue sky. One of our joys as a couple is taking drives to amazing places.

There are many things that are difficult in California: The cost of living, the cost of housing, the woes that high-tech industries bring to big cities, wildfires, earthquakes, mudslides, I could go on.

But almost everywhere you go, there is jaw-dropping beauty. The mountains, the redwood forests, the deserts, the Pacific Ocean….

The ocean will take every ounce of your sorrow and sadness, your fears and self-doubt, and it will sweep them away.

The ocean here along the Central Coast and in Northern California is powerful, and dangerous. It’s not the gentle wash of the mid-Atlantic, nor the calm surface of a lake. You have to watch your back. Rip tides, king tides, sneaker waves, sudden storms, all await the careless or the unwary.

And yet watching waves roll in is strangely calming. It is unrelenting, never stops. It doesn’t wait for me, nor you. It is its own “thing”, with its own rules and purpose. It is totally unpredictable, yet always powerful…and astoundingly beautiful.

Kinda like life, huh?

We walked. Soon I found those special rocky patches in the sand, where small polished pebbles can be found. Jade, serpentine, jasper, carnelian, quartz, in shades of olive, sage, pine green, red, orange, amber, white, black, and brown. I happily hunted-and-gathered for over an hour, collecting about a cup of tiny stones.

I felt my heart slowly edge back into place, and my soul, just as slowly, open up a little.

The drive back was just as beautiful. Soaring vultures, diving hawks, sentinel herons, crows and starlings gathering in the dusk, a flock of bluebirds. Bluebirds! And gorgeous glowing pink cumulus clouds holding the last rays of the sunset….

We humans are hard-wired to be hunter-gatherers. Whether we emulate that in picking up pretty pebbles, collecting tools and brushes, teacups, Chilean cabernets, the sale rack at Nordstrom’s or the local flea market, it’s in us somewhere.

We are also hard-wired to pay attention to the horizon. Our ancestors watched for signs of danger. That evolved into being constantly aware of our surroundings. Our love of beautiful views and beautiful places, whether they are mountains and mesas or small gardens and sweet cottages, spring from this. We are soothed by sights, scenes, and vistas. (Landscape artists, are you listening?)

We are hard-wired to watch the sky. Is a storm coming? Is the day waning? Weather meant life-or-death to our ancestors. Still does, though more of an inconvenience for most of us, most of the time. Yet a beautiful sky is still a mood-lifter.

We are also hard-wired for water. A small babbling brook, a roaring waterfall, a koi pond (or aquarium!), a lake, even a bird bath, is a universal source of interest, comfort, amusement. But the ocean tops them all.

Me? I also have a superpower. I sort. I will enjoy some time picking through these pebbles today, sorting by color and size. (They need to fit into a tiny bottle!) I find sorting very soothing. Er….after I’m done screaming when I’ve knocked a box of beads onto the floor…

Got any little old crusty bottles you don’t want? (My version of “you gonna eat that?”)

As I work today in my studio, I will remember the wild storm surf, the wind, the big sky, deer and cattle, birds and clouds. And a handful of carefully gathered and curated pebbles. Oh, and all those times I spent collecting lovely little old glass bottles in New Hampshire antique stores….

If you are struggling this holiday season, if you are sad, or lonely, or fearful, if you are stressed, or grieving, take exquisite care of yourself.

If even your sacred creative space is (temporarily, I hope!) compromised, take heart. You will get through this.

It will never stop aching. But the sharp pain will (hopefully) soften. Time, love, friendship, solace, music, nature, will help you heal.

Seek out what brings you joy, and peace in your heart.

Find the beauty of the world. Let it heal you.

Then, when you are rested and restored to yourself, take up your tools again: Your pencils, your brushes, your pile of clay. Sit again at your loom, your easel, your worktable. Put on your favorite music, or sit with silence.

Share what healed you today. Capture it and share it, so someone else can be healed, too.

It’s what we artists do.

And we are really, really good at it, too. Thank heaven!

