Today at climbing I was too pooped to accomplish much on the more difficult walls. I did too much in tae kwon do last night.

That’s when Lin suggested I climb the “easy” wall instead.

It’s just another part of training, she said. When you get stuck, persevere. But it’s also okay to take a step back, and go back to what you know.

It made sense. I work just as hard on the “easy” wall, and I can get up and down it quickly, many times. So that’s what I did.

It felt pretty good.  I got a good workout.  It felt like I was keeping my hand in. And it built my confidence back up, too.

Come to think of it, we do this in martial arts.   We always go back to the basics.  There’s always room for improvement.  But it also lets your mind relax and go through the familiar moves.

It’s like meditating.

I worked with a new TKD student last night. We did the first kata over and over again. (It’s all she knows right now.) Nervously, she said, “Aren’t you bored? Do you want to do a different form?”

“Nope,” I replied. “I like this form. I could do it a thousand times and still find ways to improve it. And it centers me.”

It occurs to me that maybe that’s what all these smaller shows this season were about–doing the “easy climb”. Getting ready for these shows had its own challenges: How to simplify my booth so I could get everything in one car load. How to streamline my set-up to accomplish in four hours what normally takes two days.

But everything else was a return to familiar territory. After the last eight years spent doing major shows and wholesale shows, doing website overhauls and contemplating a new PR campaign,it actually felt kinda good to do something I already know how to do.

Try it the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed with all your new challenges.

Simply go back to what you already know. Warm up, take it on, succeed.

And see if you’re invigorated to take on that “harder climb” again.


There’s a terrific line from an old TV series called ABsolutelyFABulous (affectionately known as “AbFab” ) that I absolutely adore.

It’s not a series normally known for insightful and inspirational words. AbFab is the modern adventures of two hysterically funny, well-to-do, aging-hippy women who are not going gently into middle-age. They’ve managed to remain ignorant, self-absorbed and silly even as the ’70’s and ’80’s have passed them by.

But in this particular episode, the main character Edina scolds her extremely shy and self-conscious daughter Saffron for being so fearful of taking risks. Never mind that in this episode, Edine is wickedly manipulating Saffie into doing something for ulterior motives. The statement is still so powerful, so true, it still makes me gasp.

She tells Saffie, “You have made yourself a prisoner of other people’s eyes.”


Some of us–many of us!–are so worried about what other people will think of us, it paralyzes us.

It keeps us from taking risks, or from trying new things. We shut down and shut ourselves off from new situations, new opportunities, new venues.

We’re so afraid we’ll look ridiculous or stupid, we literally imprison ourselves, as Edwina said.

My second favorite expression is, “You won’t worry so much about what other people think of you, if you knew how little they think about you at all!” As one of my martial arts instructors said recently, “No one’s looking at you messin’ up. They’re too busy freakin’ about how they’re messin’ up!” Which is also probably true.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about other eyes watching us.

The right kind of eyes.

One kind is the eyes of a good teacher.

My climbing inspiration, Lin, an older woman who is remarkably fit and incredibly enthusiastic about climbing, watches us newbies go up a wall. “Beautiful climb!” she calls up from below. “You are amazing!”

You can actually feel your heart glow when she says that.

There are the “right eyes” of the constructively critical teacher. I think my current martial arts instructor falls into that category. You can relax your guard, knowing the faults they point out are nothing they haven’t seen before. Their feedback will set you on a better course.

Another set of “right eyes” are the ones I spoke of yesterday, in THE BUDDY SYSTEM, the eyes that can give you a fresh viewpoint.

The “right eyes” I’m thinking of today are the eyes of people following in your footsteps.

These are the people who desperately want you to be successful–so they can be successful.

Like wanting you to be a successful artist. I know there are people who want me to make it because I feel that way about other artists myself.

Recently, someone commented on how much more I could be doing to get more fit.

At first, I took it as criticism–implying I wasn’t really trying now. I felt indignant–“I’m doing what I can!” “You don’t understand how hard it is right now!” “You don’t know how much everything hurts!! My foot, my other foot, my hamstrings, my sciatica, my neck bumps, my shoulders, my back…shall I go on??”

But then I realized these are often people much younger than I am. They are often people who are incredibly fit themselves.

