Re-Do on the To-Do List

Friday, October 01, 2004
This post originally appeared on my Radio Userland blog. I love to reread them, they seem just as ‘fresh’ and useful as the day I wrote them!

(5 minute read)

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” 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. So 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 embarassing!)

Under “friends”, I made a note to e-mail my friend Tiffany to see if she could meet for wings and a beer, 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”.

I stopped and looked at that entry. “Clean the studio!!!” has been on my to-do list for weeks. (see blog for 9/30)

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 blog CRAFT IN THE DIGITAL AGE entry in 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)

AHA!

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.”

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.

Updates, musings, and muddling….

I’ve been busy! Making, making, making. Organizing, sorting, cleaning. (In my studio. It’s much more fun than cleaning my house!)

I’ve also added new stuff to my Etsy shop and my website.

 

IN MY STUDIO

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

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.

Patience, grasshopper!

The latest installment in moving my very densely packed mixed media art studio is a bit confusing.

I was about halfway through packing up the studio, when I realized there were so many packed boxes, I couldn’t even navigate my space. So I had to move several dozen boxes home for safe-keeping.

Then I thought, with the extra space I’ll have, I should also pack up some of the supplies I’ve stored in our garage. That added a few more dozen boxes.

There was no place in my garage for those, too. (Why does packed stuff take up more room than when it’s just “out”???)

So we found a half dozen pallets, set them up on the porch, and tarped the stack just before the next round of drenching rainstorms hit last weekend.

It looked like we could do the actual truck rental/moving the first weekend of February. Unless it rained….fingers crossed!)

Then my darlin’ hubby reminded me he had a three-day conference to attend that same weekend. And the weather report? Three days of rain. Three days. Of rain.

On that Wednesday, January 30, late afternoon, my landlord asked me when I thought I’d be totally out of my space. I explained it might be an extra week. (I had previously offered to pay for the extra week, if it came to that, and he agreed.)

That’s when he said, “What would it take for you to be out of this space by tomorrow?”

Uh…..

He then offered the use of a truck, and the aid of two of his own employees, if I could move the next day.

Of course I said yes.

The next 36 hours were a hot mess. I entered that stage of packing where you just grab stuff, throw it in a box, and tape it shut. By the next morning, I wasn’t even taping boxes shut.

The truck was huge. Jon says it was bigger than my studio! It had a sign on it about “Junk Removal”, which, in other circumstances, would have hurt my feelings.

The two guys were wonderful, and thorough. The only thing that broke in the process was one light bulb. They even loaded my box of packing supplies, and a bag of garbage.

The actual long-dreaded move took less than three hours. (Yes, I tipped them generously.)

And so here I am, in my wonderful new space, filled with empty shelving racks, my desk, my sewing table, many many many boxes, and said bag of garbage.

    

        Old Studio                                                                          New Studio (in progress!)

(Don’t cheer yet, we still have to move all those tarped boxes on the back porch!)

I should be cheering, though. I should be thrilled. The worst part is over, right?

Not so fast, cupcake.

The configuration of my new space is totally different. While my husband was gone, there was only me to move heavy furniture and such.

My biggest roadblock?

I can’t figure out where to put my desk.

I pushed it here and there, up against this wall, back out to another wall, placing it perpendicular to a wall. Finally, yesterday afternoon, I gave up and left it sitting in the middle of the room.

How did I get this far, and get so blocked, so quickly?? I felt like an idiot.

Here’s how I finally got through it:

I pretended I was talking to a good friend.

If a good friend had just gone through a major, last-minute move, with almost no help, from a noisy (ongoing construction, jack-hammers, regular hammers, buzz saws, etc.) and tightly-packed little studio, to a slightly larger studio, in the middle of the rainiest California winter we’ve ever seen, would I call them an idiot?

If a good friend had gone through a year like mine (loss of both parents, my daughter’s loss of her first child-in-the-works, making five trips across country to be present for all three, and a sixth trip already this year), would I criticize their lack of energy and brain-capacity?

