I’ve seen those old stone steps, worn and hollowed,
Not by footsteps but by housewives scrubbing, scrubbing,
Themselves worn down by careworn chores and drudgery.
I remember the song of women’s work:
Wash on Monday
Iron on Tuesday
Mend on Wednesday
Clean on Friday….
A woman’s work is never done, they say.
Cleanliness is next to godliness, they say.
Well, screw that.
Here is my messy studio.
Art is created in chaos. Deal with it.
Welcome to my messy home.
We only clean for company, so come on in!
You can leave your shoes on.
This is my messy heart,
Still learning friend from foe, “nice” from “kindness”,
“charm” from “danger”.
Loving you for who you are
Instead of who I want you to be.
Here is my muddy soul.
I set down the burdens others put on me.
I wipe away the dirt some thought that I should hold.
My soul shines bright in the moonlight,
Radiant in the dark.
Here is my life, the awkward, stumbling journey,
Waves rolling, crashing,
The sun in my eyes, shoes filled with sand
The waves break, the sun sets.
The wind is wild and cool.
I take off my shoes.
I see our footprints, side by side, as gulls cry and soar above us.
The beach is full of sticks and rocks,
Dead kelp and screeching gulls,
Clouds of sand flies and salt.
It is beautiful beyond imagining,
And so are you, and I.
Not as silly a title as it sounds. Okay, it does sound silly.
I’ve reprinted an article I published nine years ago, and it still holds true today…
Today’s comments are in boldface.
RE-DO OF THE TO-DO LIST originally published October 1, 2004
I start most mornings with my schedule book (a student composition book with daily to-do list) and my journal. I try to start with my journal, because as I write, the process helps me sort through the to-do’s and establish real priority.
A to-do list is great for making sure you accomplish what you set out to do in a day, but they have a few drawbacks.
First, it gets cumbersome to constantly move unfinished tasks to the next day. It doesn’t allow you to easily set daily goals vs. weekly, or even longer-term goals. Everything seems to have the same urgency. “E-mail Tiffany about wings” (Note–this one TOTALLY baffled me today–Tiffany? Oh, she’s Teo now. Wings? Wha….?) until I read through.) seems as crucial as “mail past-due insurance premium.”
Also, no matter how much you accomplish, there’s always something you didn’t get to. So you never feel you really “finished.”
And then there’s the feeling that tomorrow, it starts all over again.
This morning I wondered if I instead I could view the day as an opportunity to fill certain “cups” of my life that need care and attention.
One cup, “family”, was easy. Jon and I had had a great morning. And I needed to make sure I spent time with my kids later after school. “Make chili with Doug and Robin” (they love to help me cook) and “movie night!” went at the top of my list. (You know you need to cook more often when you make a pot of soup one weekend and both your teenage children THANK you profusely….how embarrassing!)
Under “friends”, I made a note to e-mail my friend Tiffany to see if she could meet for wings and a beer (oh, those wings…!), our weekly Friday ritual. And to call another friend I hadn’t seen in a few weeks, to see if we could get together.
“Professional” cup next. “Clear a space so I can do card project for Katherine’s book”.
Breaking down “Clean the studio!” into a smaller step (“Clear a table”) was a good strategy. But I needed something else today. Life’s been overwhelming lately, and I just wondered if there was another way to look at all this.
I remembered the “Handmade, High Tech” conference (see the article CRAFT IN THE DIGITAL AGE from April 2004.) One of the speakers, Lynn Martin Graton, Traditional Arts Coordinator for the NH State Council on the Arts, talked about how differences in how language is used can reveal fundamental differences in culture.
She said, “If I want to say, ‘Warp the loom’ in Japanese, it actually translates to something like, ‘In order for the cloth to be woven, the loom will be warped.’ It’s a totally different way of viewing the action needed and the person who acts. The loom has its own importance, its own part to play. It’s not just about YOU, the artist.” (paraphrased greatly)
If I say “Clean my studio”, it’s a huge task that lies on me and me alone. I must accept total responsibility for doing that. There may be very American, can-do solutions: I can suck it up and do it myself. I can get friends to help (barn-raising!) I can hire someone else to do it, putting a value on my time and/or deciding how I want to spend my time. And my favorite, ‘you can accomplish anything–even eating an elephant–by taking many small bites one at a time.’ It’s how I’ve accomplished everything I have in the last five years, breaking every monumental task down into more manageable little steps.
