This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….” For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.
(7 minute read)
Sometimes I have tons of ideas for articles. Sometimes, not so much.
I keep a supply of ideas, rough drafts, etc. so when I’m not inspired, I’ll have something to talk about. Today is one of those days.
So here from the “drafts” section is a one-liner that leapt out at me. Awhile back, I found a quote from “A Serpent’s Tooth”, a book by Craig Johnson (whose series inspired the “Longmire” TV show.)
Sometimes we spend our lives thinking we’re doing something, when in reality all we’re doing is waiting.
Underneath this, I’d typed “What are you waiting for?”
I have no idea why that quote hooked me. I’ve come back to it from time to time, and thought, “Why did I write that down?” Then on to other things.
But today, it stopped me in my tracks. It resonated differently this time.
What are we waiting for???
I’ve been trying to assist a loved one in their goal to “really get started” with their life: “I want a real career, but I’m such a loser, I’ll never figure it out!” “I fail at everything, and I’m behind in life!” “I don’t know what I want, and I never will!” “You don’t understand!!!”
When someone we care about is caught in these never-ending loops, there’s very little we can do. Except listen, try not to give advice (especially when nothing we say is considered valuable in the first place), and to simply be present. It’s not easy. It’s hard. Heavy. And harsh.
But today, when I came across that quote, I realize I’m the one in the never-ending loop.
What am I waiting for?? I ask myself….
I am amazed at the clarity that surfaces.
I am surrounded by the detritus from my fourth studio move in five years. Some stuff has been sold off, some has been donated, and some is simply destined for the scrap heap.
But as a mixed media artist (and a highly-evolved hunter-gatherer!), I have learned to see the beauty in everything. A pebble, a bird feather, a weathered stick, a button, all have potential in my eyes.
So, too, those really ugly pearls I bought on impulse that I cannot bring myself to use. The bags of milk paint I was sure would be perfect for painting old wood boxes. The damaged frames piled up in my studio, dinged and danged from too many venues, too much packing and unpacking, not enough bubble wrap. “Maybe I can fix them and sand them and repaint them,” I think to myself.
but then I caught myself:
Is that the highest, best use of my time? Probably not.
When I had to clear all that stuff out to make room for said family member’s arrival, I realized it was time to get brutal. Er….but not too brutal.
That’s where the idea to host an artists garage sale came from, a few weeks ago. The first time I organized one, it sucked up so much time and energy, I didn’t have time to organize my own stuff and get it priced and ready to sell. On the other hand, it was hugely successful! People begged me to do it again next year. Unfortunately, I moved to California instead.
This time will be different. A lot of people in our two buildings are already onboard, as well as the building managers. I can set up a table inside my own studio. I can use my Square to take payments. I will have people helping with posters, publicity, and table-wrangling.
OK…..What else am I waiting for?
I struggled with a few great galleries that’s accepted me as a guest artist. But 2018 through the first half of 2019 was filled with many deaths in the family, many trips for last visits, funerals, support. I could barely take care of myself, let alone my art biz. I dropped the ball on restocking, attending receptions, staying in touch. And I realized my sales in New Hampshire galleries had dropped off to practically nothing. (Some had dropped my work, some had only older work, etc.)
Out of the blue, one gallery asked me to restock. When I did, they followed up with, “Um…these new designs you sent….do you have more??!” Yes, I did, and sent them on.
That inspired me. So a month ago, I reached out to all my League of NH Craftsmen galleries, hoping one or two would pick me up again.
To my surprise and delight, six of them wanted me back in! This past month has been spent creating new work and new designs, creating a cohesive collection for each one, tagging, labeling, creating an inventory sheet. Now working on packing and shipping.
That inspired me to reach out to a local gallery, where my inventory had really languished under my neglect. The last time I visited, I found they’d increased the number of jewelry artists, and my display was woefully inadequate. I swallowed my pride, and asked them if they still wanted my work.
They did! Turns out all the members loved my work (okay, most of them do.) The larger works were great attention-getters, but slow sellers. I took them back. