I sensed it when I first reached out to an old, dear friend, months ago. I was relieved to find she was glad to hear from me. Yet no new messages followed.
We hadn’t parted on bad terms, really. Oh, I look back and cringe when I see how I sometimes took her friendship for granted. And how I pushed–too much–for her to get her art out into the world.
She was my Wise Woman friend for years, as I slowly broke out of my eggshell beliefs that I wasn’t good enough to be a real artist. She was in my first “artist retreat”, a workshop led by another Wise Woman, about how to find true support from a small circle of trusted cohorts. We would celebrate each others’ successes when the world noticed us. We would raise each other up when the world took us down a peg.
As I grew more confident, and knowledgeable (I thought), I began to urge her to be more visible in the world.
It’s easy to believe we know better than others. I felt I knew what was best for her. And she (rightly so) resisted, firmly.
So we drifted gently apart for awhile. And then both of us eventually moved thousands of miles away, until we both found ourselves out West, me on in Northern California, her in Nevada.
My early blog posts and personal journals are filled with her words of wisdom. She taught me so much. She could be so honest, it hurt. But not in a mean way. In a way that held my feet firmly to the fire of my own self-doubt and whine-iness. (Yes, I’m a bit of a whiner. There. I said it.) Because of her, I began to grow a backbone. (Still growing. Not done yet.)
In a few small ways, I helped her, too. She is a potter, specializing in pit-fired vessels. Determined to be professional in every way, she asked us (our group) for help to build a body of work for exhibiting and selling.
After several suggestions were shot down, I thought to ask her this question: What is your production process now?
She explained how, when her husband got home from work, they would eat dinner and watch TV together in their warm and cozy den, and talk. Every night, almost without fail. She hated working in her basement studio, alone. She wanted to be with Bob, and so she chose him.
As they sat, she worked a lump of clay, turning it into a beautiful hand-pinched pot, ready for the kiln.
“Every night?” I asked her.
“And every one is a good one? Good enough to exhibit, or sell?”
“So at the end of a year, you have over 300 good pots?”
“Is that enough for a year’s worth of exhibits and sales?”
So she had a reliable process that slowly-but-steadily created a beautiful, substantial body of work. Why would she mess with that??
She said it didn’t sound very professional. She felt she was doing it wrong.
I hope in this single, small way, I helped her realize that any way you get your work made, and out into the world, is ‘professional’ enough.
So today I just learned that her husband died.
Almost half a century together. So many years. So much love.
I took her pots out today. I only have a few, but I treasure them.
And when I look into the graceful swirling edges, the haunting mystery of their interiors, the hand-polished exteriors, everything of her hands and fingertips, their shared hours of companionship, togetherness, a life built from fragile–yet resilient–human clay, filled with laughter, and children, and family, and friends, and home, and art.
Each pot, made with love, surrounded by love, infused with love.
In yesterday’s post, I shared what is–has been–a huge part of my life: The blender. A constant buzz and swirl of chatter in my head. Even as a child, I mulled and ruminated. (Odd. Both of those can also be food words.) Hashing and rehashing events, issues, questions, worries. I’ve always felt like a blender!
I know that’s part of the human condition. In our modern world, especially for most of us who have….enough (even when it doesn’t seem like it), our little buzzy brains are always busy. Evolved over millennia to watch for lions, tigers, and bears, now we imagine danger (and worse, humiliation) in every shadow and behind every corner. (Unless you are a sociopath or a narcissist, in which case you have a lot less buzz. But people don’t like you very much.)
Let’s add another string bean to the blender: I’ve had tinnitus my entire life. I thought everybody had a ringing chord in their brain. I thought I was hearing electricity, that the power lines connecting our houses were thrumming with it. I was six when I realized only I could hear it.
It’s never gone away, and probably never will.
So a week ago, I began my blender meditation.
Wednesday morning: I imagine a blender. I put in some water, some ice, oil. A few peas. (Peas, Quinn? Why??) A strawberry. Some food coloring. In my mind I turned it on, I watched, I waited. And then I turned it off, just as the alarm on my timer went off, too.
I wrote one word in my journal: Yuck. (It made me queasy.)
Thursday a.m. I put something different in the blender: Rocks. Small pebbles, sand, silt. Leaf litter and debris. Water. Sediment layers!! (I love geology!) And some floaty plastic bead things. I’d been using one of those hot/cold gel pads on my cat bites (a story for another day), and they obviously intrigued me to the point where they got stuck in my head.
I thought this was a great visualization, because I’ve done this before (without a blender), and marveled at how well the ingredients settle out. And each layer has a potential purpose. Gravel can pave a path. Small grit can be used in concrete. We can use one layer to make clay for pottery. We can drink the water. The debris? Compost!