But what if we’re in a place where even these strategies just seem too overwhelming?
What if we could speak Japanese sometimes? What if we could tap into an even softer, Zen, wholistic, mindful approach occasionally?
What if I recognize that, if I do my part, then the creative “thing” will do its part? What if I could trust that process?
I rewrote the task: “If the cards are to be made, a space must be cleared.” (Even better, “If the cards are to be made, the space will be open…”
It’s still the same action resulting in the same conclusion, but the perspective is different.
It’s still up to me to take the action that makes it happen. That table won’t clear itself! (Oh, I WISH!!) But now I have a partner in the process, so to speak.
I started with the analogy of a baby, but that got too labored (ouch! Sorry…) But like a baby, certain things have to happen in order for the baby to appear. Once started, the baby pretty much develops and grows on its own schedule, and appears in its own good time. But certain things have to happen, and a place has to be made.
Martha Graham’s famous quote, in part, acknowledges this: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost.”
Blocking the creative act can be as simple as not making a place for it. The creative process is a dance between you (a conduit and a source of action), and a partner (the creative force that needs to appear). The result, whether its a card project, a song, a poem, a garden, a painting or a child, comes from that dance.
Once that creative thing is in the world, it takes on a life of its own. It can be seen and experienced by others in their own unique way. Some people will be inspired by it, some will be angered. Some will be moved to tears and others will wonder what all the fuss was about. That’s why the rest of the quote goes on to say it is not the artist’s place to judge it, just to make sure it gets out into the world.
So take another look at that to-do list. Look at the ways you may have unconsciously taken on more than you need to handle with your art. Start with the small but critical step of making room for it, literally and figuratively. Then step back and see what happens!
I’m off to clear a table now. (And on that happy note, I am off to help a table to be cleared.)
My column today over at Fine Art Views may help you declutter your studio, or attic, or garage.
As I clean my studio, I find my solace in a blog post I wrote six years ago on August 27, 2006. (I accidentally typed “1006”–ah, yes, my musings before the Norman Conquest….)
THE BEAUTY OF STUFF
I’m a highly successful hunter-gatherer. My home and studio reflect that.
I love yard sales, antique stores, thrift shops, craft galleries, hardware stores…you name almost any kind of store and I can happily shop in it for hours. I always find something that calls to be taken home. The bumper sticker “I brake for yard sales” could have been written for me.
It helps to know I’m not alone. Quilters hoard fabric, gardeners hoard seed catalogs and flower pots. Cooks collect exotic spices or recipes or kitchen gadgets. Woodworkers have barns full of wood and tools. Want to see my yarn collection? Ya got a few hours?
We collect stamps, coins, rocks, books and duck decoys. Even thrifty folks collect coupons and grocery bags. I’m told the new collectibles are those colorful cloth bags that are supposed to eliminate the need plastic bags.
Sometimes I think I have too much “stuff”. I know I could work more efficiently if my workspace were streamlined. I know my home would be easier to keep clean if it were more spare. I know there will come a time in my life where I’ll HAVE to cut down on the responsibility of owning so much stuff. And I know my relationships with people are much, much more important than anything I own.
But I still love, love, love my STUFF.
I had a delightful conversation about s*t*u*f*f a few
daysyears ago with the owner of a flower shop here in Keene. In the Company of Flowers is a beautiful store, with lovely floral arrangements and potted plants. The owner, Mary, also offers an eclectic assortment of gifts and home accessories, all beautiful and unusual. (Note–still true!) I always enjoy browsing there and often leave with a trinket or two.
I’d just discovered a strand of unusual beads, like nothing I’d ever seen before. I could not take my eyes off them. My budget brain fought with my primitive hunter-gatherer brain, and the budget brain lost. The beads were soon mine. They sit by my keyboard even now as I write so I can enjoy looking at them. (Note–Now I have no idea where I put them.)
