Category Archives: art

READING THE OBITS

 

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Will future archeologists see my work as true artifacts? Clever fakes? Or even know them for the introspective artwork they are? 10,000 years from now, who will know the makings of our hands? And who will know the mysteries of our hearts?

I wrote this post almost nine years ago. Still true.

May 20, 2007

I’ve arrived at that age where I read the obituaries in the paper each day. (Actually, I started years ago but it seems more age-appropriate now.)

After checking in with the important stuff (Is it anyone I know? Were they younger or older than me??) I glance through the rest of the article for clues about who they were.

This person left behind a huge family of grieving loved ones. This one outlived many others. This one founded an industrial dynasty. This one traveled the world for the love of adventure. This one worked tirelessly to help her fellow man. This one was an Elk, or a Moose, or a veteran. This one was an advocate for animals, for children, for the earth. This one wrote a book, made a movie, sang in their church choir. This one made toys for his grandchildren. And this one always had fresh-baked cookies and a seat at the table for those in need of a warm heart and a sympathetic ear.

Real lives, all. None for us to judge. We know too little, in the end, for that.

There is a strong central theme running through each one.

The desire for them to be remembered.

It got me thinking this morning:

Remembered for what?

We cannot ultimately control how we will be remembered. If we leave behind an impressive legacy, or enough loved ones, we may have a slightly better chance.

Even then, for how long? A few years? A few generations, if we’re lucky to have mattered that much to some? For centuries, if we are a Mozart, or a queen, or a tragic hero?

It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that we cannot always control the outcome of our actions in our lives. Some of the most noble actions have led to the most dreadful outcomes and vice versa.

Even the most evil act in the world may someday generate some good. Israel, the United Nations and the lifework of Elie Wiesel (“Too remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all…”) are but a few legacies of the Holocaust.

If we cannot control the outcome, how do we decide what is worth doing?

All we can do is live our best intention, and make it manifest in our everyday lives.

The older I get, the more I realize how hard this is to do on all fronts–my personal life, my professional life, in my art and writing. I am really good at some intentions and frankly awful at others. And sometimes my failures are more outstanding than my successes, as my critics love to tell me.

In the end, the words I wrote for my aunt’s funeral sum it up the best for me. I scribbled them on a scrap of paper that morning, and it was lost in the shuffle on the way back home.

I said that all lives, great and small are precious.

That in the end, even small and quiet lives can touch the hearts of many others in ways we cannot foresee or fathom.

I remember saying that our days are surely numbered, and none of us knows the number of our days.

We can only live each one with as much passion, as much wonder, as much love, as much forgiveness, and as much courage as we can muster.

Because the world can be a harsh and frightening place, and it needs that from us. It needs our passion, and compassion. It needs our open heart.

It needs the very best from us. Our very best effort to make it a little brighter, a little better not only for our loved ones, but for everyone.

Even quiet lives and little acts of courage and kindness can have repercussions we cannot ever imagine Because the diary of Anne Frank is a legacy of the Holocaust, too.

For me, part of my very best effort means my art.

I realize my confusion and unhappiness has been because I could not see what its place is in the world. I’ve been doing my best to make sure it’s as “big” as it can be.

But then I have to let it go. I have to let it go out into the world and let it be what it is.

That is as it should be. It’s as much my child as my own flesh and blood. And like my children, I want it to shine as brightly as it can.

Like my children I must fight fiercely to protect it when it is vulnerable, and always out of love.

And like my children, it will ultimately find its own place in the world, beyond my expectations and intentions.

I cannot “control” what effect it has, or what it will mean to others, or even whether I will be remembered for it after I am gone. Just as I have no right to control how my children will craft their own lives, nor who they will marry, or how they will make their living in the world.

And like my children, I see more and more that this is a mystery to be embraced–not “handled.” There can be joy is in doing my best–then letting go of the outcome.

And trusting that even tiny actions of encouragement, acts of good intention, acts of creation, might leave their mark in the world long afte I and my work am forgotten.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Let go.

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Filed under art, living with intention

HOLDING ONTO PATTERNS THAT HOLD YOU BACK

What is the story you tell about yourself, that holds you back from doing the things you really want to do?

This is my very first blog post, which was first published Friday, November 29, 2002

Years ago, when I was getting my master’s degree in education, I met a young woman in one of my math methods course.  We paired up for several projects.  I found her bright and funny and easy to work with.

One day we were doing some measurements for a hands-on project, and she stumbled on an easy mental calculation, multiplying a single digit by 9.  I said something jokingly about her multiplication tables needing work.

“Oh, I never learned my 9’s facts,” she explained.  “I was absent that day.”

