You can read my latest column for The Crafts Report magazine here:
You can read my latest column for The Crafts Report magazine here:
My art’s bigger/better/purer than your art. So there!
Hierarchies come easily to many living creatures.
It can be a brutal process. For birds, hierarchy can mean life or death. That phrase ‘pecking order’? It’s real. I’ve lost chickens and cockatiels to the process. The bird on the lowest rung of the ladder may not get enough to eat. An even slightly injured chicken will be attacked, killed, even eaten by the rest of the flock.
We humans have hierarchies, too. Our fascination for English royalty, our obsession with celebrities, our own yearning for fame and fortune, all are social constructs based on hierarchy.
Artists and craftspeople are no exception.
People who make their own jewelry components sniff at ‘bead stringers’–people who use only purchased components in their designs. The people who do some wire work or only make their own beads, are sniffed at by silver- and goldsmiths.
Glass artists have been the top of the heap in the collecting world for several decades now. Before that, it was something else. Maybe clay. I dunno–I wasn’t in the biz then.
Fine artists look down on all crafts. Once I introduced myself to a small group as a fiber artist. “Hunh! That’s nice…” was the general response. Ten minutes later, a local oil painter’s name came up. “Now he’s a real artist!” someone in the group exclaimed.
But fine artists have their own internal order, too. Pastels are better than colored pencils, watercolors better than pastel work, acrylic paint is better than watercolor, and oils are better than acrylic.
And of course, across all media is the hierarchy of purity. Who makes money from their art, and who makes art purely for art’s sake? Who sullies their ethos for filthy lucre? Is teaching the purest form of sharing our art with the world?
It gets kinda confusing–and funny–after awhile.
If you are in a group of artists who sell their work, the mark of a ‘professional artist’ is your ability to make a living from your work. How much money you make is your achievement award. It’s proof that you are a serious, full-time artist.
Or people place you on the ladder by the prestige factor of the shows you do. Small local shows don’t count, of course. Why, they let just anybody in!
Being vetted by an organization helps, too. I’ve had people express polite interest in my work until I mention that I’m a doubly-juried member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. Suddenly, I’m treated with respect and deference.
But there’s nothing like the disdain amateurs–those who can’t-won’t-don’t sell their work–hold for an artist who actually, actively seeks sale–those artists who want to make their work and get paid for making it. The disdain the amateur holds for ‘professionals’ is huge.
They have history behind them. The word ‘amateur’ originally meant someone who pursued an activity purely for the love it of it. Now it ranks right up there with ‘dilettante’–someone who pursues an activity superficially. (ouch!) Amateurs, by definition, make their art without the requirement of making money from it. Art for Art’s sake. The purest state of making art.
The reality? Not for me to judge. It’s all good.
I’ve been everywhere on the spectrum in my career.
I began by making jewelry entirely from purchased components, and making traditional quilts. I did a very few small local shows, but mostly I gave my work away.
Then I dedicated myself to finding my own personal vision. It was a powerful step. I was grateful to even be making my art. The thought of being accepted into a show, or of someone even buying a piece, seemed too much to ask for.
As my skills and self-confidence grew, the next step was entering exhibitions across the country. Someone had told me they thought the phrase ‘nationally-exhibited artist’ sounded so wonderful, they made that their goal. I made it my goal, too. And I achieved it within a few years by methodically applying to as many opportunities as I could.
When ‘nationally-exhibited artist’ lost its luster, I turned to money as a measure of my success. It was important to me to make sales. The more money I made, the more successful I felt.
After years of making money, I wanted to be in the ‘good’ shows, the prestigious shows that look on a resume. With time and effort, I managed that, too.
And then I went back to square one.
I transitioned from focusing on these external goals, to thinking about the place in the world I occupy. I’m still selling–better than ever, in fact. But that transition came from a powerful place in my heart, and that is more important to me than ever.
Now, according to many people, I can be placed at every step in the art hierarchy. I’ve been ‘pure’, I’ve been ‘mercenary’, I’ve been ‘published/exhibited’, I’ve been hunkered down.
And yet, it’s the same work. And I am the same person.
Hierarchies evolved as a way for a species to survive. The weak, the sickly, were left to die, so that the flock/herd/group could survive.
We humans can–and do–choose differently.
We try to heal our sick. We care for the weak. We are present with the dying, to comfort them.
We’ve learned that even someone who is sick, or weak, or slow, or awkward, or fearful, or (gasp!) untalented, still has a place in the world.
And given that chance, and that place in the world, the gifts they offer can be profound and huge. At the vary least, they are happier for doing what they do.
So make your art.
Sell it, if that’s important to you. Don’t resent others if they sell theirs, and you can’t seem to sell yours.
Don’t excuse yourself by judging others. They are either on a different path, or (like me) simply in a different part of the cycle.
Recognize the hierarchy of who’s making ‘real art’ for what it is–a way to hide our jealousy of people who seem to have something we want for ourselves. A survival strategy we can choose to ignore.
Decide what you want, right here, right now.
And know that you can change your mind, any time. And do something different.
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….
When asked for a donation for a fundraiser, ask yourself what you’re REALLY giving away.
This is a reprint of an article I wrote five years ago. My good friend and fellow artist Nicole Caulfield came across it after a discussion about artists donating artwork. It still stands today, so here it is.
A thread came up on a discussion forum earlier this week, about whether, and how, artists should donate their work to auctions for charity.
There was an earnest discussion about who donates to what, and how. But nobody pointed out the downsides.
It can cheapen your work.
For most artists and craftspeople, our cost of materials (except for gold and precious stones) are negligible. Our prices depend on our creativity, our time, our skill–and what people will pay for our work.
At an auction, what people will pay can be a disaster.
Because most people attend such charity auctions to get a deal.
If you don’t believe me, ask a gallery.
I did. They said they BEG their artists not to donate work, for this exact reason. Of course, they have something at stake–they want to represent your and hopefully be the only one in the area to represent you. But they also are vested in having your work GAIN value, not lose value.
It’s funny, doctors are not asked to contribute medical services, and teachers are not asked to donate tutoring. I’ve never seen lawyers donate free legal advice. They may do pro bono work, but that’s not what they donate to auctions. Not to say it’s NEVER done, but I’ve not seen it. I believe this says something about the perceived value of our work–because artists get hit up a LOT for donations.
“Struggling artists” (including musicians) are often encouraged to donate for the “exposure” the event will create for them. To quote Jack White, artist and author of books about the marketing of art, “Artists die of exposure.”