I also realized it was the sound of the blender (that high-pitched grating whine) that made me feel queasy.
And I thought of my tinnitus, because sometimes it, too, sounds whiney.
But what if that whine had layers, too? Sometimes I can ‘hear’ it as a chord, a blend of many tones. Sometimes I imagine it as the noise of my own body (one theory about lifelong tinnitus)
What if I were actually hearing….the steady tone of the universe??
I raised my open hands to that achey place, and held them there. I felt comforted.
Then the alarm went off. I wrote all these thoughts down.
On Friday, I worried about my rock smoothie. What if the rocks broke the blender?! What a mess, right? So instead of rocks and dirt, I realized I could put shoulda/coulda/woulda into the blender. All the second guessing, all the remorse, all the replays of the bad moments of my life, the fears (“I could do that! But wait….what if….??”), the self-doubt, the self-recriminations….
As the whine grew louder in my head, there suddenly came a flash of insight:
I could add “I shall” and “I will” to the blender. And…I could add “maybe”.
As in, “Maybe I will, and maybe I won’t.” As in, “I don’t have to make a decision. In fact, I can decide not to decide.”
Again, I put my hands to that achey place, and felt comforted.
The blender wavered. And then the alarm went off. I wrote all these thoughts down.
On Saturday I got all caught up in the details. Rocks? I could, too, pick them up with wet hands! (Part of Quinn’s metaphor about the uselessness of trying to corral those thoughts.) (Yet another aspect of the human brain. We love to rebut.)
I decided to go back to the peas and strawberries, etc.
Then I thought of Quinn’s comment: “I see you circling the ‘problem’ with your back to it.” I imagined what that would look like. I immediately thought of Mike Birbiglia’s comedy routine, “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend”, and his description of the amusement park ride, The Scrambler. (Later in his routine, he actually spins and wheels across the stage to demonstrate, but I can’t find that bit.)
I laughed out loud. And the timer went off.
On Sunday, it was about the noise again. The blender was whining. Jon was outside with our new weed-whacker. The refrigerator hummed. My tinnitus was ringing. Noise! The noise was unbearable.
And suddenly, I saw the noise as something different.
Everything is doing what it’s supposed to do.
My body is alive–heart pumping, blood flowing, ears listening, brain processing the wonder of all this, even as I sit quietly in my chair. The fridge is keeping our food cool and safe. The weed-whacker is whacking weeds. The universe doing its universing thing.
My brain is doing what it’s supposed to do. Overdoing it, perhaps. But it’s not a bad brain. It’s just busy, acquiring information, assessing each bit for danger, for possibility and usefulness.
Simply observing it at work is a marvel. Our minds are a gift. My life is a gift.
I suddenly realized, my brain is simply trying, in its own way, to take care of me. It’s busy evaluating each possibility, examining the potential of each thought, even the ones I cannot control, the ones I have absolutely no power over.
And if I can keep out of the process, just for a moment, I realize it will all settle out on its own, into the layers that I can contemplate later at my leisure: Hmmmm, no, that one is not a danger I have to act on. That one is interesting, but not actionable right now. That one is a possibility, but I don’t have to decide right now.
My responsibility? To let that gift do what’s supposed to do. Let it expand. Let it sift. But don’t lose sight of what’s important.
I am meant to grow. To learn, to expand.
I am meant to to sift. To let go of what does not serve me: Fretting, mulling, worrying.
I am meant to forgive, myself and others, to take the lessons learned and move on.
I am meant to share what I am, what I make. I share what I make with my hands, sometimes by selling, but also by exchanging, by writing about it, by giving it away. In its own time, at its own pace.
I thought of the ache in my chest (I never think of my ‘heart’ as the source except metaphorically. It’s always at the top of my chest, for some reason.) I raised my open hands to that ache, to comfort it. I felt peace. Love. Relief.
The words, “We learned there were rules to being human…” (shame, guilt, feel of humiliation if we don’t do it right.) “We stopped listening to the humming in our veins…” (My tinnitus! One theory of tinnitus is that the sound is in every one of us, but most have learned to ‘screen it out’…) With the beating of my heart, and the chord of music I carry everywhere, even the odd musical note that is the blender of my brain, is music.
I thought about dancing. What would dancing to that music be like?
Suddenly, the noise of the blender receded, even before I turned the blender off.
In its place I heard the thrum of traffic, more noticeable because many trees lost their leaves and so don’t muffle the noise. But spring is here, and the leaves are coming back.
I heard the cherk of saucy jays, and the tiny pips of unknown birds (new to me) that I call ‘pipkins’ (until I learn their proper name.) I heard the voices of children playing in the neighborhood. (School holiday?) I heard the clock ticking, measuring time in its sometimes helpful, sometimes annoying way. I heard the timer’s alarm.