I thought she was joking.  Surely someone as smart as she was, and as someone who was taking master’s level math methods coursework, knew that elementary school does not denote one day out of the entire fourth-grade curriculum to teach the nines multiplication table.

But she wasn’t kidding.  She told me an elaborate story about being sick the day the nines table was taught, and so more than 15 years later, she was still unable to multiply by nine.

I think of that young woman often.

Coincidentally, in that same math teaching course, we were learning how to teach kids their math facts–addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.  There are many easy facts.

Let’s take the multiplication tables.  Everyone knows what the ones facts are:1 x 1 = 1, 2 x 1 = 2, etc.  Next come the twos, and it turns out they’re pretty easy, too.   Most kids learn them quickly.   Next are the fives and the tens.  They’re easily mastered, too.  Also the “doubles”: 3 x 3 = 9, 4 x 4 = 16, and so on.

Now if you were to map out a chart of all the multiplication facts, and mark off all the “easy” ones, including their reversals (2 x 3 = 6 and 3 x 2 = 6, for example) you’d find almost half of the facts accounted for.  And what are the strategies for learning those remaining facts?

The answer, it turns out, is not so much fun.  You have to memorize them.

Of course, there are some good tricks, like the nines tables: Subtract 1 from the not-9 number, use that number. That number plus what will equal 9? So for 6 x 9, 6-1 is 5, 5 plus what = 9? 4.  So 6×9=54.  Cute, huh?

But the straight skinny is, ya gotta memorize them.  The math facts are one of the few academic skills that are ultimately only learned by memorization, and best reinforced by drill and practice.  (Acquisition of vocabulary, especially in learning foreign languages, also benefits greatly by this approach, too.)

So here we have two statements, or stories, about facts.  One is measurable, observable, concrete.  To learn the math facts, you gotta work at them.  You gotta memorize them.  You gotta be able to knock out the answers within a second or two of hearing the numbers.  But once you learn them, you never really forget them.  You might get rusty, or you might get stuck on one or two.  But the foundation, the habit is still there.

The other story is harder to quantify.  Everyone will believe it, few will really examine it.  It goes like this: “I have a special story about why I can’t do something.  It’s an odd story, but it makes me feel better about not being able to do that thing.  So I hold onto it fiercely.  Even when a calm, adult eye would see that it doesn’t even make sense anymore.”

What do you gain by holding onto a story like that?

Well…you don’t have to try anymore.  You can have a clear conscience about why you can’t do that thing.  Others might think you’re silly, but it’s possible no one would ever say that to your face.

In fact, probably other people, who have their own  “I can’t” story, nod their head in sympathetic agreement, relieved that someone else has such a story, too.  You may even get sympathy, or admiration.  “Wow, that’s quite a story!  How awful for you! No wonder you can’t do that!”

It’s also a way to make sure you don’t have to do the real work of learning those new facts, those new ways of doing something.  It’s too hard,  it’s too time-consuming, it’s too late, it’s not possible, and so on. So make up a story, and move on.

But what do you lose with a story like that?

You lose a lot.  A lot of missed chances, missed opportunities, a whole world of missed possibilities.

I’m telling this story because I used to tell myself a story like that, too.

It was all about how I couldn’t do the things I really wanted to do–make art.  It was about how I couldn’t be what I really wanted to be–an artist. It was about how I would never be able to sell my work, or find anyone who would want to buy it. 

Surprisingly, once I realized my “stories” I told about myself were just that–stories–I found I could change the story to one I like better.  A huge paradigm shift occurred, and I began to see that all the things that “couldn’t happen”, could.  

I now hear that old story from people who ask me how I accomplished so much in the last five years.  When I tell them, they first tell me how lucky I am.  (I am, but not for the reasons they think!)

I soon hear their story.  They think it’s specific to them, a special story, an unusual story.

When I point out that I had the same story, they are quick to correct me that their story is different.

When I point out the inconsistencies of what they’re telling me, they tell me I don’t understand their story fully.

When I suggest ways they could tell another story, they are horrified.  They’ve put so much energy into holding onto this old story.  There’s just too much at stake.  It’s always a really, really good story why they simply cannot do the very thing they just told me is their true heart’s desire.

So my first question for you today is:  What is your story?  What is the story you tell about yourself that is holding you back from doing the things you really want to do?

Tomorrow I’ll tell the story about my friend Walt and his messy house.  Now there’s a story! *

*Sadly, I never told the story about Walt, who died a few years ago of brain cancer. I remember it was another riff on this article–he had a huge story about why he couldn’t clean his house.

One of the many wonderful things I remember about Walt is, he came to the same conclusion: He could change his story, and he did.