THE FOUR QUESTIONS #7: What Is Your Next Step?

Trite, but true: Every journey begins with a single step.

(7 minute read) 

Okay, you big dreamers, procrastinators (moi!), those who are stuck (oops…me, too!), and people who need it all figured out before they do anything, listen up! Question #2 can be even more important that Question #1!

Question #1, What is your greatest vision for (insert-your-heart’s-desire-here), is a great exercise for going big. Especially for those artists -who have been noticeably absent in art history, art galleries, and art museums, who don’t see evidence they, too, can be successful artists: Women, minorities, other cultures and ethnicities, etc. (Well. Women do show up a lot in art, but usually as subjects, and thus without clothes.)

But for us to “get big”, it’s not enough to just have a dream.

We have to do the work to make it happen. Or at least possible.

That means figuring out a path, no matter how vague, or improbable, to head in the general direction of our goals.

This can still be hard to wrap our heads around. “How the heck do I know what I should do next??”

Consider the following strategies, and hopefully, one will resonate with you.

1)    Eliminate the all-or-nothing approach.

There’s nothing more daunting than an ultimatum. 

The person who dreamed of accepting an award for a movie? They had stopped their film-making. They couldn’t figure out a way to support themselves with it, so they took a well-paying full-time job for a national service corporation.

But they were so exhausted by their day/desk job, they didn’t have the time or energy to create films. Since they simply couldn’t quit their job, obviously they had to give up their dream. Right?

The problem with this approach is, life rarely gives us the perfect opportunity, and all the breaks we think we need to move forward.

Sure, we all hear about people who took the big leap and landed it. They left their job, struggled for a couple years, and now they’re making six-figure incomes doing what they love.

The problem with this thinking is, in our hearts we recognize how rare this is. The older we get, the more responsibilities we take on: Family, aging parents, mortgages, preparing for retirement, health issues, etc. The reasons why we shouldn’t move forward can feel overwhelming.

A small solution to this problem is to carve out a place in your life (if you haven’t already done so) to acquire the skills, the experience, and the joy that comes from making your creative work.

This wonderful little article on how to move forward when we don’t even know what we want shows the importance of making room for doing what you love. It restores us to ourselves, so we can dream bigger.

The film-maker realized making a small, intimate, low-tech, very personal film around a major issue in their life could fit the bill. No expectations of greatness, fame, money, etc. Just something they’d dreamed of doing for awhile. And the scale made it highly doable.

2)    Start small: One action step in the next 24 hours.

What is one thing you can do TODAY to move you forward? 

One small step gets you off your…er…chair…and into active mode. I cannot emphasize how important, how empowering, even a tiny action can be.

First, you have to get out of bed. Not kidding!

I’ve been in a funk the last few months. Family issues, health issues, money issues. It’s consoling to let my art-making slack off (“I don’t feel like it!”) and feel sorry for myself.

I thought the issue was unsolvable. If a huge part of my work’s attraction is seeing it in person, even touching/holding it, (just ask my editor!) then how do I use the internet to market it?? If only a tiny number of my potential local audience ever even sees my work, let alone comes to my studio to experience it, how will I ever grow an audience large enough to support it?

After journaling about this, I realized that representation by a very few, but “good-fit” art galleries and museum stores could help me achieve this.

And instead of slogging through the hundreds or even thousands of potential galleries I could research, I could simply ask my community—those familiar with my work, and me—if they knew of such places.

I reached out on my blog, and Facebook, with my criteria: Would my work fit with the gallery’s aesthetic (and therefore, their audience?) Are the venues close enough that collectors could visit my studio here in Northern California? Is the gallery’s clientele willing to pay my prices? (I know with the right demographic, my prices are actually extremely reasonable for what I do.) Are the galleries close enough I can actually approach them in person with samples? Etc., etc.

Yes, a few people responded with well-intentioned but wild guesses. But a savvy few are responding appropriately.