If a good friend had done their best to meet all commitments, gallery openings and receptions, special orders, etc. and now could barely find the time and energy to even unpack their supplies, would I chide them on their work ethic?

If said friend collapsed (in between the oh-so-many-stacks of boxes) in the middle of their studio because they couldn’t figure out where their desk should go, would I make fun of them?

I think not.

So why was I being so harsh on myself?

We all do this. We all believe that everyone else is “doing it right”, and we aren’t. We all believe that we should be doing better, even when circumstances won’t allow it. We are all kinder to our friends, even strangers, than we are with ourselves.

One compassionate friend and blog follower left a comment for me about their moves (office and house.) They made note that it took them 12 weeks, in both situations, to find the perfect place for everything. (Thank you, Susan!)

Twelve weeks.  I’ve unconsciously allotted myself three days.

I may not find the perfect spot for my desk for awhile.

Heck, even if I do find the perfect spot for it, I’m gonna have to move stuff around again anyway! I realized I need a big rug in the new space. (It’s echo-ish, and the floors will be slippery if they get wet.) So of course I put myself in a tizzy searching thrift shops for one, thinking I had to have it in place before I set up.

But then I found a super-cheap room-size rug on eBay for under $100. It also ships for free! It’s attractive enough, subdued enough not to distract from my artwork, and certainly not “precious” enough to worry about spills and stains, too.)

So today, I finally went to the gym, for the first time in weeks. It was good to be back!

I got home to find another offer, from a good friend, to help move more stuff. I always hate to ask for help, but they insisted. “I always enjoy our talks, so I’m doing it for myself, too!” they said. I’m taking them up on that! (Thank you, Laurie!)

And here I sit, sharing my slowly-untangling thoughts with you today.

I hope, if you are also facing something overwhelming in your life, that you have good friends to help you through.

And even if you don’t, I hope you are as kind to yourself as I’ve learned to be, today.

Song of the Vacuum

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.

Luann Udell

beach

REVIEW OF THE RE-DO OF THE TO-DO LIST

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”.

I stopped and looked at that entry. “Clean the studio!!!” has been on my to-do list for weeks. (Actually, I write about cleaning my studio a lot….!)

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.

Actually, the main reason I "borrowed" my friend Gary Spykman's wood studio to work on boxes? There was no room to do it in MY studio!
Actually, the main reason I “borrowed” my friend Gary Spykman’s wood studio to work on boxes? There was no room to do it in MY studio!

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)

AHA!

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.)

LETTING GO…So Something New Can Come In

My column today over at Fine Art Views may help you declutter your studio, or attic, or garage.

Anyone want to help me clean my barn attic? No? I didn't think so.....
Anyone want to help me clean my barn attic? No? I didn’t think so…..

THE BEAUTY OF STUFF

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!

Ya like thread? I got thread.

Ya like sticks? Got sticks, too.

Beads? Got beads.

Dolls? Check.
More dolls? Yep.
Buttons? Yeah, I got buttons.
What color buttons?
Just come to my Open Studio this weekend. I guarantee you’ll find something you’ll like to look at!

HEALING

What is Luann doing with all those little boxes???
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.

ASK THE TURTLE

Years ago, I was driving along a New Hampshire highway, and spotted a turtle by the side of the road.

From the tomb of King Tut, one of four guardian figures believed to be modeled after his mother. I see protection, gentleness, peace, love and serenity.

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.

OPEN STUDIO

People have been asking for pictures of my last Open Studio, so I published an album today. You can see it here

The next sunny day we have in Keene, NH, I’ll take more pics and add another album.

My next Open Studio is Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 6 & 7, 2011, as part of the statewide NH Open Doors event. Hope you can come, and til then….

Enjoy!

Little clown bank.
Dolls

Vintage button jewelry.

TINY ARTICLE

There’s an online jewelry biz newsletter I subscribe to called Home Jewelry Business Success Tips. The site is owned and manged by jewelry designer Rena Klingenberg.