My personal experience shows what kind of “exposure” you are risking. Take this chance to learn from someone else’s (mine!) mistake for a change.
I donated a wall hanging to a prestigious benefit auction in Boston. The show was filled with work by well-known book illustrators. (By the way, illustrators–who make commissioned art for use in books–have already been paid for their artwork.)
I attended the event, excited about connecting with art lovers who might be intrigued by my work. It turns out it wasn’t really an art show. Ski trips, wine cases and gift certificates were also being auctioned off.
I overheard countless conversations by the attendees that distressed me. (I knew some of them and I knew how much money they made) They were chortling about how cheaply they could bid on their favorite items in the silent auction. One woman had her eye on a beautiful handmade quilt, with exquisite piecing and sewing. She absolutely loved it. It was wonderful!
She also didn’t want to bid more than $40 on it.
I left before my work came up for bids.
A year later, a couple with the winning bid on my wall hanging came to my booth at a craft fair. Okay! This was it! It was working! Now they were going to become my collectors!
Not. They’d come to brag to me how cheaply they’d won it.
They weren’t even looking for me. They’d come to the fair on a whim, for the first time. They just happened to walk by my booth and recognized my work.
My booth was full of customers. The couple told me (loudly, of course) about their experience. “We got it for $35!!”, they exclaimed. (This was a small wall hanging valued at $350.) They couldn’t believe their good fortune. “It was so beautiful, and nobody else bid on it!” They went on and on about how excited they were to get “such a deal!”
Then they left. They didn’t even buying a tie tack.
The silence in my booth was deafening.
They meant well, I suppose, but it was humiliating.
So much for “exposure”. My work had been “exposed” as being worth $35. A hall full of people had watched as my work was devalued and ignored, with a repeat performance there in my booth.
I didn’t acquire a new customer, because they didn’t buy anything else, and I never saw them again.
I didn’t even have the tax write-off for the act, because tax law clearly states ARTISTS can only write off the cost of materials in the piece. Only people who actually BUY your art and donate it can write off the full value of the work.
And I cringe every time I think of them showing off the work in their home to visitors. “Guess how much we paid for this!” they probably chortle gleefully. “Only $35!!” What a steal! What a bargain!
OUCH. NOT how I want to be remembered.
That was years ago, and I’ve learned my lesson. I now carefully consider how and when I contribute my work.
Ask any gallery that represents artists, and they will tell you the same thing. Those auctions may be dedicated to “a good cause”, but people buy for one reason–they’re getting a deal. A bargain. Is that how you want your work to be marketed?
The ONLY time I saw this work was with an artist whose work and reputation were already strong–a strong collector base already well-established. His work was in demand because he was already at full production.
His piece started a bidding war, and went for MORE than the stated value. But his was the ONLY painting out of HUNDREDS of donated works that did so. Everyone–I mean EVERYONE–else’s work went for a fraction of the stated value.
Strong words, I know. And this is not an iron-clad rule for me.
I’m much more willing to contribute money or time to a cause dear to my heart. There are a few organizations I have supported with donations of artwork.
But I’ve also learned to say no graciously.
Here are guidelines that help me narrow the field that might also help YOU.
If your aim is to gain “exposure” (and I’ve already cautioned you how this can backfire), then at least donate something people will SEE. Now, if I donate anything, I donate jewelry, because at least someone will WEAR it. If it generates comments, perhaps the person will rave about the piece instead of raving about how cheaply they got it…
I pick fundraisers I care deeply about. And I let them know I’ve made an exception for them because of that. (This also controls how often my work is seen at charity auctions.)
Better yet is to suggest a CUSTOMER donate your work.
Or to offer to donate a portion of your profits to the cause. I’ve made special pieces with this in mind. I displayed them with a sign saying, “Profits from this pin are donated to such-and-such organization”. This is win/win–for you, for the charity, even for the customer. Your work holds its full value, the charity gets its donation, the customer gets to participate.
Or donate something free WITH PURCHASE. A free bracelet with the purchase of a necklace. Or a free sculpture with the purchase of a wall hanging.
Or offer a ONE-TIME discount. Bruce Baker, speaker and writer on the business of craft, cautions that customers tend to view even “one-time” discounts as PERMANENT discounts. I tried it once, and he’s right. But it’s still an option.
At the very least, offer to provide the item for your wholesale price. That is, the charity acquires it for what a store would pay for it. And set a minimum bid. More and more art organizations are using this model for their auctions, because it’s more artist-friendly. One person from such an art org confided in me, “We realized that saying we supported artists, then constantly asking them to donate work, was a contradiction of our mission statement!” Yes.
How do you say no to such requests graciously?
Tell them you get asked so often for such contributions, you now contribute once or twice a year to carefully-considered causes. You consider all requests, then make your decision in….pick a month or two. Say, June and December. And you are very sorry, but you’ve already made your decision for the year.
If you like the organization, ask them to submit a request in time for next year’s selection process.
Buy an ad in their event program. It will get you the same exposure and you won’t be donating your work at bargain prices.
Or send them a check. At least that’s tax deductible.
Writing is another way art can help us heal.
I’ve been leading group writing workshops for people who are grieving–grieving the loss of their mom, their dad, their wife or husband, their child, their sister or brother or best friend.
For this project, I’m ‘on loan’ to the bereavement section of the hospice team. A social worker runs the group management part, and I handle the writing part.
It’s scary space for me. I was terrified I would delve too deep in my prodding, and drive someone into a frenzy of grief. I ran to my hospice supervisor for help. She reassured me. “People are pretty tough,” she said. “You’re not going to break them!”
She’s right. Yes, sometimes the writing assignments bring tears. But tears are good in the grieving process. And people are amazed at the places their writing is taking them.
There’s something about the actual physical act of writing that is very different than speaking, or even typing or texting. It accesses a different part of the brain, thus allowing the brain to process grief in a different way. Many assignments start off on one foot and firm ground. About halfway through, something else comes through, and the writing enters new territory.
It’s startling and new. It’s powerful. It doesn’t ‘fix’ grief–nothing can do that–but it seems to set the healing process in motion. It’s like having an injury that hurts and hurts, persisting through time, until a physical therapist shows you what muscles to soften and what muscles to strengthen. The cycle of inflammation and pain is broken, and true healing can begin. That’s what grief writing can do.
Of course, social workers know the group thing is important, too. Sharing loss with others who are in the same boat is hugely helpful. No matter how shy or reserved we are, we are all still social animals. We suffer in our own unique way, and we feel so alone.