Now I can use the internet, to research these galleries! Then decide which ones to visit in person.

The beauty of this small step is, even if none of these galleries work out, I’ve found that if the gallery owners/managers like the work (even though it doesn’t work for their customers), many are willing to suggest more appropriate venues—which will save me hours of research and legwork.

If your goal is so big, or so far beyond your imagining you can’t even begin to imagine how to get there, then Strategy 3 might prove helpful: 

3)    Work backwards from your goal.

You can’t win the lottery unless…..

One of my favorite all-time jokes is a minister whose church is in need. Every single day, he prays earnestly, “Oh Lord, please help me win the lottery!” This goes on for months. Until one day, the clouds roll, the lightning flickers, the thunder rolls, and a great voice speaks: “Do me a favor. BUY A DAMN LOTTERY TICKET!!!!”

Years ago, I attended a conference called Craft in the Digital Age. One of the speakers shared a linguistically unique way another culture expresses intention can have wonderful insights our own:

The first panelist was Lynn Martin Graton, Traditional Arts Coordinator for the NH State Council on the Arts… She spoke about living in Japan for some years, and her difficulty learning a language so different than the more familiar Romance languages.  She spoke about having to learn totally new concepts dictating how ideas were expressed, different expectations of the culture.  One example was how the English statement “I need to finish warping this loom today” would be expressed as “If the loom is not warped today, then nothing else can happen” in Japanese.  Part of learning such an unfamiliar language is to actively embrace the different cultural traits that spawned it….

For an expanded take on how this can work, read A Review of the Re-Do of the To-Do List.

Again, the way we tend to frame this feels like an ultimatum: “I have to do this!” Reframing it (“For the cloth to be woven, the loom must be warped”) makes it possible to happen.

To put this into practice, think what your ideal outcome is. Perhaps it’s “win an award at a prestigious art show.”

What would have to happen before you win? “Create an astonishing new work of art.”

What has to happen before that? “Start working on a new body of work, then pick the best one in that series.”

Before that? “I need more canvases!”

Or maybe your steps go (in reverse order), “Be accepted into that show”, after “Apply for the show”, and beginning with “Get the prospectus for the show”.

Why do such simple little “first steps” help so much?

In a series of goal-achieving blog articles I wrote awhile back, I talked about “micro-steps”: Why does something as simple as putting on your work-out shoes increases your chances of actually going to the gym?

People: It’s science! Studies showed that even that tiny step of putting on our sneakers can increase the likelihood we’ll follow through with our intentions.

It’s back to that old saw: How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

For the person who is asking the questions, when you and the speaker get to this question, your job is to keep asking, “What has to happen before this step?” (“For the cloth to be woven, the loom must be warped.”)

And for the person who thinks they had to clean their entire studio to get weaving again, remind them: You only have to clear off the loom.

I don’t have to clean my studio (today.) I just have to clear a little space.

Stay tuned for next week’s next question! It’s a doozy! Bring your hankies!

Thank you, patronage, and PayPal

I want to thank the folks who responded to my invitation to be a patron of my writing earlier this week! Your thank you gifts will commence as soon as I clear off a surface.

BUT….I am switching to a simple PayPal request instead.

Because a family member set up his blog on Patreon, I thought that would be a good choice. BUT…..

I’m already overwhelmed with emails from Patreon, urging me to do this and that, telling me how to “drive more patrons” to signing up, etc. It’s possible you’ve even been on the brunt end of this.

I hate this business model.

It’s one thing to ask readers to consider a small donation to support my writing.

It’s another to involve them in a constant barrage of marketing ploys.

With PayPal, you can pay from your PayPal account, your back account, or even your own credit card. (My PayPal email is MyName at gmail dot com)

You can consider a one-time gift, or a monthly donation.

You can make it for $1, or $5, or heck, if you are a billionaire, $10,000 $100. (I would worry about what you expect for $10,000.) I’ll try to keep my promise to send you a thank you card, if you send me a message with your snail mail addy. BUT….maybe for a thank you, you can also ask me a question and I’ll write an article about it!