I like the chatty newsletters Rena sends out, with suggestions for trends, booth design and jewelry display. The site is especially helpful for new and fledgling designers, giving them a safe place to share ideas, designs and support.

I sometimes chime in with answers to questions, and sometimes when I chime in at length, Rena turns my comments into mini-columns. And that’s what I’m sharing with you today.

So for your entertainment and edification, I present to you my illustrated article on what to do with a billion beads my bead organizing tips.

Some folks might well ask, “Luann, er, aren’t you supposed to be cleaning your studio today? Why are you writing an article about bead storage when you just told us last week your work table is buried under twelve layers of stuff?” Well, all I will say is our family’s favorite retort when we were losing an argument: “Well, poop on you!” (I know, my mother would be appalled….)

Enjoy!

About 1/1,000,000,000th of my bead collection.
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IF IT’S COLUMBUS DAY, IT MUST BE…..

Hey, it’s that time of year again!
Yes!! Time for me to clean my studio, because…..

October 8 & 9, Saturday and Sunday, is the
4th Annual
Fall Foliage Artist Studio Tour! (Affectionately known as FFAST)
10a.m. to 5p.m. daily

271 Roxbury ST in Keene NH
1/2 mile east from the downtown Central Square in Keene.
(It’s West ST to the west, Roxbury ST to the east)
Big tall skinny long white house with a great big red barn in back. Come on down to the barn, that’s where we’ll be.

I’ll be here with my good friend and talented colored pencil artist Nicole Caulfield. Below, you can see one of the drawings she was working on at last year’s event. Did I say she was talented? She is talented! She’ll be back with more of her beautiful work.

Yep, Nicole bakes cookies and draws and I…..I clean the studio. In fact, I may still be cleaning when you get here. (But don’t worry, I won’t ask you to help.)

We’ll have light refreshments (see cookies above). You can hang out, peek in drawers, watch Nicole work, watch me make earrings, eat, drink, and oh yes, buy stuff!

See Nicole’s wonderful art! See my award-winning mixed media necklace! See pearl jewelry, button jewelry, horse and bear and bird and otter and dog jewelry! See artistic mess! (It’s sooooo much more interesting than boring old house mess.)

We hope you can join us, but if not, would you please pass this on to a friend you think might enjoy this? After all–Autumn in New England, nice people, great art, wonderful jewelry, cookies and a bunny–what more could you ask for?!

Call, email or Facebook me with questions.

Open Studio
Nicole's work
The Studio
Oh, the fabric!

RETELLING A STORY: How to Get Your Mind to a Better Place

Find a different way to tell your tired, sad old story, and watch your heart grow.

There’s a sad story I catch myself telling over and over. And I’m sick of it.

When we moved into our current home, I did a major de-stash of my fabric collection. I actually reduced my inventory by almost 75%. It was a glorious horde of vintage fabrics and used clothing (from my vintage looking traditional quilting days), home decorating fabrics (from my make-my-own curtains, duvet covers and pillow phase), silk ties and antique velvets (from my crazy quilt days).

It was really really hard. I had to use all kinds of strategies to overcome my hoarder mode brain. I was determined to keep only the materials I would use in my art quilts, and the fabrics I truly loved. For example, pink isn’t really on my Lascaux Cave color wheel. So I told myself if I ever made another baby quilt for a girl, I could go out and buy NEW pink fabric. (Don’t worry, I kept most of the vintage pink fabrics.)

Another strategy was to find the perfect home for my stash. For years I’d donated fabrics, books and supplies to a little sewing group at a women’s prison in northern New Hampshire. They accepted almost anything gratefully. They made quilts for various causes. It felt wonderful to help a group of people who, in such sad circumstances themselves, made things for other people who were even less fortunate. It made the ‘letting go’ easier.

I bagged up almost twenty giant bags of fabrics. Someone from one of the causes found out about my donation, and offered to meet me at a town halfway between us to get the stash. I was grateful, for it saved me hours of driving time.

