MANIFESTO 2016

Oddly, 2016 also looks like a year of not-color. I'm exploring the power of white, and other neutrals. Thank you, Patty Tulip!

Oddly, 2016 also looks like a year of not-color. I’m exploring the power of white, and other neutrals. Thank you, Patty Tulip!


I’ve been thinking about 2016 for awhile now. I revisited my Manifesto for 2015 just now.

It still works for me.

The only difference is, other big changes are in store for me.

I can’t talk about them now. I’ve found that sometimes, me writing and talking about ‘next steps’ can feel like I’ve already done them. The talking replaces the doing. Not good.

This past year, an entire year apart from everything that’s gone before, has been strange. Unsettling. Exciting. Powerful. If only from the fact that we took a huge step outside our comfort zone, left familiarity behind, embraced something new. Because we believed we could, and so we did.

With this distance has come the gift of space, space to contemplate, space to heal.

My first manifesto, and events in the year before the move, sparked some usual responses from readers, friends, and family. My decision to speak up, and not hunker down, caused some explosions, some ridiculing, and a lot of patronizing. A lot of this stemmed from people who are very, very sure they have everything all figured out, and see the rest of us (me in particular) as stupid/hateful/not worthy. They consider themselves experts and all-knowing, to the extent that they don’t even know what they don’t know–to the extent that they can’t even hear someone who’s experienced something different. (A huge shout-out here to Quinn McDonald, a friend whose wisdom created the space for what I learned in hospice, to come in. Her words inspired a slew of posts about perfectionism.) (And probably more, because I used to really mess up with categories and tags in my blog.)

A fellow traveler, Sheri Gaynor, came into my life late in 2015. I’ve had an intense, beautiful session with her recently, one that finally laid to rest many old wounds I was still carrying. Sheri is a licensed therapist who uses the healthy, healing properties of horses with her clients. (If you’re interested in how this works, walk calmly to the HorseTenders Mustang Foundation in Greenfield, NH and meet their horses. An amazing family, with amazing mustangs, working in partnership, with peace and intention, creating profound experiences for all of us.)

Most attacks in my life came from me expanding, emotionally, spiritually, from new experiences and insights. And most devastating were the ones that I triggered just by being myself. “You’re too sensitive!” could have been my mantra growing up. I sure heard it enough. The attacks were at times so powerful, I would retract to protect myself. This act of retraction/contraction became such a protective measure for me, I soon equated each expansion with fear. If I stepped up/forward/outward, I would be slapped down. The contraction became a habit. It held me back.

(Quick note: I always–always–take responsibility–and apologize–for my own contribution to these attacks. Maybe I took too much on myself. Maybe I overestimated the other. I could have been more calm, more measured, more grounded. But I rarely regret what I believe and say. I’m also a sucker for a good apology (and I can smell a non-apology apology a mile away. I also know, and understand, that most people who hurt us, are hurting, themselves. That’s fine. But….Not my circus, not my monkeys.)

As one of my wise woman friends, Melinda LaBarge constantly reminds me, I’m not here to “fix” anybody else. Though I love to try, I must resist. That’s their journey, not mine. (Melinda is also the person who told me, after I whined about the difficulties of transition, “This ain’t your first rodeo. You don’t have to be the clown.”)

Looking back, I see the attacks are an important part of who I am today. The pain I’ve carried has caused major shifts in my persona. But they will not define me–or rather, restrict me–going forward. (There, I said it.)

2015 became my year of healing, though I didn’t realize it til today. (I’ve always excelled at looking back than leaning forward. Amazing what a little space to heal, and a lot of time to think, can get you.)

What does 2016 bring?

Expansion. Time to step up to the plate with my gifts.

And with it: “Protection through rejection.” I heard this phrase in the context of, sometimes we don’t get what we want because it would have been bad for us. We may feel ‘rejected’, but we were actually protected. It also works both ways: Moving forward, I may need emotional/physical/virtual distance to protect myself. Facebook is my frenemy. I see it as a way to connect, to see new points of view, to learn from others. And you can post whatever you want on your timeline. But be warned–From now on, if you shit on my timeline, you are history. (And for those who embrace the ‘a few bad apples’ theory, you have to understand–Michael Jackson got it wrong. Bad apples do spoil the whole bunch, girl.  They need to be set apart from the good apples or they continue to rot, and spread the rot to the rest. You don’t tolerate, excuse, overlook, rot. (Did I get carried away with my farm metaphor??)