Also, you can still keep reading all my columns right here, at Muddlin’ Through.

So thank you for your patience as I muddle through, too.

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You’ll still get a card for signing up for a monthly donation. When…ahem….clear surface. (It might be a bunny, or a horse, though.)

 

 

 

 

Thank You for Your Patronage!

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Bears looking for money. Loose change accepted!

I’ve been considering this for a long time. And now, it feels like the time is right. (I actually typed “write”, which is a little Freudian slip there….)

I am asking you for a huge favor today….

Consider becoming a patron of my writing with a small donation. Monthly, annually, or a one-time contribution.

YES, my blog is free! Always has been. I’ve been blogging for 15 years now. I’ve never made a nickel from it.

In those fifteen years, I wrote for two art business magazines that paid fairly well. One was sold, and shut down. The other? Well, let’s just say they said I wasn’t very funny anymore, and simply quit sending me assignments. (Oh, the pain!) (Okay, it hurt a little, but may I’m NOT funny anymore.)

I have one writing gig left that pays less than going to the movies for each article. (Yes, in the spirit of valuing my own work, I’m going to be asking for a raise.)

But it’s not going to be what I used to make. Those gigs are almost gone now. I’m back to new zines telling me I should write for free (with images and how-to’s) in return for the great “exposure” I’ll get. (I’m at the point in my life where I associate “exposure” with “sunburn” and “rosacea”….)

I’ve been advised from time to time to create a “pay-to-play” platform. You don’t get to read unless you pay me.

I hate that. I might make some $$, but far fewer people would get to read my stories.

YES, you can keep reading for free! BUT…

Consider sponsoring my writing for about, oh, 17 cents a day.

Sign up for a $4.95/month subscription at https://www.patreon.com/LuannUdell by setting up a PayPal “send money” transaction.*

It will encourage me, not only to KEEP writing, but to write MORE.

As the founder of Patreon points out, artists throughout history have been supported by patrons. It’s how amazing work got out into the world.

If even a few of my wonderful followers chipped in, it would be wonderful.

So please consider supporting the writing.

I myself started making micro-donations (An Australian bat rescue org! Cynthia Tinapple’s Studio Mojo!) It feels good to know I’m helping in a very small, but tangible way, to bring more light into the world….

And…..THANK YOU!!!! Thank you for even considering this. I am grateful for whatever support you can give.

And no worries if you can’t afford it. I won’t hate you. :^)

P.S. For those who DO sign up, you will receive a thank-you card, featuring one of my hand-carved stamp images. (You could frame it!) (Image will vary.)

* After being deluged with email from Patreon, I’ve decided to simply ask you to use PayPal. You can send money from your PP account, your bank, or your own credit card. You’ll still get a card!

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THE WAITING GAME

No one is ever 100% productive. No one is ever 100% efficient. No one has 100% of their time to spend on their art. And anyone who says they are either has a rich partner, or a support team who takes care of everything else, or is lying through their teeth speaking metaphorically.

Even if we are amazingly focused and disciplined about making our art, life happens. The kids get sick, the dog gets sick, we get sick. People (and dogs) die. The power goes out. (Yes, even here in “sunny California”, where we’ve had 15″ of rain, including a whopper storm that just left, and yes, some people did lose power.) Heck, sometimes we just run out of paint/clay/paperclips.

Today on Fine Art Views, a writer shared how they maximize their creative time in the studio. They maximize their time spent on other tasks, su as that 30 minute wait at the doctor’s office, and that 4-hour airplane trip.

And so, here are a few of mine.

The most basic tool I’ve found for time management is some sort of daily planner. I used to use those expensive fancy ones, until I kept losing them and having to fall back on my old standby: The lowly composition book.

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I really need to not use just black-and-white books. Too confusing! And WOW, September was a busy month!!