We met, the bags were transferred to her van, and I went home to wait for the donation receipt.

A long time later, I emailed to ask her where the receipt was.

Her answer struck me speechless.

She said her organization only accepted donations of new, 100% cotton fabrics. Because so much of my fabrics were old, blends, vintage or specialty fabrics, the entire lot (except for some picking by the staff) was…..dumped.

I called her immediately to remind her that the donation was not to her organization, but to the sewing circle that donated some of their projects to her organization. There was a long silence and then a quavering, heartfelt apology for the misunderstanding. I received the receipt for the donation anyway.

But I still cringed at the thought of all those fabrics sitting in a landfill somewhere.

For many years, that affected my ability to de-stash. Because one of my main motivations is to feel that my cast-offs are going to a new and better place, to people who will truly love and use what I’ve given them.

And it made for a good story, too. When I was feeling small and vindictive, I could tell that story with a sad little face, and with relish. See how awful that was?? All that good fabric gone to waste! It was a guaranteed sympathy-grabber and aren’t-other-people-awful moment.

Yes, no good deed goes unpunished, as my husband always says.

But lately I’m embarrassed to tell that story. And ashamed I’ve kept it going so long. It feels…wrong.

Because the truth is, many good things came out of that incident. Things that served me far, far better than a small truckload of fabrics I was happy to move on.

1) I discovered the light heart you get when you finally let go of things you don’t really need nor even really want anymore. If it took a ‘good cause’ to get me going on that, so be it. But when you really let go of something, demanding that it still serve you somehow is unproductive.

2) Remembering how quickly my stash of not-really-useful fabrics grew, it makes me think twice before letting just ‘any old fabric’ into my studio. Oh, I still succumb now and then. And those of you who have seen my fabric stash and are snickering, “Really, Luann? You actually restrain yourself from buying more fabric?! Yeah, right….snort!”, just cut it out.

3) Someone I respected admitted they’d made a mistake. And apologized with a full heart. (I am a complete sucker for a sincere apology.)

4) This same woman taught me a simple technique for prayer. And though I am quite the agnostic (meaning I don’t feel we can KNOW there is a higher power, and I know there probably isn’t, but I like to believe there could be), I believe the act of prayer is human and healing and good for the soul.

To pray for what you want and need, you don’t fall to the ground and hunch over with closed hands.

You stand. You take a deep, cleansing breath, and let air fill your lungs. As you gently exhale, let your arms drop, hands open and facing outwards. Raise your face to the sky, and close your eyes. Get quiet. And ASK the universe for what is in your heart.

I have a story about how dramatically this worked for me the first time I tried it. It was so powerful, I’m actually a little scared to use it much. But somehow, simply going through these motions is often enough to lift a weight from my heart, and soothes my savage, yapping little brain.

It restores me to my true self. I find I rephrase my wish into a better request. And the sole act of asking fills me with a feeling that’s even more healing than getting the wish. (Which, perhaps, is what I’m always actually yearning for.)

5) And, hey, I got my tax deduction.

So I’m telling that sad, self-righteous little story for the last time (I hope!) I think the process I’m describing is called ‘reframing’ in psychological terms. Whatever. It works.

And from now on, I will strive to ONLY tell it in this shiny, wonderful new context.

CLEANING THE STUDIO Redux

Lord, I hope “redux” means “revisited”…. Just checked Wiki–yes!!

It all started when we cleaned out our daughter’s old room. She came home to help. I had visions of the two of us cutting a swatch through the piles o’ stuff, filling bag after bag of stuff to be tossed, given, moved or….or….what else do you do with a 1942 manual on identifying enemy planes?

Instead, we spent a leisurely afternoon of Robin browsing through old journals, school notebooks and yearbooks. We tried on the hats we bought on family trips to Boston. (We once defused a family spat by stopping in a little shop on Newbury Street called TOPPERS. We all bought hats. Now it’s a family tradition.) Finally, after hours of delicate sorting, Robin announced she’d salvaged everything she wanted. I was free to take care of the rest. (My professional writer voice is calm and dignified. My mother voice is about to scream.)