And I felt peace in my heart.
Today was Tuesday. And I only wrote down two phrases:
Tardigrade, aka ‘water bears’. (Google it, it’s weird.) (Should I be freaked out??)
And 4-7-8, the new “guaranteed-to-help-you-sleep’ breath count. Which I’ve tried, and feel like I’m suffocating. (Am I doing it wrong??)
I laugh. And get ready to start my day, with a little peace in my heart.
What’s the problem I’m circling with my back to it? I still have no idea.
But I know Quinn will be there to help me sort it out. I know Sheri will be back in a week. My kids are visiting later this month, and my daughter has assured me the too-tiny fold out sofa bed will be fine.
All I have to do is trust my process. And enjoy the day.
Did you find that helpful? Part of me worries that you won’t.
But mostly I did what I do: Shared it with you, to help you on your journey, wherever the ripples take you.
And that’s all I have to do, today.
p.s. Oh, and clean the cat litter. And make the bed. And go work out. And go to the studio. And maybe go grocery shopping. And put the too-tiny sofa bed together. And clean the bathrooms, kitchen, back hallway, and basement. And everything else. And not worry about galleries, publicity, sales, exhibit opportunities, volunteering, staying in touch with friends and family, how to create the perfect visit for my kids, how to take care of loved ones, etc., etc., etc.
But somehow, it all looks a little more manageable.
We love our new lives in California. But sometimes all the ‘new’ is overwhelming.
Even small things, like not recognizing the ‘ordinary’ birds out here, remind us daily of what we don’t know about California. (There are at least TWO kinds of jays here in Santa Rosa.) (And what are the ones that go, “pip”. “Pip.”)
Then there’s been the big stuff: A knee surgery for me, within two months of moving here, for me, double hip replacement surgery for Jon less than six months ago. Rebuilding our careers, missing our kids, our friends, our resources…. Did I say missing our kids?
Starting over….I knew it would take time to rebuild an audience for my art, time to grow a new audience, here on the other coast. I know that takes patience. (Not my forte, btw, patience. Er….could you tell?)
But it’s the constant second-guessing that’s killing me. Not knowing what is an opportunity, and what’s a distraction. What’s the next step? What should hold on to, and what do I let go of. When to wait, and when to act. And my studio–is it a workspace? A store? A blessed space, a sanctuary? Yet another place to fill with stuff?? Finished goods overrunning the space, a constant reminder that it’s not selling??? All of the above???!!
It boggles the mind. MY mind, daily.
Last month, I had a healing, enlightening, expanding session with a new friend here, Sheri Gaynor of Creative Awakenings. It was healing with horses, something I’ve encountered (and will always treasure) just before I left New Hampshire, at HorseTenders Mustang Foundation. I highly recommend both Sheri and the HorseTenders programs.
Of course, the new vision frightened me. And of course, being me, I immediately when into ‘contraction state’ (Who, me?? I can’t do that!!) and right through to planning mode. (What does that look like? How does it work? How to I monetize it? Should I monetize it??)
“Call Sheri!” my fevered brain begged. So I did. Ack!! Sheri is on a sabbatical in Costa Rica, for her own much-needed retreat, respite, and restoration of heart and soul.
The song from Ghostbusters ran through my head…”Who ya gonna call??”
And then it occured to me who I could call: My friend and mentor Quinn McDonald of Quinn Creative. (I love her tagline: “Clarity starts here.”)
I had a coaching session with Quinn years ago, in the middle of another professional turmoil/quandry. (Okay, I have them every monthday 20 minutes, if you must know.)
She asked if I were a perfectionist, and I said yes. Who doesn’t want to always do their best??
“The trouble with being a perfectionist,” she said, “is that you are full of ‘knowing’. And when you are full of knowing, nothing new can come in.”
Let me repeat that amazing, seemingly-simple little sentence….
When you are full of ‘knowing’, nothing new can come in.
That phrase lit up my life for the next six years. Still does. And so I turned to Quinn to walk me through my latest crisis of heart.
After listening to me whine describe what I was going through, Quinn created a metaphor for a brief, daily meditation, an image to capture what I was going through and what it felt like–and what to do about it.
It’s a blender.
“Imagine a blender. Throw some ice cubes, some water, a little oil, a couple of peas, maybe a strawberry. And some food coloring!” she said. “Then turn it on.”
My life has been a blender the past few years, she said. All of that stuff, the good, the awesomely good, the bad, the really bad, the scary bad, the good in the bad, everything, is whirling around, being chopped into tinier and tinier pieces. “And you’re trying to pick up those pieces as they fly by, with wet hands.”
Boy, did I get it.
“So life is not supposed to be a smoothie,” I mused. Right, said Quinn.