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Filed under art, No more excuses!

GO FORTH AND MAKE STUFF

There are a million reasons why you can’t/shouldn’t/won’t make your art visible in the world. There’s one reason worth your life, why you have to.

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I felt pretty uninspired yesterday. Then I made this.

I’ve have many dreams for my art over the years. Some involved artistic vision. Some involved recognition, respect, and kudos. Some involved financial rewards. Some were only for me and my sanity, my vanity, and my little rabbit heart’s yearning.

Some have been achieved. Many probably never will be. Some are still in progress.

Some I never even imagined, until they came appeared, on their own, exclaiming, “Hey, you forgot ME!!”

We all hold dreams for our the creative work we do, whether we work with words, music, paint, stone, polymer clay, gold, clay, or glass.

It’s when we try to make them present in the world that we run into trouble.

I’ve encountered so many creative people lately, strong, intelligent, gifted people, who, quite frankly, have their head up their respective asses. (In all fairness, I can add myself to that list.) Filled with self-doubt, physical/emotional/mental/spiritual/temporary and permanent setbacks, they struggle to have even an iota of their creative potential in their life.

“When I have the perfect training/situation/schedule/studio/work place/support group/guaranteed income/show/companion/gallery/social media skills/presentation/experience/audience/community/website/skills/whatever-in-god’s- name-you-think-you-need-to-create in my life, then I’ll exercise my creative talent!”

Oh dear.

This is beginning to sound like the SCOTUS nomination and Congress situation. There is just no work-around when you have so many conditions on how–and when–your creative self will engage with the world.

It’s easy to buy into these situations: When can I call myself an artist? How will I make a living with my creative gifts? Who will buy it?? What is a successful artist? Am I good enough to be an artist? These are just a handful of the mind-numbing and soul-petrifying doubts and questions that block so many of us from doing what we love to do.

I’ve been writing about this since my very very first blog post in 2002.  I’ve felt all of these ‘conditions’ and ‘restrictions’ personally, too. Examining my own caustic beliefs, working through them, and sharing that process with you, is a huge part of my own creative process. Sometimes I wonder if the only reason I was born with an artistic gift, is so I could write and share this with you.

It’s so incredibly hard, for so many people, to hear my message over the little nagging voices in their own heads, I often can’t break through.  (I’m learning that people can’t hear me until they are ready to hear me. Which helps me keep trying when I feel discouraged.)

So here’s one of my all-time favorite comic strips that explains, as only humor can, why the world needs your art. And why YOU need your art in the world… And why it doesn’t matter how much of it you put in the world, or how much money you make with it, why it doesn’t matter if it’s your vocation, your avocation, or your career, why it doesn’t matter how many people ‘like’ it (literally and figurative, thank you Facebook!), nor why it even matters if I like it or not….

In this Sally Forth cartoon panel from February 5, 2015, Ted is talking to his daughter Hilary, ten years in the future, about the real importance of her creative endeavors:

Hil, do you know why people play music? Or draw or sing or do stand-up or create?

Becauxe it’s through their art they can interpret the world. And it’s through their art they can add their ideas to the world. It’s not about having an audience, it’s about having a voice.

And if you don’t pursue your art, you may lose that great opportunity to have your say.

(And for a small reality check that every parent will recognize, Hilary replies, “Is this the very level of understanding why you never flinch when I ask for money?”)

Ponder that for a bit today.

Remember: I’m not telling you to give up your day job. I’m not telling you to sign up for American Idol. I’m not telling you what “real” art is, I’m not telling you how often or when you should make it, I’m not telling how you should do it, I’m not saying you should run off to Tahiti, abandoning your family, and lie on a beach somewhere with a umbrella drink in your hand. (Although, that sounds pretty cool, and Tahiti IS a magical place.)

And I’m not telling you it’s easy, or simple, or that there’s a right way to do it.

I’m saying you have a voice. You have just this one life to use it. And it’s NEVER TOO LATE to use it.

Okay, you have a job, a real job or role, one that you like, or even love, or a care-taking role, or anything else you simply do or have to do.

I say, you need the restoration, the sanity, the healing power you get by putting your own power out into the world, to support this other, vitally important work you do. (Think of your creative spirit as the gas you put in your car.) (Okay, the electricity you recharge you car with.)

Make room for it, even just a tiny bit of a room, in your life.

If not for yourself (although I firmly believe that’s the best reason in the world to do it), then do it for someone you love, someone else in the same boat, who holds the same fears and second-guessing and shame and despair that you do.*

Show them the real healing power of art.

Show them what it looks like.

*Yep, this is my super-sneaky strategy to encourage certain selfless folks to be a wee bit more self-ish. Did it work?