This actually works better for me, because the task list for some days are very brief (nothin’ much on the page after your colonoscopy exam  health procedures. And other days, there is so much to do, so much information to record, so many things to keep track of, I need more than one page. With a composition book, I can use as many or as few pages as I need, and I can tape or staple important notes, business cards, or sales flyers in there, too.

But even more important than a place to write and plan is this helpful little question to ask myself before starting anything:

What needs to happen before that?

I learned this concept years ago, and wrote about it here. It really helps to sort out your “next step”.

And the reason this can maximize your time in the studio is, so many times we get to the studio to “work”–and realize we’ve left that one critical thing we need at home. Or we’ve forgotten to get that critical little task completed, or forgot to order that crucial supply.

There I am, at the studio, as planned, and I can’t finish the one thing I’d established as the priority of the day.

Here’s a perfect example: I’m back on track with my fiber collage work. I’ve got half a dozen works in progress. I have a couple pieces ready to frame. I have great new ideas for the next projects.

I arrived at my studio, ready to get to work. But when I went to frame one fragment, I realized I was missing a backing board. And everything ground to a halt.

Easily fixed. When I got back home, I put together what I need for the next couple projects. I realized I was out of other sizes and colors of mats. I researched sources, and found a great local mat source. I placed an order, and can pick it up today.

And realized that all this happened because I hadn’t followed my own rule:

Write down ALL the steps that have to happen before a task can be considered completed.

Who has time to do that?? you may well ask.

Well….that 30 minutes in the waiting room? That’s a good time.

That four-hour flight? That’s a great time to layout your goals for the next month. Or even the rest of the year. (Er…just in case that was one of your New Year’s resolutions that never actually made it into reality.) (Not me, of course.) (WHY ARE YOU LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT AND SNIGGERING???)

And here’s the last tip that really works for me, when I remember to do it:

When you stop for the day, leave your work at a place where you can easily pick it up again the next time.

It’s so much easier to get right down to work if you can easily see what your next step is.

Or, if you’ve completely finished your current project, set up for your next one before you leave. This is also a good way to know if you have everything you need to get started. If you don’t, well, you know what to do once you get home. (Or, if your friendly art supply store is still open, pick it up on your way home!)

These tips work really well for me, when I remember to do them! Which reminds me….

Where’s my notebook?? I need to write this down….

 

PRIVILEGE–Use It!

 

Today I was talking with someone about traveling across the U.S. 35 years ago. “No credit cards, we had traveler’s checks.” (Remember those? Before they were a scam??) “No cell phones in case our car broke down.” (When I backed up our car into a deep hole in a campground, we had to hike out seven miles to get a tow truck.Fortunately, someone gave us a lift, and we got to ride back with the tow truck.) “No smart phones or Kayak.com to look for hotels for the night.” (Let alone hotels that allow dogs, like on our move out here two years ago.) I said I was anxious every time we traveled, because I was afraid we wouldn’t find a place to sleep at night, our car would break down, and we never knew where the next gas station was.

Ahhhhh, the privilege the internet, cell phones, and credit cards….. especially a card that gives us reward miles.

Yesterday, I finished binge-watching the Gilmore Girls reboot. My daughter and I checked in, and agreed Rory was not as mature as we’d expect by now. She (Rory) was having trouble finding a steady journalism job, as she flubs up and thrashes around in her adult life.

Ahhhhhh, the privilege of wealthy grandparents and an even-wealthier secret boyfriend who lives in London (who’s engaged to marry someone else.)

I’ve been thinking of my kids, who never tire of pointing at their childhood in Keene NH, which was (and I quote) a “white liberal bubble of privilege”. Which, to be fair, it was.

I could get resentful and say, “Were we supposed to deliberately be poor?? Aren’t you glad we lived in a place where you could play AirSoft in the woods and not be shot on sight by a police officer? Aren’t you glad we were able to help you with college, and housing, until you could make your own way in the world?”

But there’s no getting around it. Privilege doesn’t necessarily mean wealth, or an easy life. It does, however, mean there are some things we didn’t have to worry about, and some dangers, aggressions, situations, hostilities, we didn’t have to face.

The thing with privilege is, you’re either born with it, or you’re not. You’re either born in a first-world country, or you’re not. You’re either born a person who’s not considered “of color”, or not. You’re either born with your “assigned” gender, or not. You either have the wiring for mental health, or you don’t. You are either born being able to take or leave alcohol, or not.

I can’t change how I was born.  No one can.

But we can change what we do with our privilege.

In Rory’s case, I think back to a time where, if you were a writer, there was only one way to make a name for yourself writing. You wrote a book, which hopefully became somewhat successful. Or you got a job working as a journalist, or wrote for a magazine. Otherwise, you could write to your heart’s content, but not very many people would ever get to read what you write.  When I think of how this has changed, with the internet, with self-publishing on Amazon and other sites, heck, with blogging, the mind boggles. I did write a book (a craft book which did not become a best seller, but hey, my dentist owns a copy, and she absolutely loves it.) I did write for a magazine, until they decided I wasn’t really relevant anymore. (ouch) I finally did write an article for our local newspaper. It was published two weeks before we moved to California.

But now I can write whenever I like. I may whine about deadlines, and how little money I make from writing now (my one paying gig pays me $30 a column). But the bottom line is, I can write and share my thoughts with the world. Saying I won’t write unless I’m paid to, just seems…..ungrateful. For the simple reason that I do have an audience, and sometimes they even let me know how much they enjoy my work.

I can’t change the fact that I grew up in a different world than millions of other people. I won’t apologize that I gave that same safe haven for my kids. But I can show my gratitude, that in certain ways, my life was/is easier than some people who have different experiences because of their gender, skin color, religion, nationality. I can be aware I have this privilege, and do engage with causes and actions that hopefully will make the world a better place for all of us.

And so, too, with my art. Here I am this afternoon, racking my brain on how to make more money from my art during the holidays. Until I catch myself….

Like every other artist I’ve ever met, I worry that “not making a lot of money” with my art means “I’m not a successful artist.” I’ve learned that money is not the only measure of my success (a big hat-tip to Alisha Vincent, who challenged me on that almost 15 years ago.) I’m fortunate to know from the start that the only thing keeping me from making, and sharing, my art with the world, is me.

Every day I wake up, I get to choose. I get to choose what I make, how much I make, how I make it. I get to decide how to share it with the world–by selling, teaching, donating, exhibiting, posting online. I have the time and a studio space, I have the materials and the knowledge I need, and I have the support and encouragement of my husband, my kids, my friends, and yes, even a few happy, loyal customers.

Making art is a gift. And a privilege.

Sometimes my buzzy brain goes a little crazy. Then I fret about money, about success, about fame, about exposure/sales/taxes/PayPal fees/my website/time/ideas/inspiration until I finally sit up and yell, “Stop!!!!!

Because I am so grateful I have enough time, enough money, enough success,  enough exposure, enough of a following, enough of everything. Heck, I’m delighted I have a website, a blog, PayPal, a Square, even! (If I think really, really hard, I’m sure I can get to the point where I’m grateful I have enough of an income to even pay taxes on.) (Still thinking.)

So just for a few minutes today, think long and deep about your privilege. Blessings aren’t a good thing unless you share them. Privilege is meant to be a springboard to raise others up, too. When you start to feel sad about your art, take a deep breath and exhale slowly.

Rejoice you have this time in your life to bring the world of your heart out into the world.

And then go do it.

If you have time (and I know the holidays are ramping up!) tell me something you’re doing this month to brighten the world. I’d love to hear it!

 

 

YES, YOU CAN CHANGE THE WORLD

In these crazy times, many of us are asking ourselves, “What can we do??”The answer: “Give of yourself, to others.” One person CAN make a difference.

I ran into a friend today. Our chat ran to some odd places (in a good way!) We talked about what various social issues, issues that need rethinking, reconsideration: Young people and higher education; homelessness; insight into race and racism; disadvantaged youth.