We may suffer in solitude, but we need not suffer in isolation. Being able to connect with others who empathize, connects us to our human condition.
I still believe the writing is the match that starts the candle burning. It’s a flare of energy and insight, making the light that lets us see into the darkness.
I have a wonderful studio–spacious, lots of natural light, beautiful views wherever I look. We splurged on a really good propane-fueled heater (a Rinnai Energy-Saver) and I insist on the air conditioner going in early in the season.
One thing I do NOT have in here is a water supply.
It didn’t seem that big a deal at the time we renovated the barn–the kitchen sink is just through the mudroom–and it makes our taxes cheaper.
But the mudroom is unheated in winter and hot in the summer. I need water for plants and my bunny. And it always seems like I’m in the middle of a project before I realize I need a cup of water to finish it.
A few years ago, a local spring water company offered me a deal–rent a water dispenser and have water bottles for it delivered to my doorstep for a ridiculously small fee. It was wonderful! I had all the water I needed, plus a hot water tap for making tea for guests at open studios.
But the heating and cooling of the water bumped our electricity bill up. When the big recession hit, even the small rental fee seemed like a hit to my pocketbook. So I discontinued the service.
Earlier this year, a friend sold me a perfectly good water dispenser for a paltry sum, and even threw in an empty plastic bottle. He said I could use tap water, but I didn’t see how I could up-end the bottle without spilling it all over. So the dispenser sat in my studio all summer. And I continued to curse every time I had to drop everything and run to the kitchen sink again. (My husband cursed ever time he had to move the damn thing in the garage.)
I finally called Monadnock Springs yesterday. It’s a small company, family-owned. And, it turned out, extremely customer-friendly.
They said their bottles would fit my machine.
They said a guy could bring me water tomorrow, and any time I needed more, just call.
And they said I could plug in the machine but NOT TURN IT ON until 10-15 minutes before I wanted hot or cold water, cutting down mightily on the electricity cost.
So here I am in my studio today, with…well, not running water, but a reliable, handy water source just the same.
So if your studio is dry, consider this inexpensive, convenient and PORTABLE solution to your water needs.
Now if I could just fit a Porta Potty in here….
Trust me, your artistic self is just as powerful as a postage stamp. Maybe more.
Fresh off my first Open Studio tour of the year, and boy is my studio CLEAN! I love open studio events for many reasons, but more on that later this week. I have something else on my mind that has to come out today.
As you may know, my soapbox speech is about finding out what makes you, and your work, unique.
We hear all about how no two snowflakes are identical, and how our fingerprints and DNA are unique to us.
You’d think, with all this unique-ness pouring out of us, we could a unique way to talk about our work.
I’ve been in a lot of group shows this year, seen a lot of lovely work and talked to a lot of passionate artists. What strikes me is how everyone says the same things about their art.
We talk about our compositions. We talk about why we love pastel, or oil, or clay. We talk about light and shapes.
If I hear “I just love color!” one more time….. Well, it won’t be pretty.
So let me share an ‘aha!’ moment I had years ago.
I was doing a mail art project, and wanted old postage that would reflect the theme of my piece. I found an older couple who ran a stamp collecting business out of their home.
As I scrabbled through the trays and books of postage, we talked about stamp and the stamp collecting biz. They shared stories about stamp collectors. I asked her what kinds of stamps people collected.
The woman said, “You know, in fifty years of selling stamps and doing shows and talking to collectors, I’ve never seen two people collect exactly the same thing.”
Now think about that a minute.
There is no creativity per se in collecting stamps. Collectors don’t make the stamps, nor are they handmade by other people. Stamps are produced en masse, and have been in production for years.
But how they collect is so strongly individual and personal, each collection–each act of collecting–is as unique as….well, the human being who put it together.
Some collect by country, or region or language. Some collect by subject matter. Politics, places, people, animals, plants, themes, designs, plate designer…. There is simply no end to the possible combinations of appeal.
If we could get away from the mundane–what our materials are, the fact that we love certain colors or lines or compositions…..
If we could dig a little deeper and think about why we make the art we do….
If we could tell a richer, more personal story about our art…..
If we were willing to go the scary, deep place of who we are, and who we yearn to be in the world…
…People would see our work as the miracle in the world it truly is.
Sharing ‘unique’ processes, ‘unique’ inspiration, ‘unique’ love of color/shape/style, separates us from our audience.
Discovering what makes us tick as a human being, sharing what is truly in our hearts, connects us with our audience.
Be brave. Be YOU.
Tell Me A Story: Novelty
by Luann Udell
This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column “Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores 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. 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….” You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
Remember, to ordinary people, We are the people who ran away to join the circus.
Use the magic.
We humans love the odd and the curious.
The Guinness Book of Records. The story in your local newspaper about the calf born with two heads or the gardener who grew a monster-sized squash. The Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs TV program with Mike Rowe, who volunteers to try out the nation’s dirtiest, most disgusting work. And P.T. Barnum’s famous (or infamous) sideshow attractions. The proverbial “man bites dog” (vs. the boring and predictable “dog bites man”) stories.
What’s at the root of all these?
Although many of you have been inspired by this series of articles on using news values in your marketing, I know some are unconvinced of their value, and grumbling on the sidelines.
I know if some have protested the value of using sex and romance as a story hook, the idea of using novelty in our self-promotion (press releases, artist statement, advertising, etc.) will make them grind their teeth. I can hear it now….
“I’m a serious artist! I don’t want to even be considered in the same (news) ballpark as giant squash and weirdo publicity stunts!”
You—and I—are proud of our business skills, our hard-won credentials, the prestigious exhibits our work has appeared in—and rightly so. We’ve worked hard to get to where we are today, and we want to be taken seriously as artists.
We aren’t some ‘novelty act’ scrounging for a sound bite on the radio or conniving for a mention in the ‘weird news’ section of the newspaper.
Maybe. And…maybe not.
Consider this: In other people’s eyes, our very existence is the novelty.
I’ve sat through many, many seminars conducted by nationally-known speaker Bruce Baker, who talks about displaying and selling art and fine craft. Bruce is a compelling and entertaining speaker who’s spoken to tens of thousands of artists over the years, sharing his insights and observations on marketing. He has a knack for turning a phrase, and one of my favorites is this one:
“Above all, you as artists and craftspeople must remember: To the ordinary public, you are the people who ran away to join the circus!”
He means that our customers, the general public, and yes, sometimes our mothers, think of us as odd and highly unusual people. We didn’t grow up to be insurance salesmen or doctors or shop clerks or teachers. (Or, if those are our ‘day jobs’, they don’t completely define us.)