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The well-worn and much-loved comic strip that inspired today’s post.

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Filed under art, the healing power of art, What is the story only you can tell?

Stories from the Flea Market: Christine’s “Tail”

A friend back in Keene, NH read yesterday’s story about the bunny I bought at a flea market. Christine Janda Grant is a talented craftsperson, and I have several samples of her explorations in polymer, beading, yarn, etc. She wrote to me to share her own, similar story, and with her permission, I share it with you. She’s working on a launch of a new project soon, so keep an eye out for her!
Christine wrote:
So enjoyed your bunny story. It brought to mind a tale from a NH League of Craftsmen show.

Years ago I had gone to help a friend (Gail Wilson, nationally acclaimed doll artist) with her booth at the League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair

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Gail’s tiny bear kit is wonderful. Of course, I can’t put my hands on my finished bears right now….STOP LAUGHING AND SAYING “So what else is new?”….!!!

I only had a little money to spend – I think about twenty dollars. I had spotted a small pottery clock that I fell in love with and planned to buy it before the fair ended.
A family came into Gail’s booth with a little boy who very much wanted one of Gail’s dolls. The father brusquely informed the boy that they were for girls and they moved on. I saw some tears rolling down his face as they left.
I asked Gail if she would sell me a small doll for the money I had and she did. I stuffed it into a bag and caught up with the boy. After getting his parent’s permission to give him “a little something”. I gave him the bag with instructions not to open it until he got home.
Gail made a remark about me not being able to buy my clock now and I told her I didn’t mind. A little later I stopped by the booth to see it one last time but it had been sold.
At the end of the day Gail thanked me for coming to help her and gave me a gift to take home.
You guessed it, the clock I loved.
I only found out later that she told the story to the potter, who gave something to Gail and then someone gave a gift to the potter and it kind of traveled around the show that year.
I still have the clock as one of my treasured things.
Thank you, Christine, I love this story!

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Filed under art, Stories from the Flea Market

Stories from the Flea Market: The Bunny

 

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I know. Not a bunny. I can’t find the bunny pic.

We made some pretty fierce friendships in Keene, NH. IN making our move to the West Coast, leaving our son behind (who chose to stay in Keene) was hard. And leaving these friendships ‘behind’ was hard, too. (Say what you will about Facebook, it’s been wonderful for small, constant contact with those people.)

Each person had a particular, unique way of showing up in our world, some special way of looking at the world that would amaze me, and support me, when I struggled with some life issue. I hesitate to even pull out one name, because there were others just as magnificient in my heart. But today is a little shout-out for Melinda.

In the context of my struggle to find peace with difficult people, with problematic family stuff, with my own journey as a human being on this planet, Melinda taught me much about forgiveness and love. About what was part of my journey, and what was part of someone else’s journey. She knows I don’t believe in God per se, but knew how to put it into context I could accept and hold. She could see when I was part of the problem. And she could see when the problem was not mine to ‘fix’. “That’s not between you and them,” she’d explain. “That’s between them and God.” (I could accept ‘God’ as what I would call ‘fate’ or ‘karma’ or ‘the universe’, and see the wisdom.)

One thing we talked about often was miracles. I struggled with the concept. I could see that in times of great distress and agony, when loved ones were in danger, when I felt hopeless and powerless (or rather, recognized how powerless I was to put things right), there were always little moments when something powerful happened. I would cross paths with someone who had exactly the right words I needed to hear, to get through that day. That person might be anyone: A perfect stranger, or a casual acquaintance or a good friend with a life experience I’d never known or imagined. Something in me would blurt out what was on my mind. And that person would have the wisdom, the insight, to help. Not the solution, not the ‘fix’. Just enough of ‘something’ for me to take the next step. (Or not to fall into the pit of despair.)

Melinda said that that’s what miracles are, if we are open to them: Tiny moments of grace that let us see the world differently, a small change in perception and perspective….if we are open to them.

Today I went to the flea market. When my soul is sore, sometimes hunter-gathering soothes it. Finding something that someone else has given up, tossed aside or left behind, or worse, the objects valued enough to hold on to, but cannot find room for in our lives until debt or death acts for us,  the treasures of the auctioned storage locker…there’s something beautiful and poignant about even the ugliest and least meaningful (to me) objects.

Today I found a small pair of round-nose jewelry pliers, and pretty rocks–petrified wood, a small agate, a geode. A necklace I can reuse for the beads, and a small bookcase that might fit under the table in my studio.

And a small stuffed rabbit.

If you ever visited my studio in Keene, you know about my eclectic small doll collection, and my pebble collection, and my shells, and pottery shards, and my small boxes. And my menagerie of stuffed animals.