Quite a heavy load to contemplate on a beautiful sunny morning in Santa Rosa!

“I don’t know what to do,” my friend said. “I don’t know how to help.”

I shared some of my experiences as a volunteer. in hospice, and grief support; as a volunteer reader in my kids’ elementary classes; a visiting artist in a program for high school students who were struggling with emotional- and mental-health issues.

Soon he remembered something he’d done awhile back, offering support for a computer technology he has lots of skill in.  He shared a few things I often felt as a volunteer, things I know other volunteers have felt.

So, in no particular order, thoughts for how you can help the world be a better place for others.

Share a skill. Almost all of us have expertise in something. Find a group to share that with: Youngsters, students (high school, college), newbies in your field, seniors. It may be drawing, computer technology, writing, jewelry-making.

Share an interest. Do you like reading? Share a story with someone. Do you play an instrument? Start a small music group. Do you collect rocks? Share that passion. You don’t have to be an expert, you just have to be willing to encourage others’ interests.

Share your time. An hour or two a week, or even a month, spent in the company of an engaged adult, can mean the world to shut-ins, students, event organizers, museums, outreach groups.

Share your uniqueness.  Young people don’t need you to be awesomely expert or talented. It’s enough to show them what that looks like, to be someone employed in work they care about, who have hobbies and interests they enjoy. It may open a door, or a whole new world to them.

Here are things to be aware of:

It’s okay to volunteer for something you really like. For some reason, volunteering/sharing an interest or skill, can seem not worthy–because you’re having too much fun. It’s like we feel we have to give in a way that hurts. That doesn’t make sense, does it? Or as my wonderful, smartsy daughter always says, “Would you rather volunteer to do something you hate?!” Er….nope. But it’s weird to realize how guilty we feel if we enjoy our outreach. Lose the guilt. You’re doing it right.

It’s okay to share something small. So you volunteer to sit and listen to a second-grader read a book. You think, “I’m really not working very hard here….”  Well, you just freed up the classroom teacher to work with another kid. You lightened someone’s load. It’s enough.

It’s enough to simply be present. One of the hardest concept to wrap my head around in my hospice volunteer training was, we can’t fix things for our clients. But what we can be is…well, to be present. Many clients found it comforting to simply have another human being with them. Sometimes we talked, sometimes laughed. Sometimes we simply sit with them, and hold their hand. (And some didn’t want their hand held, but they still felt our presence, and were comforted.) And it wasn’t about being there when they died. In fact, the greatest gift for some was to give them the privacy they craved when their time came. It’s weird, but they let you know.

Give some money. You don’t need to donate millions of dollars, or thousands of dollars, or even a $100. Instead, give a homeless person a buck or two (or five), with no judgment about what they need to console themselves from their life on the street. Yesterday I read an article about helping the homeless. The volunteer said, “Try laying your head on the sidewalk. See how vulnerable you feel. Then have some compassion.” It’s hard to fix your life when you have nothing. If someone needs a beer, or a cigarette to numb the pain, I no longer feel competent to judge that.

Give a little something. If helping someone personally still feels awkward, donate a few bucks to your favorite charitable foundations.

If you can’t spare the money, or time, give something else. Shop at thrift stores that serve social causes: the homeless, the elderly, kids, hospice, people without healthcare.

Or donate your old books, clothing, equipment.

Pick up a few extra cans of soup when you shop for groceries, and donate them at the door. One meal is a lot, to that one person.

Some of our greatest social challenges in the years ahead will take big steps, huge effort, giant leaps in understanding, compassion, campaigning, commitment.

It will also take rethinking how we we view the problems.

In the meantime, small steps will get us somewhere, eventually, especially if millions of us make those steps.

Last, but not least, put yourself in the mindset of simply being kind.

You’ll see the difference not only in what you do, but what you feel. Others will feel it, too.

You’ll be glad you did.