We are wild and crazy artists.
Oh, yes, we may be successful at what we do, and we may be as disciplined as a brain surgeon when it comes to refining our skills; we may be as focused as a CPA about our bottom line; we may be as dedicated as a teacher and as creative as…well, an artist.
But we did something most people only dream about—we ‘ran away’ from the ordinary life, and did something wonderful.
We work for ourselves, not a corporation or a boss. We set our own hours, create our own practice, follow our own professional goals.
Every day, we create something astonishing out of simple, common materials: A little paint, a few pencils, a glop of clay, a piece of wood.
We make something that looks so real, you want to reach into the canvas and stroke it. We create something that wasn’t there before, perhaps not even imagined before. Our work is found throughout human history, from the earliest dawn of prehistory to the newest 3D movie magic in the theater.
Sometimes the meaning of our work is crystal clear, at times so mysterious others can only guess at the story. When our work is good, it can transport people to another time, another place, another attitude, a deeper understanding and appreciation of their world.
It’s like we’re magicians. It’s like we’re…circus people! Off in our own world, traveling from show to show, creating marvels and miracles, and leaving our mark in people’s homes, in public places, in museums.
We ARE the novelty.
Put some of that magic, that awe, that suspension of belief into your writing. Use the special!
Now, of course, there are more ordinary uses of novelty. (A strange sentence, yes?) Perhaps, even among artists, you are different.
You may grind your own paints or use egg tempura in your murals.
You may specialize in painting airplane nose cone art, or balloon animal art, or other esoteric subject matter.
Perhaps, like Andy Goldsworthy, you’ve pioneered or popularized an unusual or ephemeral art form.
Or you’re the sidewalk artist who incorporates striking optical illusions in your chalk paintings.
Maybe you were an early adapter of the ATC (artist trading card) phenomenon, or the Painting a Day movement. What caught people’s attention was the novelty of the idea, the discipline of daily creation, the accessibility of small works and the (initially) low prices of such work. And, of course, the new idea—the novelty—of being able to view and trade or purchase such works on EBay.
Scratch the normal surface of what it is you do, and how you do it, and why you do it, and see if novelty is a story hook worth your consideration.
And even if it isn’t, understand that you yourself are also a novelty.
And I mean that in the nicest possible way.
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….)
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
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.
What with the big show I do in August (9 days, people–please remember that when I’m slow with your special orders!), and getting my daughter off to graduate school (first time she’s been too far away to visit) and then vacation (I did nothing for six whole days), I fear I’ve sadly neglected my blog.
I felt it, too. The guilt. Heck, I didn’t even do my morning pages. Didn’t keep up on Facebook, either.
This morning, I had an extra fifteen minutes, and pondered what to do with it. Check my email? Sure!
But then I realized I miss writing. I may drag my feet about it, but it’s like fun exercise–I always feel better after I do it.
So rather than waste time looking for my current journal, I simply started another one. (Because of this coping strategy, I often have three or four journals kicking around at any given point in time.)
And of course, I started off pissing and moaning about what an awful person I was for not writing for the past five weeks.
And then I stopped. I looked at what I’d written:
I haven’t written in…months.
And then I wrote:
I’d made a choice, every day. Write….or go to the beach. Write….or go out to breakfast with my husband. Write…or sleep in. Write…or pick up Meg and go ride horses.
I did not choose to write, every day, for five weeks. That’s all.
Do I regret any of those choices? Not a bit.
Eventually, I miss writing. I restructure my day to allow time to do it. Or I suddenly have something to say, and drop everything to get it down before I forget. (Dear readers, you have no idea how much wisdom I’ve had that has simply blown away in the wind of my busy-ness like so much lint.)
What helped me get here today was this post on time management (NOT) by Danielle LaPorte, whose blog WHITE HOT TRUTH is one of my favorite reads. I’d long given up trying to be super-productive–lost my mojo a few years ago–but I hadn’t given myself permission to not feel guilty about it. When I read her post, I laughed out loud in relief.
Most of our choices are simply that….choices. Yes, there are good choices and bad choices. But it’s not always so clear which are which.
Work in the studio, or blow it off to have lunch with a friend? If you are honoring your art, and fiercely protecting your creative time, then perhaps the former is the right choice for you today. And maybe that friend is annoying, and always leaves you feeling vaguely unsettled.
But perhaps something says you need to honor your friendship today. Maybe your friend needs some love and support. Maybe it’s you who needs the love and support. (And hey, maybe, like me, you’re the annoying friend.)
Different times, different goals, different stages of life call for different choices. The sooner we allow ourselves to simply be who we are, today, the happier we can be.
So instead of a to-do list today, I simply set some priorities. I had three pages of writing with a great idea for an article. Done. I thought of all the ‘have-to’s’ I have to today, and picked the one that keeps coming back–the new design that’s just right for a store that’s waiting on some new work from me. There’s a friend who’s special order just keeps popping into my mind. I’ll work on her piece today. And I’ll make the phone call to another friend whose need is greatest, and make time for her.
But the first thing I did this morning, after my morning pages, was my favorite.
I went riding.
The first frost of the season killed off most of the annoying bugs. The sun was brilliant, but the morning was cool, perfect riding weather. I had unexpected (and welcome) company on my ride. My muscles are sore–I’m finally healing after a back injury last fall, and foot surgery this spring–and it feels good to be sore from riding. From doing something I love.
My blessing for you today:
May you choose for yourself today, the thing that will make you the happiest.
And may you have many opportunities to do so.
N.B. In the interest of full disclosure, I did write my column for The Crafts Report. And I did my columns for the Fine Art Views newsletter. And I wrote several times to my son, who moved out two months ago (to a house two blocks from here.) And I kept up on some crucial emails.
So, yeah, I wrote. But isn’t the point of this column still a good one?
You know what? I’m just too lazy to write today. So when this amazing post on how to tell if you’re doing your life work fell into my inbox today, I just had to share it with you. (I’ve already bookmarked Everyday Bright for future reads.)
And yesterday I was telling a friend about Eddie Izzard, and she’d never heard of him. So your chuckle for today is this clip of Eddie explaining world history for you in a totally new way.
See? Even on days when I feel like doing absolutely nothing important, I’m still thinking about you! :^)
If someone else thinks you’re special, it must be true!
Another article I wrote for Fine Art Views, on using story hooks in your press releases and promotional literature….
Tell Me a Story: Eminence
by Luann Udell
Prominence and eminence as news values baffled me when I first read about them. Think of ‘prominence’ as people who are celebrated for whatever reason, and how they are connected to you. And think of ‘eminence’ as honors/celebrity bestowed on YOU. […]
Read the rest of this article at:
This excerpt appears courtesy of FineArtViews Art Marketing Newsletter by FASO,
a free email newsletter about art, marketing, inspiration and fine living for artists,
collectors and galleries (and anyone else who loves art).
For a complimentary subscription, visit: http://www.fineartviews.com
Sometimes we could–should–listen to our hearts instead of our bodies.
It’s been a long, wonderful week at this year’s League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair up at Mt. Sunapee Resort in Newbury, NH. Busy! So busy the time seems to fly by. Lots of new faces, and familiar ones, tales of happiness and sorrow.
My heart is full when I come home, but my body is racked with pain.
Last night, I had a session with a chiropractor, who, like me, has a martial arts background. I mentioned I was thinking of returning to my practice. The hurdle is this: Usually I return to classes to get in shape. As I age, I should really be in better shape before I attempt to do that.
He said it was a wise choice. I’ve had a lot of injuries and another surgery in the last year, and things–alignment, balance–are out of whack. “If you return now, without letting your body heal, your muscle memory will kick in. Your body will try to do the things you used to do. But you can’t do them right now, and you’ll injure yourself trying.”
Aha! That’s why some of my ‘returns’ have been so short-lived!
That phrase–muscle memory–stuck in my mind, and helped me understand where some of my discomfort at the Fair comes from.
Most people think we artists and craftspeople are like a big family. Well, that’s more true than you know. When I first joined the ranks, I felt like I’d found my tribe, my true heart’s home. It was a shock to realize it really is like a big family. (I have personal experience–I’m the oldest of seven children.)
Some of us don’t speak to each other. Others come to us for support and comfort and inspiration constantly. Professional jealousy rears its ugly head constantly. And there are others who cheer us on with every step.
Set-up is the hardest. One minute you’re offering someone your precious stool, and the next you’re snarling at them to move their junk out of your booth space.
Sometimes too much has passed between you. Then there is no opportunity missed for a caustic remark to be made, even as you win an award. Some cannot even bring themselves to greet you as you pass on your many trips to the bathroom or Fair office (or the bar at the top of the hill.)
For these times, there is muscle memory: Your body, remembering the acts of unkindness, shrinks when you see them, and you cannot bring yourself to even pretend to be polite anymore.
But there is a way out.
Over the years, I’ve learned that, 99% of the time, someone who is causing you anguish, is carrying their own tight anguish inside their heart. In short–it’s not about you. It’s about THEM. You happen to be a convenient target.
And sometimes it’s us. We’ve done somebody wrong, and it’s time to admit that. Take responsibility for it, and say, “I’m sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me. And if you can’t, I understand.”
Then try to live with the fact that we, too, are imperfect people.
I have done things I’ve had to ask forgiveness for. And sweet Jesus, I received it. I have others who have asked forgiveness from me, and I am overwhelmed by their humility–and courage. It takes real courage to apologize. I know. I’ve been there.
In the end, we have to trust the work of our hands, and the work of our hearts. We live in this tribe, in many tribes, actually. We live in this world.
I like to think if we could trust the muscle memory of of hearts and spirits, a little more than the muscle memory of our bodies, just a little….
Then maybe someday we could even have peace in the Middle East.
Okay, that last line is a family joke, and perhaps not even a very good one. (“I hat you” is also a long-standing family joke.)
But that’s what families are for–a place where we can work out our little dramas and big heartaches, and ultimately find a place where we can stand and say, “You’re a poop, but I love you, and yes, I forgive you. Seventy times seven.”
And cross our hearts and hope for the best.
May you be able to forgive, seventy times seven. And may you also be forgiven, at least ten times as much.
Being a part of someone’s life, because of the work we make, is a powerful thing.
Today is Day 4 at my big retail show, The League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair. It’s been exciting, exhausting, enervating, exhilarating, excellent and entertaining. Sort of New Hampshire’s own Big E.
Years ago, a mother and her young daughter came to my booth. The girl–around 9 or 10–fell in love with my horse jewelry, and begged her mom for a necklace.
“No way!” exclaimed her mom. “You always lose your jewelry. You lose everything!”
The girl pleaded her case, promising she would cherish the necklace. There was a little bargaining involved, I found a horse necklace that was a little less expensive, and both of them left with their Luann Udell horse.
Scene: My booth, one year later. A girl and her mother walk in the booth. The girl is wearing–my horse necklace!
We hug and laugh. Her mother tells me the story: “Every night, before she goes to bed, she takes off her necklace and places it in the gift box you gave her. And every morning, she puts it back on. It is the last thing she does before she sleeps, and the first thing she does after she wakens.”
I was so moved that she loved my work so much. I told this story to a friend. She said, “Do you realize, Luann, that YOUR jewelry is her first piece of ‘grown-up jewelry’? Your necklace took her to the next place in her life–you’ve been a part of her growing up.”
Now they come back every year. Sometimes the daughter buys a pair of earrings, sometimes her mother buys a necklace. Sometimes they pick something together, agreeing to share it between them.
It is beautiful to watch them.
They came this year. The girl is a young woman now. There is talk of college, maybe even a gap year program. As always, the love and warmth between them is obvious. She picks a pair of earrings, Mom picks a beautiful necklace–with a promise to share. They may be back for the girl to pick another ‘big’ piece for graduation. As they leave, I feel tears coming.
Yes, their purchases over the years have supported me as an artist. They are lovely people and I’m honored they love my work.
But even more, I am humbled at the idea that I am now a part of their family story. My work, from my hands, graces their lives. It encouraged a child to take her first steps to adulthood, and greater responsibilities. It’s been part of her life for almost a decade now, and will be with her on her first steps out into a bigger world.
I have been a witness to this. I’ve been invited to be a part of this. My art has been my ambassador, and I am astonished and grateful.
Today another young girl and her mother came to my booth for the first time. The girl begged her mother for a horse necklace. I shared this story with them. They laughed, the mother looking thoughtful. They looked and tried on a few pieces, then moved on to see the rest of the Fair.
I have a feeling they’ll be back.
As hard as it is to do this show, these moments, these precious moments, remind me of what the world asks of me. They remind me that my gift serves others, sometimes gentle, sometimes obscured, but always with purpose.
It is why I am here, today, at the Fair.
I’m reprinting this article I wrote on June 2, 2005, because it bears repeating. (And because it’s so hard to find on my old blog at RadioUserland…)
I’m doing a series of articles at Fine Art Views, an art marketing blog I write for. I realized this post is still timely when talking about marketing our art.
CHARIOTS OF FIRE and the World Batik Conference
In a few weeks I’ll be presenting a speech at the World Batik Conference at Boston College of Art.
I’m speaking on self-promotion for artists, specifically the art of press kits and press releases.
The time is limited, and the message must be succinct. I asked one of the organizers what she felt I had to say would be the most value to their audience.
She didn’t even have to think about it. She said, “In other countries, there is a huge cultural bias against putting your art forward, of appearing too proud of your work. It’s seen as bragging or being boastful. People have a difficult time thinking about promoting their art and themselves. Can you address that?”
I’ve been thinking of it ever since. It’s not just artists in some other countries who have that bias.
It can be very hard to convince most people—especially women, especially artists—that it is not only desirable, it is essential we put our art out into the world at every opportunity. That it is not a selfish act, but an act of generosity.
In fact it is the greatest gift–the ultimate gift–we can make to the world.
My favorite line from the movie “Chariots of Fire” is when the missionary/runner Eric Liddell explains to his sister why he will indeed compete in the 1924 Olympics, though it seems to conflict with their religious goals and plans:
I believe God made me for a purpose; but He also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure. To give it up would be to hold Him in contempt; to win is to honor Him.
When we are given a gift, we must remember that the pleasure the giver gets is anticipating and enjoying the pleasure the gift will give us.
To renounce the gift, to deny its potential, is to ultimately negate the spirit in which it was given. No good comes of that. Love, real love, is not served by that.
I truly believe it is the same with the gifts we are born with. Whoever/whatever you feel is the source of that gift—God (by any name or names), nature, DNA, random chance, the Force. It appeared in Y*O*U. It’s part of what makes you…you know…YOU.
And note that the gift may not simply be what we are good at, but what gives us joy. Don’t confuse talent with passion. They may both be involved in the gift. But what really drives our watch is not the precise movement of the second hand but the spring inside. (Or the battery. Or the electricity coming through the cord. Oh, never mind….)
Find what you are put here on earth to do. Find what gives you joy. Do it, and share it whenever possible with others. Tell it to the world. Show us. Don’t even pretend you know what ripples it will make, or how it will all play out—we can’t know that.
But know that whatever creative force in the universe you celebrate, will be pleased.
It’s been a busy month, with a week-long gig at a glorious old grand hotel as artist-in-residence (and marriage counselor); our son moving into his own digs (it’s time, it was expected, but Oh God, it was still hard….) and my daughter Robin announcing her engagement to a very nice young man named….Rob. (He told me earnestly last week, “Mrs. Udell, when you say ‘Rob’, I can almost always tell which one of us you’re talking to!”
So marriage, and committment is on my mind today. Mine, my daughter’s, and the delightful woman I spoke with at length during little artist workshops I gave at The Balsams.
How on earth did I end up advising a perfect stranger about marriage?? It started when the woman corrected me when I referred to her partner as her husband. “We’re not married, but we’ve been together 10 years,” she said. I asked why they hadn’t married. It was a sad story of a difficult first marriage, and fear about making that kind of commitment again.
We talked over several days. It was obvious they were both good people and cared deeply for each other. She said she had no doubts about him–“He’s a good man.” But still she was afraid of history repeating itself.
I finally said to her, “Don’t make decisions out of fear.”
How long does it take for a man to prove to his beloved that he is the real deal? That his love is real, and their relationship is based on respect and love?
It’s like saying, “When I have a lot of money, then I’ll feel safe.” Then you have a million dollars, but it’s still not enough. “When I have TWO million dollars, then I’ll feel safe.” True story, from Martha Beck.
If 10 years is not enough for someone to prove their intentions, what will another 5 years mean? Another 10? A lifetime?
And you’ve essentially said to this person you love, “Actually, ‘never’ is good. Is ‘never’ good for you?”
Of course, I immediately felt I’d overstepped myself and apologized.
But the day I left for home, she told me she was starting to change her mind.
Later that same day, my baby girl told me Rob had proposed to her, and she had accepted.
My only concern was they hadn’t known each other for years and years, and began dating each other only recently. Did they have enough evidence to make this decision? What if it didn’t work out?
Then I realized I’d decided about Jon in just about as much time.
And I realized there is no way to be absolutely sure about love. We make our best guess, based on the evidence that matters to us.
And we take that magical leap of trust, and hope.
She posted her relationship status change on Facebook, and my husband had this to say:
It has been a wonderful thing to behold. Rob and Robin are highly self-aware people who are smart enough to know the right thing when they see it, and strong enough to work through a process that will take some time and adjustment. I was quite unprepared for how happy this has made me!
My post? “Plus he’s funny & SAYS he thinks we’re nice!”
What does this have to do with art? Plenty. Why am I writing about marriage here today?
Because so many of the things that really matter in the world are based on this leap of faith.
Pursuing your passion. Making art. Getting married. Having kids.
Even pursuing success, when I deconstructed my desires for it, came from a need to show my love and commitment for my art; to hope people love it–and me!; to create a teensy bit more love and hope in the world with the work of my hands and my words.
Whether we mean it or not, whether we sought it or not, or found it or not, love has been by our side every step of the way.
Sometimes we are surrounded by people who cannot show their love very well, or even by some who can’t love very well.
Sometimes we have to create for ourselves the love we can only imagine.
But it’s there. And if we are lucky, and if we are open to it…
When we find it in some small measure, it is a treasure.
And when we find it in abundance, it is a blessing.
The more times I sit by a hospice bedside, holding someone’s hand as they they go out on the tide of their life, the more I know the truth of these hauntingly beautiful words…
…Time has transfigures them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.
by Phillip Larkin, from “An Arundel Tomb”
In all that you do, in all that you make with your whole heart, may love find you there.
I’m in a tear trying to get ready for a jam-packed weekend. Our 29th wedding anniversary is Sunday, and that’s actually #5 on our list of things to do.
On Monday, we stuff my booth into our car and drive four hours north to
The Balsams, where I’ll be doing a week-long artist-in-residency for the hotel guests–teaching classes, demo-ing, displaying and (hopefully!) selling my artwork.
This kind of thing is really hard on a perfectionist like moi. Trying to do everything perfectly, preparing for every contingency, planning on providing the perfect artistic experience… It’s easy to get lost in all the mundane details of getting everything from here to there, retrieving artwork from other exhibitions today, trying to figure out where my beloved Claudia Rose rubber stamps are. (They’re perfect for the make it & take it workshops I do at The Balsams.)
I know we’ll get all the way up there and I’ll realize I’ve forgotten some critical piece of display or equipment. There will be tears and late-night searches for duct tape and twine, and wondering where the heck I packed the bug spray.
And like a little feather of hope falling gently into my life, came a little card in the mail today.
It was from someone I’d done something nice for a few weeks ago. Short story, part of the nice was a little pair of handmade earrings I threw into a package at the last minute. It wasn’t even my signature polymer work. They were pearl earrings accented with hand-soldered and shaped sterling wire accents, very pretty and organic. But, in my mind, nothing extraordinary at all.
What stopped my buzzy brain was this line:
Luann–the earrings are beautiful! I’ve never had a piece of jewelry that was made by someone I knew. I will wear them often & think of you when I do!
This woman–an intelligent, multi-degreed, active and attractive woman–has never owned a piece of jewelry made by someone she knows…. And she is astonished.
That tiny little gesture I made on a whim, has shifted her whole perception of handmade jewelry. She now owns something she deems doubly–no, triply precious: they are beautiful, they are handmade, they are handmade by me, her friend. Her mind boggles.
How often do we diminish our gifts?
How many times have you thought, “Well, yeah, these are cute. But I’ll never make anything as cool as so-and-so, world-famous artist person.”
How many times have we underpriced our work, certain that no one will think it’s actually worth the time, the skill and the creative vision we’ve put into it?
How many times have we hesitated about entering an exhibition, or approaching a gallery, or doing a new show, certain that no one would really be interested in our work?
How many times have we secretly squirmed when a customer admired our work or even bought it, wondering what they’d think if they knew how easy it was for us to make it?
I do it all the time. Even when I set a reasonable price for my work, I often find myself apologizing for it.
What we do isn’t easy, except that we’ve gotten very good at doing it.
What we do isn’t ordinary, except that it is so familiar to us.
What we do isn’t unworthy, because it comes from the skill of our hands, the judgment of our eyes, the passion in our hearts.
What we do is just….amazing.
Sometimes, it takes another person, someone whose life works on other levels, in other circles–perhaps even one who saves lives, as this woman does–to see the beauty, the astonishment, the miracle in what we do.
We are magical.
Artist statement resources for the folks who are smarter/better/more educated/more sophisticated/more talented than me.
It’s our choice. We can make the commitment to say something meaningful and compelling about our work.
Or we can stick with the attitude that people need to educate themselves in order to really appreciate our work.
I’ve been writing a series of articles for Fine Art Views newsletter about how to punch up your stories–Your artist statement, your artist bio/cv, your press releases. This series, TELL ME A STORY, starts here. The second article is here:, and the next two will appear June 23 and July 7, 2011. Mark your calendars! (Or just subscribe to Fine Art Views newsletter–it’s free!)
Some people are ready to hear this stuff. Others, not so much. When I get resistance, I hear one of two things:
“Can’t you just give me a template, and let me fill in the blanks?”
“I really think art critics, galleries and art-collecting audiences want something more….sophisticated than a ‘story’.”
Well, say no more! If this is what you want, I’ve found just the tools for you.
This tongue-in-cheek artist statement template-driven generator by 10Gallon.com is perfect for those who just want to fill in the blanks. My first attempt resulted in this distinctively different artist statement:
Through my work I attempt to examine the phenomenon of Quick Draw McGraw as a methaphorical interpretation of both Georgia O’Keefe and fixing people.
What began as a personal journey of frackism has translated into images of cookies and arms that resonate with Caucasian people to question their own aquamarineness.
My mixed media dog images embody an idiosyncratic view of Billy Graham, yet the familiar imagery allows for a connection between Janis Joplin, cats and french fries.
My work is in the private collection of Darrin McGavin who said ‘Yeow!! That’s some real shapely Art.’
I am a recipient of a grant from Folsom Prison where I served time for stealing mugs and tie clips from the gift shop of The Peabody Museum. I have exhibited in group shows at McDonald’s and the Pucker Gallery in Boston, MA, though not at the same time. I currently spend my time between my den and Berlin.
I’m sure with a little practice, you could get something a little less silly.
For the academically-minded crowd, this artist statement writing tool site from Gurney Journey will surely appeal. It’s actually easier to use than the previous one. No need to even fill in the blanks! Try it. It’s a handy little exercise to create a bang-up, very academic-sounding artist statement in no time flat. All you have to do is combine any items from three different lists, and voila! An artist statement that is sure to start a spirited discussion about your work among the (g)literati.
But for those who don’t even have time to read through the lists, there’s more! This totally
mindless automatic artist statement generator it sooooo easy, you don’t have to do anything except click on a tab.
My first result using the Arty Bollocks Generator was promising:
My work explores the relationship between the body and skateboard ethics.
With influences as diverse as Wittgenstein and John Lennon, new combinations are crafted from both simple and complex layers.
Ever since I was a student I have been fascinated by the ephemeral nature of meaning. What starts out as triumph soon becomes corroded into a tragedy of power, leaving only a sense of decadence and the possibility of a new reality.
As shifting phenomena become frozen through boundaried and diverse practice, the viewer is left with an insight into the limits of our era.
Hmmmmm. Not…quite. So I tried again. I got a message that said I was a little hard to please, and this new statement:
My work explores the relationship between new class identities and midlife subcultures.
With influences as diverse as Wittgenstein and John Lennon, new synergies are generated from both simple and complex textures.
Ever since I was a teenager I have been fascinated by the ephemeral nature of meaning. What starts out as vision soon becomes corrupted into a dialectic of greed, leaving only a sense of what could have been and the prospect of a new beginning.
As temporal impressions become clarified through emergent and diverse practice, the viewer is left with an impression of the inaccuracies of our era.
I still wasn’t satisfied (and the ABG got a little crabby), but I persisted. I clicked the tab again and came up with this one:
My work explores the relationship between postmodern discourse and urban spaces.
With influences as diverse as Nietzsche and Andy Warhol, new synergies are crafted from both simple and complex textures.
Ever since I was a child I have been fascinated by the theoretical limits of relationships. What starts out as hope soon becomes debased into a tragedy of temptation, leaving only a sense of chaos and the inevitability of a new beginning.
As shifting forms become clarified through boundaried and diverse practice, the viewer is left with a statement of the edges of our condition.
Wow! Pretty good! But why settle for pretty good when I can have the best? My next try resulted in this one:
My work explores the relationship between emerging sexualities and urban spaces.