I hope to will practice leaving the contraction part of expansion/conttraction behind.

To all my fellow travelers in this world, to those who have helped me, educated me, encouraged me, believed in me–thank you, bless you, go with light. To those I have wronged or hurt, please forgive me. For those who have given me the gift of love, and friendship and a true sense of family, I love you. Because of you, I’m moving forward.

And I hope I truly get a pony–er, horse–in 2016.

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MANIFESTO 2015

“…And I can do this with my hands, by creating my little horse, which symbolizes the power that comes from our choices, our actions, even in the face of despair.”

This little horse actually means something really big.

This little horse actually means something really big.

My post on 9/11 reminds me that in the face of tragedy, we always have the power of our choices.

I’ve been silent here for awhile, as we’ve wrapped up our mammoth move to Northern California. And even when I’m writing regularly, I usually stick to subjects I consider “safe” for me: Writing about the business of art, writing about making art has affected my life, sharing the lessons I’ve found in wall-climbing, martial arts, hospice, parenthood and silly pets as I muddle through life.

None of that is changing. But there is something that’s been building, building lately. If you follow me on Facebook, you may have wondered why I’ve gone all “social justice-y” as my social worker daughter Robin so aptly puts it.

I’ve decided to speak out about white privilege and racism on my blog.

Rest assured that this will not dominate my writing. That is for more knowledgeable, articulate writers than I.

But let me explain how I got here.

Several years ago, our family became involved with an abusive person who is black. In his manipulation of our family, many topics revolving around race and class were used as tools to bully and intimidate. We became ‘hyper-allergic’ to anything that reminded us of that difficult period in our lives.

My daughter is the one who walked us back from that hard place. She made us realize that the way these issues were used was hurtful, but the truth of them was valid. Not only valid, but devastating in their consequences for people of color.

I began to examine many of the things I say and believe that I felt made me a ‘liberal’, a non-racist person. I was dismayed to realize I was oblivious to what more than a third of the people in the United States experience every single day of their lives. (Numbers vary, but roughly only 62% of the U.S. population consists of non-Hispanic white people.) The daily life of people of color in our country is very, very different than anything I have ever experienced. The death of Trayvon Martin opened my eyes even more.

More recently, we’ve gotten to know our new neighbors, a naturalized American of Mexican ancestry and her white husband. I had no idea of the extent of hostilities experienced by Hispanics in California. I was totally ignorant of the police shooting/death of Andy Lopez. Soon after, the events in Ferguson, MO took place, and the grand jury decision was made. Days later, the results of the Eric Garner grand jury were announced.

As I educated myself about these incidents, more and more examples of similar tragedies arose. I felt overwhelmed. But I realized I could no longer turn away.

Normally, I would slowly return to my ‘normal life’, feeling sad but sidelined and powerless to change anything. But as I learned even more, something shifted.

It happened after I read a powerful post from a black blogger. (Deep apologies, I can’t find the appropriate link, but will find it later. I need to get this written NOW!) She noted that her white followers, white people, even her own white friends, were being remarkably silent on these issues, even on Facebook where a cute cat video can go viral in seconds. She checked around, and found this was the case for other bloggers of color, too. “Where are the white people??” she asked.

Oh. Uh…. Yeah. That would be me.

Why WAS I being silent? What was holding me back?? Believing that these events don’t affect me? That I have nothing useful to say? Was I worried about appropriating a people-of-color cultural narrative?

I realized it doesn’t matter.

Andy Lopez could have been my kid, a young man who loves his Airsoft games with his friends. Except that my kid does it in the woods of New Hampshire, on private property, whereas poorer kids of color play in parks. And poorer kids of color get shot on sight, whereas my kid is white and would probably NOT be shot.

Andy Lopez could have been my kid. But saying, “There but for the grace of God…” doesn’t do it for me anymore. Because Andy Lopez deserves grace, too.

What about simply standing up and saying, “I stand with you”….?
What about simply saying, “I believe this is unjust and intolerable”….?
What about simply saying, “We have to find a way to change this”….?

I found I could no longer tolerate remaining silent.

And I began to post on Facebook about it.

The first post created quite a stir!