Now, maybe they want to believe that getting older, and getting injured, couldn’t possibly happen to them.

But I’d like to think they simply might also want to believe that if I can find a way to stay active in spite of my setbacks and injuries, then someday they can persevere, too.

In other words, I can be a good example of hope.

I’m thinking that myself with the older people who join us climbing. There are people in their sixties, seventies, even their eighties, who are still climbing. And not just climbing, but climbing with strength and skill.

They amaze me. They inspire me.

Not just because they lay that myth to rest, that as we age we get weaker and less able, and therefore are helpless. They prove just how able they are every time they get up that really difficult wall that much younger, stronger climbers still struggle with.

It’s also because they show how much we can accomplish if we persevere.

They have aches and pains and injuries and setbacks, too. But they find a way to keep going.

Their lives–and mine–are so much richer for it.

I want to remember those eyes on me, the next time I work out.


In wall climbing at the local Y, there’s a little safety ritual piece we recite just before we climb: The Climbing Contract

The climber says to the belayer, “On belay?”

The belayer takes this moment to check the climber’s knots and lashings. She checks her own fittings: Is the rope threaded through gris-gris or the ATC correctly? Is the carbiner attached to the right loops? Is it closed? Am I tied in properly?

If everything is ready, the belayer replies, “Belay is on!”

The climber announces his intentions: “Climbing!”

The belayer answers, “Climb away!” (The proper address is “Climb on!” but we are so enthusiastic, it sometimes gets modified to “climb away!”)

And the ascent begins.

When the climber reaches the top of the wall, we have a little ritual, too. Not as formal, not as much a “set piece”. But the climber announces he’s ready to come down. The belayer tells him to sit back. She takes up the weight, and gets ready to let him down safely again.

Fast or slow, gently or rappelling, however the climber wants to come down.

It occurs to me this morning what a lovely metaphor this is for any venture we take on in life.

To ensure our success, we take the proper steps.

“Belay?” We check our equipment. Have we done our homework? Do we have everything we need to start? Is everything in place and ready to go?

Do we have the support we need? Does “our team” know what we want to do, and are they there for us?

“Belay is on!”

And then we announce our intentions. “Climbing!”

The focus is on the climber.

This is what I want. This is important to me. This is what I want my life to be like. This is what I want to do, this is where I want to go. These are the people I want to share it with.

This is who I want to be.

But it’s those last words that thrill me. When the universe says, “Yes! You can do this! You can be this! You go, grrl!”

Put one foot in front of the other. Take that first step. Feel the fear, but do it anyway.

“Climb away!”

As for the rest of the metaphor–the part when the actual ascent is over–well, that’s lovely, too.

Because coming down is just as fun.

It’s thrilling to fly down, bouncing lightly off the rock face, knowing you will land safely on your own two feet.

Because someone is there, holding the rope, keeping you safe. Keeping you safe so you can fly.

And knowing you can turn around and go right back up again, as many times as you want, because there’s always someone who wants to see you get to the top–now, that’s exciting, too!

THE UPSIDE OF DOWN #3 Learning to Belay

Being hobbled this month forced me to learn something really important.

I’m learning how to belay.

I’ve written before about wall climbing here
and here: LOST MUSCLES

It’s obvious that going up that wall is an active, exciting metaphor for change and empowerment. It’s also a lot of fun!

The person who makes this all possible and safe is the person who belays you. The person who stays on the ground, taking up the slack (literally!) as you climb, catching you if you fall, and gently reeling you down as you descend.

The first day I climbed, the instructor had told me that, if my husband and I both learned to belay each other (man the supporting ropes), and get certified, we could come in whenever we wanted to and climb (instead of needing to have an instructor present.)

The thing is, nobody ever takes the time to learn to belay.

Oh, some people do, of course. But most people just want to get in there and get up the wall. The belayer stays on the ground watching everyone else go up. Who wants that?! Far fewer people are willing to “put off the fun” to learn it.

When the doctor said, “No climbing for a month”, I realized this was a unique opportunity.

Maybe I can’t climb right now. But I can start learning how to belay.

And I am.

The subtleties of belaying are very different than actually climbing. First, you have to pay attention to what the climber is doing–how fast they’re going up, when they’re ready to come down, how fast they want to come down. I have to practice a special way of taking up the slack quickly and smoothly. Like driving, I have to practice it until it feels like second nature, so I don’t even have to think about it.