From there, I’ve managed to keep up with my goal of removing one bag o’ stuff a day from her room, the attic and my studio. It feels like truly sisyphean task. I comfort myself by doing the math. If I keep it up, in a year I will have removed 365 bags. Not too shabby, hey?

This has all happened before. It will all happen again. (Who says you can’t learn something important from Battlestar Galactica reruns?

Sometimes it helps to know how you did it before. Other times, knowing what’s in store can add to the overwhelming nature of the task. (The first words out of my mouth when I tore my ACL the send time were, “Oh, NO, NO, NO, NOT AGAIN!!!” I knew I was in for another surgery, I knew I was in for at least six months of recovery, I knew it would be at least a year before I felt back to normal.

I couldn’t face it. But….

I did it anyway.

So today as I dig in once again, I share with you three thoughts and resources that are helping:

1) “Leave it for someone else.” Too many of my clutter–er, collecting–impulses are fueled by the thought that I’ve discovered something wonderful, and I need to save it from oblivion in the thrift shop.

But now I ask if I truly love it or have a use for it. If not, I know it will be found and cherished by someone else. So….I leave it for someone else.

2) “Would I buy this again today?” I can’t believe how much this helps me decide what will stay and what should go.

3) This website, Clutter Buster, by Brooks Palmer.

I can’t remember where the first two questions came from, but will credit them when I track the source down.

In the meantime, I need to go fill another bag.

What strategies help YOU clean out?

Happy spring cleaning!

TINY TINY BEADS AND LITTLE LIZARD BRAIN THOUGHTS

Lately I’ve been “shopping my stash” for new design ideas–going through my countless drawers of goodies (beads, findings, wire, chain) to see what inspires me. It’s a concept that’s become popular in home decorating, seeing what’s already on hand that can be repurposed/rearranged/upcycled.

I have some examples today, riffs on an older design. I’m using tiny, tiny hand rolled silver beads culled from strands of Thai hill tribes silver beads. I used these a couple years ago, alternating the silver beads with turquoise chips.

But this week I’m using tiny, tiny, tiny turquoise chips. And teensy tiny pearls. And very, very small faceted crystals of smokey quartz.

How tiny? Well, the pearls are about 2mm. The turquoise chips, about 3mm. I cannot even imagine how the holes are drilled in such tiny beads. (For reference, I’ve put a #2 pencil in one of the photos.)

I thought working with these 4mm pearls would be tough, til I saw these 2mm versions!

My thumbs hurt from picking up such tiny things, and when my eyes began to swim a few minutes ago, I decided to take a break and write instead.

But it’s worth it. Because I love the extreme delicate look of these. And I especially love how the tiniest of my artifacts (stones, otters, birds, bears, horses) look with them.

The weird thing is, sometimes as my brain struggles to wrap itself around this miniscule work, I can feel my thoughts narrow down, too. For example, this is what popped up as I made a little stone for one of these necklaces today.

I realized I’ve always hesitant to show my work in “real time”–as I’m making it, etc. So much of my work has been copied over the years. A “crafter” here in NH actually “borrowed” my popular Sea Stone and Pearl designs a few years ago, to make her own line of jewelry with the same colors, identical components, even a similar-sounding name. She was on my mailing list for awhile, so she either bought some from me or visited my booth the year I introduced them. She now sells them at smaller fairs in the region. Ow. Last year, a customer came in who’d bought a piece from her and raved about her work, saying that I would really enjoy it, because “she does stones, too.” I had to bite my tongue….hard. I see some evidence she is evolving in her designs so that it’s more her own work.

I console myself with the idea that I must be one of her artistic “heroes”. And pray for her to evolve faster….!!!

My lizard brain wants to dwell here, nursing old hurts and grudges. But I try to let go.

After all, I can’t control this. And though it’s painful, I’m trying really, really hard not to give it too much energy anymore.