Things I’ve been told lately when discussing Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Andy Lopez, Tamir Rice…..
“He wasn’t a good kid, he’d just stolen cigarettes from a store!”
Me: “Do we shoot to kill when teens shoplift?”
“He lived in an awful neighborhood!”
Me: “He didn’t choose to live there. Probably his parents didn’t, either.”
“Why do those parents let their kids play with real-looking guns??”
Me: “Have you WALKED through a WalMart lately?? And heck, I had a preschooler chew his organic peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich into a gun and pretend to shoot it!”
“Why don’t those parents teach their kids not to wave a play gun at a police officer?”
Me: “I’m sure they did. But the operative word here is…’kids’….”
“Andy Lopez was a big kid. He looked like an adult!”
Me: “He didn’t choose that, either. And even an adult shouldn’t be shot on sight for carrying a AirSoft gun.”
“He wore a hoodie! That’s a gang sign!”
Me: I don’t even know what to say

In my passion to be more involved, I alienated some people, good people. I incurred endless arguments from well-meaning people who explained to me why these victims don’t deserve my compassion. I became more frustrated as I saw people endlessly defending their own points of view, while not even really considering mine.

I say one thing to these people: I’m sorry I didn’t respect your journey.

I don’t want to respect their point of view–I try, but I’m not that evolved!–but I have to. “Let go, let God”, says a wiser friend than I. I get it. Everybody has their own journey to make. I’m at a different place in mine, but it’s not for me to say where you should be in yours.

Neither will I become silent. My art, why I make it, and why it seems to matter so much to other people, are all wrapped up in my journey. I cannot separate my art from my activism. That’s why it seemed so right to take my simple earnings from my very first open studio here, and walk around the corner to donate it all to the Center for Peace and Justice in Sonoma County.

So my manifesto which begins today, as an early “New Year’s Resolution”. Or a “New Life Resolution”, if you will. I will hold onto the other core issues I treasure–humane rescue of animals, the spirituality of art, hospice, homelessness.

But there will be a few additions:

I will share my views openly (and peacefully!) when and where I can about social justice for people of color.

I will continue to examine my own deeply rooted beliefs and assumptions that keep me from being engaged.

I will support accountability for those in power.

I will support those who write and work for these issues, with my respect and my pocketbook.

I will not hide behind rationalizing, and defensiveness, and silence.

Because only our silence stands in the way of real justice.

And here’s my manifesto for 9/11:

BIRTHDAY

Today is my birthday. A Google alert tells me that today is the anniversary of the day the Lascaux cave was discovered by four teenaged boys who followed their lost dog down a hole.
In all these years I’ve made artwork inspired by the Lascaux cave, I never knew this.

It makes this piece (which I wrote on 9/11, my 49th birthday) even more poignant to me….

AN ANCIENT STORY FOR MODERN TIMES

The events of September 11, 2001 were almost too horrible to contemplate. The world seemed filled with evidence of hate, destruction and despair. As I watched events unfold, I was aware of my own reactions of anger and hate for the people who could stoop this low, and overwhelming sympathy for those whose lives were so carelessly taken in these acts of violence.

I went to my studio later, lost in despair and fearful of the new world that awaited us. As I worked, I couldn’t help thinking, “What does it matter that I make these little horses? What relevance do they have in the light of this tragic event?” I kept working as I thought.

The Cave Paintings of Lascaux…

Soon, however, it dawned on me. When the Lascaux cave paintings were created, the Ice Age was ending. The climate was changing, the great glaciers were retreating. The grasslands disappeared, and with them, the huge herds of animals that followed them. These ancient people watched as their entire way of life changed and disappeared. Some archaeologists now think the cave paintings were created to call the animals back.

Even as we stand, fearful and afraid at the dawn of a new age, so did they stand and watch as their world changed around them. They were afraid and perhaps filled with despair. But they went into the dark cave and created the most profoundly beautiful and evocative art the world has ever seen. Poignant in its message (though we cannot read it), we still feel its power 17,000 years later.

The Dawn of a New Morning…

We, too, stand at the dawn of a new morning. We, too, are afraid and despairing about what those changes will mean to us, as a nation and as individuals. We have choices to make about how we will meet those changes.

Life is not about what happens to us, but how we get through what happens to us. The kind of person we want to be determines the kind of choices we make.

We can choose how we face life.