But the rewards are there. Less obvious, more subtle. But there.

For one thing, I’m learning even more about climbing. I can feel my brain stretch a bit as I learn yet another skill.

For another, I’m becoming more independent. When I master this, our family will be halfway there to being able to climb anytime, anywhere.

Here’s something I didn’t realize til now. When you climb, you are essentially talking and getting to know only the person who belays you. When you belay, you talk and get to know anyone else who climbs off you. Since there are always more climbers than belayers (because everyone else feels the same way about belaying) I’m interacting with more people directly and I’m getting to know them better.

And of course, even when you can’t climb, if you can stand and if you can pull a rope through, you can still be involved. You can still show up, and be a part of something.

I think this is why so many artists and craftspeople move on to teaching and mentoring when they retire from the show circuit, and other more strenuous aspects of the art biz. And why sometimes artists actually start their own shows (like the Paradise City Arts Festival for example. And why artists write books and articles on making a living in craft or art. And why someone like me blogs or serves on a fair committee.

Because, yes, the most fun I can have is actually making stuff. But sharing what a life spent making stuff looks like, and helping other people make stuff and sell it, broadens my world–and my life–too.

Last, I’ve learned something big about myself.

The responsibility is huge. My job is to keep that climber safe. I almost couldn’t imagine what would happen if someone fell while I was belaying. My instructor, Lin, said, “Oh the first time your climber falls, you’ll never forget that!” It’s happened already. A young highly experienced climber, taking on a very easy wall for my benefit, hit a loose hold and slipped. It frightens you when that happens, no matter how safe you “know” you are in the ropes.

And I held him.

It was scary, yeah. But when I realized I had held him up and kept him from harm…. Well that was a pretty powerful feeling, too.

As Lin assured me, as long as you do your job and keep the ropes in the right position, the climber isn’t going anywhere. He may fall a few feet, but he’s not going to fall far.

And she was right.

It makes me think today about all the support, all the ropes, all the people we put in our own lives, to hold us up if we fall.

To make sure, if we do slip, we don’t fall far.

And I think I’ve started something. Because the other day, someone who’s been climbing for months and months, decided maybe he would start learning how to belay, too.


I’m finding another benefit to wall climbing.

I’m finding muscles I never new I had. I mean this in two ways.

I’m hurting in places I never knew could hurt.

And I’m stronger than I think in places I never knew were strong.

It turns out women are actually better than men at first when it comes to climbing. We tend not to have as much upper body strength. So we naturally rely on our legs more. We literally get a “leg up” because we aren’t relying on our arms and shoulders to come to our rescue.

The surprising weariness in my hands, fingers and forearms after a climbing session was my first clue that something else was changing. Turns out our hands don’t really get a good workout in daily life. A few climbs gripping the hand holds showed that!

Soon, we tackle walls where upper body is really important–where the wall starts to curve towards you rather than away from you. Suddenly, what you’ve always depended on–your legs, your foot holds–don’t save you. It’s about holding on.

I realize that this is going to be good for me! This is going to help my writing/keyboarding, my Tae Kwon Do, my normally weak shoulders.

It occurs to me that staying in our normal comfort zone–doing the shows we’ve always done, making the designs that always sell, approaching the stores that always want our work–also keeps us from flexing muscles we may need later on.

I’m not saying we should drop everything that works, nor that we need to risk everything, all the time. But the last few years have shown me that things that “go wrong” force me to try something different–with interesting and positive results.

The second thought, being stronger than I thought, is important, too. I realize I may be worrying about my upcoming retail shows–driving myself long distances, setting up a simpler booth in a lot less time, introducing my work to a crowd that knows nothing about it.

But as some of you pointed out in your comments to my “Booth Confession” essay, I’m probably going to do just fine.

So the next time you find yourself in a log jam or a dead end with your art–whether it’s in design, self-promotion, shows, wholesaling, whatever–simply look at it as a wonderful opportunity to cross train.

You, too, may find muscles you never knew you had.


I’ve written before about the climbing wall at our local Y: CLIMBING THE WALLS In that entry, I was exhilarated by the notion that you cannot fall when wall climbing. I mean, it’s almost impossible.