Hence the meditation. She described the steps, ending with “turn off the blender.” (whew!) Then, “Write down what comes up, after”, she said. “Even a word or two. Keep a written record for the next week or two. We’ll talk more about that later.”
Now, knowing me, you KNOW I wrote down more than a word or two.
And no, I actually don’t like smoothies. A milkshake, yes. No veggies, please, nor fruit.
And in tomorrow’s post, I’ll share what came up, and where I’m going with this.
The hardest thing in life is to start over. The best thing in life is, we can.
It’s been just over a year since we moved to Santa Rosa, California. We are well into feet-on-the-ground stage of our life reboot. Except, well….things seem to be getting harder instead of easier.
Fortunately, a little stray cat provides my life lesson for today.
Near the end of summer, Jon and I were sitting on our little front porch, waiting for ‘our’ hummingbird to appear. Every night, at the same time (relative to sunset, that is), he’d appear, and zip into our little tree lawn tree to settle for the night.
Suddenly, just as the hummer appeared, a black cat also zipped across our tree lawn, ran under the fence, and into our backyard.
I thought it was our rescue cat, Noddy. “How the heck did she get out?!” I sputtered. But when we went inside, there was Noddy. (aka, ‘Naughty’ or ‘Nutty’, depending on her behavior at any given moment.)
Soon it became apparent the nightly visitor was younger, and a lot skinnier, than Noddy. I finally tracked her down to the little garage in back, which we use as storage space for my booth stuff. I began to feed her in there, and within a week, she was approachable. So, not a true feral, but a well-socialized little cat–who desperately wanted to join the fold.
After weeks of trying to locate her owner (yes, I went through all the steps, offical and social), I finally got her inside. Turns out she is a lovable, loving, very affectionate cat. Can’t get enough hugging and petting. She is now fed, safe, and happy, except for one issue:
She’s terrified of the other cats, and especially the dogs.
It’s understandable. On the street, other cats are threats. And the dogs chased her every time they saw her in the backyard. Even inside, when the cats get in a dust-up, their spats and yowling trigger a massive reaction from the dogs. (I can just read their little dog brains: “Fight! FIGHT!! Let’s go get ’em, too!!”)
How does this relate to life reboots? Plenty.
I’ve convinced myself I need to partner with a few local galleries, and small fairs, to reboot my art biz. The most powerful connections are made in my studio. But in the meantime, I’d like to get my name out there. And frankly, I’d like to make a little money, to at least carry my own weight out here.
The stress of negotiating this new (or better, revisited) territory, is fierce right now. Struggling to figure out how to simply my old booth set-up, so I can do it in an hour instead of 2 days. How to manage my inventory so I can introduce my highest art, while selling the less-heavy (figuratively) items I make (vintage button, and vintage resistor jewelry.)
I bombed at my first show, and now I’m freaking out about my next one, this holiday weekend. It didn’t help when a studio neighbor mentioned that a following will grow, but it will take 4-5 years.
Four. To five. Years??!! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh……
I began to whine. But my neighbor, a cancer survivor, would have none of it.
“Life is all about starting over, Luann,” she said sternly. “And it’s always hard, and it’s never easy. And sometimes, you lose everything. Everything...” Her voice drifted away. “But that’s what life is.” I could hear the unsaid words. Everything can disappear. Life. Love. Even second chances.
I’m used to pep talks lately. My straight-talking life buddies are three time zones away now, and I don’t get to hear their words of dead-on wisdom so much anymore. But I was embarrassed enough to realize I cannot equate fear-of-doing-it-wrong with the disruption and displacement of my fellow life travellers. And I’m sure a few billion people in the world–people who would gladly exchange their life of hazard, hardship, homelessness, nation-less-ness–would gladly trade places with me, and my meager problems, that are pitifully small, even for me.
Even worse, I cringed when I thought of all the whining I do, looking for sympathy and reassurances that I’m a good person, and a good artist. Hoping people will see how hard I’m trying, and take pity on me, and, oh gawd, like me. (OH, my skin crawls to think of it.)
That night, as I drifted off to sleep, my lizard brain kicked in again. I’m scared. I need kind words. I need promises that everything will work out. Nobody wants my work. I’m doing it wrong.
And then I thought of Bean, our newest kitty, and almost laughed out loud.
Bean’s emotional life careens between two extremes: Desperate for affection and affirmation (well, in a cat sense), and extreme fear. There’s not enough love in the world to conquer her fear. Only time, and patience, small steps to introduce her into our household, will do that.
Or her anxiety may be a permanent trait. She may never adjust to two bouncy big dogs who love to ‘play’ with cats. (God help any creature who runs from them.)
But she is still loved. She has a place in our lives. And she has a place in the world. Can’t I learn to accept that about myself, too?
So maybe my lizard brain needs a new name: Feral Kitty brain.