The Choices We Make…

As an artist, I choose to affirm the creative force of the universe. In my own small way, I must stand on the side of creativity—to grow, to understand, to move forward in a constructive way, and to act in whatever way I can to honor this force. I can do this globally, by contributing to causes that seek to alleviate the conditions that bring acts of horror like this to the world. I can do this locally, by holding my family and loved ones close, and honoring the creative spirit of all other people. And I can do this with my hands, by creating my little horse, which symbolizes the power that comes from our choices, our actions, even in the face of despair.

Luann Udell

WHO IS AN ARTIST? (And When Can You Call Yourself One?)

“Artist” is a loaded word these days… Is it a label? A title? An occupation? I think it’s simply a means to an end?

A reader emailed me today with a simple question. She’s been on her creative path for awhile now. She wanted to know if what she does, is art. And when we know it’s time to call ourselves an “artist”.

Here’s how the internationally-respected art blog Making A Mark introduced the topic a few years ago. It’s an interesting read. You’ll find in the comments that opinions run the gamut from the sublime to the ridiculous, the strict delineations to the all-embracing. I love the one explaining how Canada defines “professional artist.”

Me? I really don’t know.

Seriously. I just had a consult with someone who works with archetypal symbols to help us chart our course. I seem to be top-heavy in “magician”. Magician sees many perspectives, and tries to hold many points of view. Sometimes this leads to deeper knowledge and understanding. But sometimes we get lost in a “hall of mirrors”, unable to find our real path for all the confusion of multiple images.

Hence (I’ve waited all year to use “hence”!) I see the validity in many opinions on what is a “real artist”.

But here’s the bottom line: If we really say that people have to have credentials, sales, fame, and a life dedicated entirely to art in order to be considered real artist, and that only certain media are eligible (painting, preferably oils, for example), then we are going to eliminate thousands upon thousands of people who have created works that have stood the test of time. And I’m not just talking decades or centuries. I’m talking millennia. (Not counting half the human race that weren’t recognized at all during that time. Yes, girls, I’m talking about US.)

On the other hand, I know junk when I see it. Just sayin’.

One of my favorite stories about this–who is, and isn’t, an artist–took place over a decade ago, when I was looking for a studio space in a newly-renovated building not far from my house. My husband and I were talking with some of the building’s owners and one of them asked what I did. I replied, “I’m a fiber artist.” He said something like “That’s nice”, and the conversation continued. About ten minutes later, he mentioned a local painter and exclaimed, “Now, she’s a real artist!”

I was pretty grounded by then, and bemused, not insulted. The person he’d mentioned wasn’t actually a very good painter, and she eventually moved on to other media. But it didn’t matter to him that she wasn’t that skilled, and I was. Her media automatically defined her as a “real” artist, in his mind.

Another telling tale: Many times, at parties, gatherings, etc. someone I don’t know will ask what I do. I’ll tell them, and again, I get the equivalent of “That’s nice.” But later in the conversation, when they ask me where I sell my work, I’ll reply, “Well, my biggest retail show is the League of NH Craftsmen, so I do ‘Sunapee’ (the show’s totally unofficial and informal nickname) and sell through a lot of the League galleries.” Then there’s a respectful gasp of admiration and the inevitable, “You do Sunapee?! You must be awesome!”

Of course, these are assessments made by people who may not know a lot about art. They may not know how exquisitely tricky those “official” delineations are. For example, if you make a sculpture in clay, it’s usually classified as “craft”. But if you create a bronze cast of that sculpture, then the bronze version is considered “art.” (How’s that for weird?)

I’m the same person, before and after, credentials notwithstanding.

So how do we decide?

Well, as I’ve said before, you don’t need a license to practice art. But here’s what I really think….

If you are making something that makes your heart sing, if you enjoy it, if it connects you to your higher self, if it connects others to their higher self, even for a few brief moments, then yeah, you’re an artist.

And you can start calling yourself that right now. Go ahead! You have my permission.

Short version, for you: It’s tempting to wait til you believe it, to say it. But one of my most powerful mentors said exactly the opposite…
You have to SAY “I’m an artist” before you can believe it.
How many times do you have to say it?
You have to say “I’m an artist” as many times as you’ve been told (and told yourself) you’re not.

So if you’ve told yourself a million times you’re not an artist, you need to say it a million and one times to truly believe it yourself. And if you believe it, others will, too.