The freedom that comes from realizing that was astonishing. I began to take chances I never dreamed of–trying a tricky foot hold, leaping for a just-out-of-reach hand hold, using my shoe directly on the flat wall to scamper to the next hold. Me! Scampering! Leaping!

Yesterday, while tackling a new wall, I was struck by another notion:

There’s more than one way up a wall.

You can go straight up. But that’s not necessarily the “best” way. You can also veer off to the left or right, if you can find a better hand hold or foot hold there.

If you get stuck, you can even double back and try another way. It just doesn’t matter.

In fact, any way you can get up a wall, is a good climb.

Later that day, I realized how true this is of our professional paths in art, too.

We get so stuck on the “right way” to move our art forward into the world. Should I do the show circuit? What are the good shows? How do I get into them?

Should I sell to stores instead? What’s the best way to approach them? Or should I sell on-line? Should I even try to sell my work?

What about exhibits? Do they really help get my name out there?

We constantly strive for validation of our work. Is it good enough? Then why haven’t I ever won an award? And why does so-and-so always win?? Their work isn’t any better than mine!

Climbing the wall reminded me of all these questions that used to hound me about my artwork (and sometimes still do!)

In reality, whatever gets you up the wall is good. Whatever gets your work out there, and works for you, is good.

It’s okay to want to make money from your art. It’s okay to not sell your art. It’s okay if you are successful. It’s okay if you don’t pursue success. It’s even okay if your definition of success is different than my definition.

Your art is probably “good enough” right now. Sure, it could be better. Sure, there are many, many other people whose work is better than yours.

But this is your art. And this is your life. No one else can tell you what it means to you, or what to do with it, or how you should do it.

Each “climb” in our life gives us the opportunity to think about how it went. To find the good in it, whether we reached the top or not. We get to think about how we could do it better next time. Or, if not better, perhaps how we could do it differently.

But in the end, what makes any climb a good climb is simply getting to the top.

And then, coming back down. So we can do it all over again.

Because the best thing about any climb, is simply the thrill of doing it.


Climbing walls teaches me about taking risks and having fun doing it.

A few weeks ago, on a whim, I visited the wall climbing class at our local Y.

I found a small group of avid, enthusiastic climbers. Before long, I found myself strapped into a climbing harness and scrambling up a wall.

It’s exhilarating. Exciting. Exhausting!! After two days of climbing, my hands and forearms feel like jello. No, scratch that. Jello bounces. Let’s make that limp, cooked spaghetti.

Here’s my big breakthrough moment while climbing the walls:

It’s okay to fall.

I obsessed at first about picking “safe” holds, making sure my feet were firmly planted before I made my next move. When I couldn’t find the next spot to move to, I’d panic. I worried I wasn’t making good decisions.

Was I doing it right??

I was terrified to fall.

But my coach finally convinced me it’s okay to fall. “Everyone falls!” she exclaimed. (She’s 65, by the way, and would look better in a bikini than most 20-year-olds I know.)

In fact, you SHOULD fall. When you get to a tricky bit, try a little jump up. Try a hold you’re not sure of. Reach. Leap. Go for it.

Because—and this is important:

You’ve got nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

Because the point of climbing, oddly enough, is NOT to avoid falling. It’s simply to get to the top–any way you can.

You can dash up, you can scramble, you can go slow and stop and rest. You can go up sideways, you can stretch off to one side. You can even just jam your foot against the wall, and push off against that. If you’re stuck, you can simply decide to take a little leap of faith. Take that big step up and lunge for that handhold you’re sure is just out of reach….

Because even if you peel away from the wall, you are perfectly safe.

You’re in your harness, your spotter has a rope on you, and you’re not going anywhere until you say you want to come down. (Which is pretty darn fun, too!)

As I went up the wall for the third day today, I actually felt my brain unlocking.

I thought of that saying: “What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?”

Because when it comes to taking chances with our climbs, with our ambition, with our art, failing does not kill you.

Oh, your pride may be ruffled a little. And I’m sure there are some nasty souls somewhere who will take pleasure in your little downfall.

But I would rather focus on those enthusiastic voices below, the ones who are taking real joy in your efforts. The ones who really want to see you make it, all the way to the top.

And the rewards are so great.

“Beautiful climb! Good job! You made it!”

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