We are ALL inspired by others. I am. I just try to make sure that, as an idea comes to me from someone else, it gets substantially transformed into something that’s truly mine.

It also happens that different artists work through different ideas from different directions, and innocently converge onto similar territory. That’s happened to me a lot, too. There are, after all, very few truly new things under the sun.

Whatever. It happens. It’s time to move on. And so, in that light, there will more images in my blog from now on.

Who benefits? YOU do! You get to preview my new work for the show. You get to sneak a peek at the less messy parts of my studio.

Hopefully, I benefit, too. I get to spread the joy as I work.

Enjoy!

Older version of silver and turquoise with bird below, newer, more delicate version above!
Elegant neutrals--tiny faceted smokey quartz crystals, old silver, faux lava artifacts with a tiny faux bone accent. Pretty!
Tiny smokey quartz and little tuquoise pearls, with artifacts...
Tiny antique red white heart glass beads, made in Venice and traded around the world. I love how they look with the old silver, my red faux coral artifact and my little ancient horse (with real coral).

CLEANING UP, CLEANING OUT–AGAIN!!

I was wondering if it were maybe time to start clearing out again. I’d almost talked myself out of it–too much time, too much stuff, it’s spring, dammit, I want to read a book and take a nap and enjoy the sun.

But no. I browsed through a friend’s blog to another blog to another blog and ended up here: http://voodoonotes.blogspot.com/2009/03/myth-of-scarcity.html and here:http://rozwoundup.typepad.com/roz_wound_up/2009/03/scarcitya-corollary-to-journaling-superstition-4-perfect-pages.html.

Dang. Oh well. Maybe I’ll clean out some more after my book. And my nap.

And I’ll be sooooo glad when I figure out why WordPress is not letting me code my links anymore!!!

CLEANING THE ATTIC #20: Where Do You Use It?

Well, I thought I was done with this series, but self-discovery continues…

I’ve heard this tip before. But when I actually applied it, it’s amazing what could be moved out of my studio.

Do you actually use what’s stored in your studio, in your studio?

Here’s a great example. I sometimes overdye the fabrics I use in my wall hangings.

I have quite a collection of dyes, special fabric detergent, dye fixer, etc. All of these were stored in a little two-drawer unit on a counter top in my studio.

During the final cleaning frenzy before my Open Studio, I realized (duh) I don’t actually dye fabrics in my studio.

I dye in an upstairs bathroom, or in the laundry room.

Fortuitously, I had just cleared out my laundry room. I knew my supplies would fit in there on a newly- emptied shelf.

So I moved it all up there. The storage unit fit perfectly on the shelf. (Another “duh”. After all, they were part of the same storage system.)

A small change, but huge in so many ways.

I now have half a counter top available for my new Lortone rotary tumbler I bought from Santa Fe Jewelry Supply earlier this year. A more efficient use of space.

My dye supplies, tools, and to-be-dyed fabric are now all stored where I use them. What a time-saver!

Look around your work space. Is there something there that just doesn’t belong?

CLEANING THE ATTIC #21: In Closing

I honestly didn’t realize this was going to turn into a series…. I just meant to take you on my journey of de-junking my home, my studio and my life. A journey with odd twists and turns, roadblocks, breakthroughs and tears. An endeavor filled with brain lock, and dread, and insight and inspiration. (Geez, this sounds like a movie trailer….)

What have I accomplished?

I’ve proven to myself that I can do this. I can hunker down and really clear stuff out when I put my mind to it. (I honestly did not believe that til I went through this.)

What will this process now allow me to accomplish?

Time will tell. Time will tell.

Am I still a pack rat?

Yes! I don’t ever want to lose that. It’s part of who I am. I see stories in things. I create stories with the tableaux and vignettes I set up. Perhaps I should have been a photo stylist, or some other profession that would allow me to create little displays over and over again. But I still do it in my home and my studio.

It’s also part of my creative process. It’s a reflection of my artistic nature, and my imagination, to see such potential in the objects I find. That’s not a bad thing, unless I let it get out of control.