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Part of my studio menagerie.

As I walked by, the vendor tried to stand it up on her table. It kept flopping over, so she stuffed it into the slot of a toaster.

I stopped and without thinking, cried, “Oh, no, don’t put him in the toaster!”

She stopped and looked uneasy. “I know, but I can’t make him stand up!” She caressed him hesitantly.

Impulsively, I asked, “How much?” She held up three fingers.

I shook my head, trying to be a grown-up. If it had been the holidays, I would have bought him to put in my little Christmas tree.

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I still haven’t retrieved my ornaments from Jenny G., so I had to improvise this year.

If I had more cash, I might have bought him to send to my friend Julie, who adores bunnies.

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I once threatened to give Julie THIS thrift store bunny. She claims it would have ruined our friendship.

But….”You have enough little toys,” I told myself sternly, and turned away.

“Two dollar!” she piped. I hesitated. I couldn’t help but think how hard it is to bring all this stuff to the flea market, to stand there all day behind piles of….stuff. To hope someone will buy it, so you don’t have to drag it home again. Maybe make enough money to buy something more important.

I remembered the frantic distress of sorting through all our belongings in Keene, the endless scurry to get everything out of the house and gone, that horrible, horrible last hectic week, the precious objects I’d set aside to keep that ended up on our curb because there was simply no more room for them.

The friends who’d shown up to help, to wrap, to pack, to gently pull loved possessions from my hands, who let me cry, who hugged me, over and over and over again, until the very last day.

As I stood there thinking, a young mother and her little girl came up next to me to look, too. The child stooped over and picked up something small and round and bright green from the pavement.

I instinctively reached for her, but the tiny pellet fell from her mouth, just as her mother noticed her movement and, frantic with worry, cried, “What did you put in your mouth?! What is in your mouth?!”

“It’s okay! She spit it out! It’s gone!” I told her. She was relieved, but still anxious.

I suddenly saw my younger self in here. I remembered when some people were critical of my young ones, when they were small–Doug was crying, Robin was upset, me, frantic, wanting to be a good mother, and not knowing how–and how those people had let me know how annoying they found it all.

And I remembered all the people who showed me kindness and understanding, and smiled at me and said, “Oh, I remember those days!”

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Those days seem so far away now.

I hesitated–should I interfere? Would she see it as meddling?

“Would your little girl like this bunny?” I asked her.

Now she hesitated. “Yes…” and I could see…(but why was I giving them the bunny?) “Yes…” she said, and smiled.

In that second, I realized the little girl already had a lovey, a small white stuffed unicorn she clutched fiercely to her chest. “Robin (my daughter) loves unicorns,” I thought. I realized the child would like the bunny, but the unicorn was special. It would simply be a surfeit of stuffed toys.

Suddenly,  the older brother appeared, about five. He saw my hand, hovering with a bunny. Something in his eyes…..

“Would your little boy like the bunny?” I asked her.

She hesitated, we both did. Boys are tough. It’s sometimes harder for a boy to show tenderness. You never know when a bunny is a ‘baby’ thing, especially with a younger sister present, when a fluffy toy will draw a sneer.

As I turned to the children, my hand still out with the bunny, his eyes caught the bunny–and his face lit up.

“Ohhhhh, a bunny!!!” he cried. My outstretched hands met his before either of us could think. He clutched the little toy to his chest and hugged it fiercely.

Mom and I looked at each other and smiled, and we all moved on. Best two dollars I ever spent.

I know now that I didn’t “leave Melinda behind”, nor Julie, nor Roma, nor others. Their friendships are sacred to me. It’s possible that Jessica will remain an acquaintance, even though, since her words once helped me make it through a hard day, she will always seem like more than that to me.

It may be our paths won’t ever cross again.

I also know there are new ‘angels’ here in Santa Rosa, and Petaluma, and Sebastopol. The scene at Atlas Coffee Company, next door to my studio in the arts district, is stinkin’ rich with angels and small miracles. There are old friends rediscovered in Benecia, and in Castro Valley, and Santa Rosa itself.But every day, they are all in my heart.

Make new friends. But keep the old. One is silver, and the other, gold.

And every one is a miracle to me.

 

 

 

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Filed under art, Stories from the Flea Market

SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDDLE Part 2: Lessons from the Bym, Tai Chi, and the Circle of Life

My latest post for Fine Art Views helps you put everything into perspective about your art career. And, maybe, your life.

SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDDLE Part 2: Lessons from the Gym, Tai Chi, and the Circle of Life

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Filed under advice on getting advice, art, Fine Art Views