With influences as diverse as Kierkegaard and Francis Bacon, new combinations are created from both explicit and implicit layers.
Ever since I was a student I have been fascinated by the traditional understanding of relationships. What starts out as triumph soon becomes debased into a tragedy of lust, leaving only a sense of decadence and the inevitability of a new synthesis.
As spatial impressions become frozen through diligent and personal practice, the viewer is left with a glimpse of the inaccuracies of our world.
The ABG grumbled that I was a bit of a perfectionist, but I just couldn’t resist one more try:
My work explores the relationship between postmodern discourse and recycling culture.
With influences as diverse as Blake and Roy Lichtenstein, new tensions are created from both traditional and modern textures.
Ever since I was a teenager I have been fascinated by the theoretical limits of meaning. What starts out as hope soon becomes debased into a cacophony of lust, leaving only a sense of decadence and the prospect of a new reality.
As temporal phenomena become transformed through emergent and diverse practice, the viewer is left with an impression of the edges of our future.
I decided to quit while I was ahead, and told the Arty Bollocks Generator, “Enough already.”
Yep, I had a good laugh. But the scary thing about these very tongue-in-cheek exercises?
These actually sound like real artist statements..
I’m not highly educated, but I do have an MA. And half the time, when I read these ‘sophisticated statements’, I have no idea what the person is talking about. Are these really the things they lie awake nights thinking about? ( Me? I tend to lie awake trying to remember if I let the cats in.)
Remember–It’s our choice.
We can stick with the attitude that people need to educate themselves in order to really appreciate our work.
(Let us know how that works for ya, okay?)
We can try to sound like every other artist who wants to sound intellectual, academic, and obtuse.
Or we can do some work. Get real. Get sincere.
Say what is in our hearts.
We can strive to say something meaningful and compelling about our art that anyone can understand.
When your life is full of poop, it’s time to stop and smell the roses.
We had a rough week. Nothing serious, nothing even very exciting. Just one of those times where you feel out of it and out of synch. You feel your battery draining instead of charging, and your feet drag for no good reason.
We also picked up two more Potcake puppies from Logan Airport in Boston. And for the next two days, I was frantically thinking, “What have I done??!!”
The pups seemed overly shy and anxious. To make it worse, they’re BIG. Much bigger than any pups we’ve fostered. And heavy. It’s hard to keep up with two puppies to begin with, let alone two you have to chase, and hoist with a big ‘oof!’ and even then, I could only hold one at a time. Twice as hard to manage.
I complained loudly to anyone who would listen. The woman at the rescue operation on the islands they came from; the shelter contact we’ll be delivering the pups to soon; my husband. And myself, in a running chattering dialog of “What-was-I-thinking-I-can’t-do-this-these-pups-are-awful-who-knew-such-a-small-critter-could-hold-so-much-poop-dammit-get-back-here-oh-my-back-OMG-he’s-peeing-AGAIN-help-help-HELP!!!!”
Having kids was like this. And starting my art career. And doing my first show. Come to think of it, doing all my shows. Learning how to shoot my own photos for my online shop. Teaching my first workshop for artists. Teaching my first grief writing workshop.
Everything that’s worth doing comes with some dog doo.
Two days later, the pups have calmed down. They’re on a schedule of eating/outside to eliminate/play/sleep. Rinse and repeat.
My sanity returned. Time for damage control!
I wrote a contrite letter of apology to my island contact and another to my local shelter contact for my overreaction. I eased up with the pups. I made peace with my husband.
I realized the gift these puppies are to me.
They’ve traveled a long way from home, through scary airports with complete strangers, without food, in tiny carry-on bags. They arrive to a place with snow (yes, we had snow on Easter Sunday!) and a suspicious older dog and a houseful of grumpy teens and adults.
If that were me I’m not sure I would have been on my best behavior, either.
Marriage, kids, puppies, and yes, art, come into our lives with much romance and excitement. Eventually this is overshadowed by the sheer drudgery and weight of custodial care. You and your spouse have to agree on who’s turn it is to do dishes, and who gets to go into their office and shut the door for a few hours. Kids need custodial care the first few years, and emotional care forever. Pups and kittens sometimes seem to be a conduit of poop from another dimension. (Well. Human infants, too.) With art and career and writing come days of discouragement, missed deadlines, disgruntled gallery owners, difficult customers, sagging sales.
When everything goes wrong, we’re very quick to complain. We want to bail. We wonder if we made the right choices. And is a quickie Mexican divorce really that simple and inexpensive?
When I feel this way, I know it’s time to stop. Breathe. And think about what has to change.
Sometimes we really have barked up the wrong tree. (Dog pun. Sorry!) If everything about what we’re doing is draining our battery and never recharges, then maybe it’s time to consider a new direction.
Maybe we need to change our way of doing things. What’s worked for us in the past may need to be tweaked now. With teens, we learn to choose our battles. At shows, we find ways to streamline our set-up. With big puppies, more structure and containment is necessary.
Sometimes we just need to see beyond the poop for a moment. We need to stop and smell the roses. We must remember that the most fragrant and beautiful roses–antique roses–come with plenty of thorns. When the thorns prick us, that’s the time to slow down. And sniff.
Caring for these puppies transports me to the days when my children were young. It was a lot of work, but there was even more joy. Like children, these pups come into this world with a powerful need to be loved, and the desire to love in return. Both of these young ones will do almost anything to get that love. They learn to control their bowels and bladders (though it can feel like an eternity, as my teacher sister says, “They’re always potty trained by kindergarten.”) They learn not to chew on your favorite shoes, or use them for a Barbie bathtub.
In return, they teach you that it’s never a waste of time to sit quietly in the sun on a warm spring day, watching young things gambol and cavort in the new green grass.
They teach you that there is nothing quite so wonderful as a good belly laugh–from them, or from you. (And I swear those pups are laughing.)
They teach you that when you hold them in your arms, and they gaze at your with perfect knowledge they are safe and sound, and profoundly loved, there is no better balm in the world for a troubled heart.
So I’m grateful for the gift of these puppies today. They’re beautiful dogs, full of joy and hope, ready for their forever homes. They’ve given me peace in my heart. They’ve reminded me of what it means to be alive, to be in the world, with all its joy and beauty.
And all the poo that comes with it, of course.
Aren’t you glad I didn’t say you had to learn to love the smell of poo?
P.S. Jack and Gillie will soon be on their way to the Monadnock Humane Society in Swanzey, NH soon. Help spread the word!