I asked Mary what she knew about them. She told me about the bead dealer she’d bought them from. I told her about my own bead collection, especially my strands of antique African trade beads. She told me about her collection of “kissy pennies”, antique metal pieces with enigmatic shapes. They’re used for money in some parts of Africa. “I just love how they look, so organic, so spiritual,” she said, her hands moving to illustrate their shape. “There’s something about them that moves me deeply.”
As we talked about our unusual collections, she told me the story of a good friend who had recently died. He’d amassed an amazing collection of objects. When his estate was dispersed, it was broken up and auctioned off in bits and pieces.
I made a little whimper of sympathy. No, she said. Instead of feeling sad, she felt elated. At peace. While he lived, he’d enjoyed his collection so much.
And now it was disassembled and put back out into the world. For many, many other people to see, to be collected and cherished all over again.
She said, “I’ve let go of the idea that we actually ever own anything. We just have the keeping of it until it finds it’s way back into the water again.”
What a beautiful sentiment!
There are people who claim they hate shopping, or who periodically purge their belongings. We all go through periods of de-cluttering, letting go of certain things. After all, it is just “stuff”. And in the end, we all know that relationships and people are always more important than any “thing” we own.
But being attached to stuff is NOT just a nuisance, nor a character flaw. Nor is it self-deception about true priorities or our own mortality.
Collecting stuff is a deeply human activity. It tells us so much about who we are and who we’d like to be.
People come into the world as unique individuals. We feel connection to certain kinds of things.
We accrue those things, or collect them. These items aggregate around us. We pull them from the stream.
When we die, that aggregation is released again, like a dandelion’s seeds blowing into the wind. They return to the stream. And other people find those same pieces, find joy in them and gather them. The cycle continues again, over and over, century after century.
Each collection is unique. A stamp dealer once told me that in over 50 years of selling stamps, she never met two people who collected exactly the same stamps.
Certain objects speaks to us. And they speak for us.
From the collectors of the finest art in the world to the hoarder of string and rubber bands, what we collect says something about who we are, what we fear, what we value and what we yearn for. Our stuff helps us remember a certain time, a certain place, perhaps even a certain person. Our collections can give us solace and amusement, curiosity and knowledge, beauty and joy.
Yes, there is a spectrum, as in any human behavior, from one extreme to the other. I secretly fear my kids will nominate me for the show “Hoarders”….
But it is still a process that I find heart-breakingly human.
So go ahead and enjoy your stuff. You have my permission, as my friend Diane recently gave me hers. (Permission, not stuff.)
If it bothers you, sort out whether that comes from how you feel about it or how others feel about it. If others, how much do you care? Find your own balance point between the convenience of having less stuff and pleasure it brings you.
As another friend quipped years ago, “I love my stuff, and I’m not getting rid of it! I don’t care what they do with it after I’m dead. They can burn it or give it away. They can build a pyramid above me and fill it to the top with my stuff for all I care! I’ll be gone!!”
I can still see her face lifted to the heavens as her hands formed a giant pyramid over her head….
Laurie, you go, grrl!
You can see more pics of my stuff from last year’s open studio here.
Watch for new photos from this year’s open studio soon!
I worked in my studio yesterday. It was a major event.
I made eight little pendants for my simple horse necklaces. Not a big deal, usually. Certainly not a big production day for me.
But it was significant. Because it’s the first work I’ve made since my knee replacement surgery last month.
My last post before I went under the knife showed the frayed mental state I was in. It wasn’t pretty! Even now, I lay awake at night, exhausted, my body aching for sleep, my mind racing at 90 mph. A litany of minor sins streams through my brain–all the things I need to do, all the things I have to redo, all the things that need fixing/making/writing/cleaning etc. After what seems like an eternity, I finally fall asleep.
But when I wake in the morning, all I feel is tired.
I’d be more worried, except my very good friend Jennie, a recent surgery patient, too (who was, incidentally, also the first visitor I “received” once I’d stabilized from the surgery) gave me a wonderful insight.
“It’s not so much the surgery, or the pain,” she mused. “The hardest part for me was when I did start feeling better. But I was so damn tired all the time. No energy!”
Oh gosh. I’d forgotten all about that part.
So once again, I have just the right words at just the right time.
I can walk without crutches. The pain is easing. I don’t have to wear those damn compression stockings anymore!