I had to do this. It works. It took a year. But by then, the phrase, “I’m an artist”, rolled off my tongue. And I knew it was true.

If people are curious, and it’s hard to explain what you do, hand them your business card (which absolutely should have a bit of your artwork on it, if at all possible) that has your website (because you need to have an online presence of some sort so people can see/hear/watch what you do).

And let them decide for themselves.

Let others decide. Let history decide. Let your credentialing institution decide. Let your family, your boss, your peers decide.

It doesn’t matter.

Only you know the true worth of what you do.

Don’t doubt what you are. Don’t second-guess what you do. Just constantly strive to make it as good as you can.

After all, only you can do it.

Say it loud, say it proud, “I’m an artist!” right out loud.

OUR HOME: An Affirmation

If only we'd used the ice melt BEFORE Jon slipped and dislocated his shoulder.....

If only we’d used the ice melt BEFORE Jon slipped and dislocated his shoulder…..


It’s been a wild and crazy January, full of changes, upheavals, accidents and injury. In other words, the usual life stuff.

In the turmoil, I barely found time to write, let alone come up with something cohesive enough to post.

But a simple lesson I’d forgotten about raised it’s pretty little head last week.

And suddenly, something post-able appears.

Someone asked about affirmations. Popularized by The Artist’s Way by Julie Cameron, it’s a morning writing practice of stating what you wish for, as reality, here and now. It’s a way of making room for what you want, in the moment.

Now, I’ve been writing about life lessons and museum studies, hospice and art-making. And I’m very good at writing gratitude lists, where I remind myself what’s good about my life, instead of dwelling on the bad.

But I haven’t done affirmations for ages.

I wrote this morning about how overwhelmed and anxious I’m feeling about rearranging/repurposing/renovating our home the past few years. We’re expecting another, potentially long-term guest in a few weeks, and we’re scrambling to make room for her. I’m depressed about our clutter (okay, my clutter), in our home and in my studio. I’ve felt down and spongey. (Is that a word??) Maybe porous–everything coming in and wreaking havoc in my ruminating brain.

I started to write, “I am moving to a less cluttered…..”

    NO.

(Yes, I stopped myself in mid-word!)

Suddenly, I thought, what if I quit writing about mastering clutter?
What if I wrote about why we’re dealing with clutter?

What if I wrote an affirmation for our home?

Our home is open to people who need a home.
Our home is open to people who yearn for companionship.
Our people is open to those who need a laugh… A Yankee Swap,
a Bad Movie Night,
a pizza and beer.
Our hope is open to us aging gracefully.
Our home is open to new possibilities.
Our home is open to animals who need a home.
Our home is a haven to people in transition.
Our home provides work and income to those who need it.
Our home celebrates family, friendship, and transition.
Our home is warm and cozy and eclectic and artsy.
Our home is filled with new projects and innovation.
Our home supports both of our vocations, and our avocations.
Our home is full of good intentions, and acts of kindness.
Our home is open to reconciliation.
Our home is full of ever-changing light.
Our home can stretch or shrink.
Our home has sheltered people for over 175 years.
Our home has weathered storms and risen above floods.
Our home holds new potential, and old memories.
Our home is a blend of the old, the modern, and the ultra-modern.
Our home is gracious.
Our home amuses people, welcomes people, amazes people and confuses people.
Our home is where our kids finished their childhood, and it’s where they come back to when things get hard.
Our home is a place where there’s always room for one more. Or two. Or three.
Our home has many sofas, and warm blankets.
Our home even has a fireplace that works–twice!
Our home has many attics and a dry basement and a good roof.
Our home can handle all our needs and desires, our ever-changing pasttimes and our hopes and dreams.
Our home can change to suit the needs we have today.
Our home has a kitchen that can hold many cooks–as long as it’s just one or two at a time.
Our home is a haven.
Our home is filled with love and wistfulness,
with love and angry words,
with love and slamming doors,
with love and reconciliation,
with love and new respect,
with love and laughter,
with love and sadness,
with love and gratitude,
with love and healing.

Our home is filled with love.

So here it is, for you, today.
An affirmation.
A different way of looking at things, today.

Now, please excuse me while I drop of two more bags at the thrift shop, a couple to the garbage, and an errand to Home Depot for more closet organizers.