I can’t be “clean for clean’s sake”. I’ve learned my lesson there. If I’m afraid of making a mess, then no art will be created. My space just has to be functional enough to….well, function.

As my friend pointed out, the layers were good–it’s what I do. I create layers of fabric, layers of display, layers of meaning.

But when I start piling on top on layers, I need to either move something else on, or understand why I’m not dealing with the stuff.

I also know that there will be times where I can’t act on it immediately. If so, I can accept that, and understand I’ll have to take care of it later.

The pay-off?

Today I got a last-minute call from a potential customer. He’d seen my work at my last retail show. He couldn’t stop thinking about it. He wanted to purchase a bracelet for his wife. Could he stop in on his way through New Hampshire?

Normally this kind of request would put me in a panic. Either I wouldn’t even be able to find what he wanted, or I’d be babbling a jillion embarrassed apologies as we stepped through piles o’ stuff.

But instead, I said, “Sure! Come on by.” He would be there in an hour.

It took about that long to break down the displays and sales tables. I put all my book project displays into one big box for storage. I set aside the leftover fabrics for Freecycle. I pulled out a selection of bracelets and arranged them on a black velvet pad.

When my visitor arrived, I welcomed him into a beautiful studio. Dense and layered, to be sure. But also organized and neat. No “understory”. Nothing stuffed into every available nook and cranny. There were even a few clear surfaces.

I was proud of my workspace, and it showed.

He was delighted and enchanted. He bought a very nice piece for his wife. He admired my workspace and promised to come again for the next open studio, with his family.

Oh. My. God.

I know this won’t last, of course. The minute I start work on a new wall hanging series, the fabrics will fly, the threads will fray, and Bunster will once again play tug-o-war with my patience. There are still a few rooms and closets in the house to go through, and more boxes of display stuff to be put away.

But I found myself sneaking into my studio today at every possible moment, to make some simple pieces, to put away a few more things, to simply play at my work table.

It feels good to be in here. It feels great to be in here.

I’d call that a roaring success. Wouldn’t you?

CLEANING THE ATTIC #19: Take Out the Empties

As I enter into the last 24 hours of cleaning frenzy (assuming I don’t stay up til 2 a.m. for the next two nights, which I’m not saying I won’t, mind you, but at my age, it’s hard) there’s one cleaning tip I come back to again and again. It’s ridiculously simple, but perhaps the most single most helpful tip I’ve found.

When I enlisted the help of my good friend Carol Laughner, the second thing she advised me to do seemed kinda silly at the time. (I can’t remember the other two right now. If I do, I’ll share those, too.)

As I empty storage containers or organizers, she said I should gather them up and set them aside, in one big pile, in an out-of-the-way area.

I nodded my head obligingly when she told me this. After all, she was helping me. I wasn’t going to argue with her. But I couldn’t see why this was one of her “big three” organizing tips.

Well, guess what? It works.

It turns out that keeping them in your line of sight as you work creates a visual distraction. I’d find my eye roving around the room, thinking of what I had to do next. I would see an empty rolling drawer cart, or a magazine file, or a box, or a jar. Then I’d have to think, “Oh, it’s empty, I don’t have to do anything with that.” Except, of course, step over it, move it out of the way, push it aside or stack it on something else.

Also, when I’d get ready to reorganize a space, I’d think of a perfect “thing” to use–but then I couldn’t remember where it was. I’d spend several precious moments looking for it. And sometimes I’d realize I’d already commandeered it for another spot.

About the eleventh time I stepped over an empty plastic tub, or searched for a basket the right size, I realized Carol was right.

I set the “empties” in a pile near the door to my barn attic. Several times a day, I took them upstairs to the “master pile”.

I instantly had more walking-around space. And fewer distractions to boot.

I could then judiciously add some of the containers back in as I needed them.

I don’t know why this works so well, but it does. So listen to Carol and move those empties to a staging area while you work on your mega-mess.