But my body is not healed yet. It will take more time, and I must be patient with myself. Exquisitely patient, no matter what the demands in my life try to tell me otherwise.
And Lydie’s advice was right. Yes, it might be easier to work in here if my space were cleaner, less cluttered, less dusty. Maybe I should have spent more time restocking stores with inventory, or even trying to get fitter before my surgery.
But when I come in the studio, and see the materials for my next big series of works, it makes me think of the exciting new ideas I want to bring into being. I see a studio full of everything I need to take that next creative step forward.
I must remember to ask, every day, when I enter this fabulous space, with patience, with gentleness, with respect and joy:
“What is it you need from me today, that this new work can be brought into the world?”
All it really wants, for now, it seems, is for me to be here, with love. And intention.
And so my studio, too, is patiently waiting for me to heal.
Years ago, I was driving along a New Hampshire highway, and spotted a turtle by the side of the road.
My heart went out to it. So many times, you see crushed turtles on the road. They simply can’t move quickly enough to escape the rushing traffic.
Now, on the other side of the highway was a lake.
Clearly, the turtle was confused, and needed help. So I pulled over, picked up the turtle, and took it to the lake side of the road.
I was so proud of my good deed. I patted myself on the back for taking the time to help a little turtle.
Imagine how embarrassed I was to learn, years later, that I had done exactly the wrong thing.
Turtles don’t get lost.
Female turtles have powerful drives to do exactly what this one was doing. They travel long distances to a safe, dry place away from their watery home, to lay their eggs. When they’re done, they return to the water.
I had simply prolonged this poor turtle’s journey. And forced it to cross the dangerous highway again.
I read an article about our nation’s tendency to offer international aid, with good intentions. But we often neglect to let each country determine what aid it really needs. The author used the same example of giving misguided ‘help to the turtle. “Ask the turtle,” she admonished. “The turtle knows exactly what it needs.”
I love this story, though I still feel bad for my own turtle.
I had a phone consultation with Lyedie Lydecker a few days ago. With a messy studio, new projects looming, new work I want to do, small orders I need to fill, upcoming knee surgery and the resulting loss of income (I can’t do my big League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair this year), I’ve been overwhelmed with how to best use my remaining non-invalid time. I’d ask Lyedie to help me sort it all out.
She listened, which is a blessing in itself. So many people listen, but then try to fix. (I do that!) I was listened to with exquisite care.
But the best insight was how to approach my studio.
It’s such a mess, and the thought of cleaning it now is overwhelming.
Now, about our studios…. Lyedie firmly believes that our studio isn’t just a physical space to work. It’s a partner in our creative process.
She said, “Ask your studio–your beloved partner in your creative process–what it needs.
As I look over the notes I took of our conversation, I flashback to an article I wrote almost eight years ago. As I reread it, I’m astounded by what I wrote that day.
Because it echoes Lyedie’s words so clearly, it’s eerie.
I firmly believe that we already know what we need to know. Sometimes it takes someone else to tease it out of us. And sometimes we just need someone to tell us.
So how do I ask my studio what it needs? Hmmmmmm……
Someone once told me how to do just that. The universe will give us everything we ask for, she said, if we would ask the right way.
You look down and close your eyes, droopy. Then expand and stand tall. Raise your face to the sky, turn your hands out, and ask. Out loud. Ask for what you want with your whole heart. (I did it a few times, and it worked so profoundly, I was scared to ask any more. Mistake!)
Now what does that remind me of??
I realize today I’ve seen this posture before.
You can see it in the figure above, one of a group of four female figures I saw in the King Tut exhibition in Toronto many, many years ago. They are guardian figures (of Tut’s sarcophagus?), believed to be modeled after his mother. They protect the remains of her beloved son, with serenity, with peace, with gentleness and love.
So that’s what I did this morning. I entered the studio today as a supplicant, as a loving partner, eager to restore my beautiful relationship with my beloved space.
I asked my studio what it needed from me.
Because I was willing to see, to listen, to feel, to love, I heard what my studio needs.
And it was not what I thought it was. It doesn’t want much. There are no demands, no resentment, no punishment or resentment. Just a few gentle requests. All things I can manage, and all things that will return tenfold in joy.
Today, I asked the turtle.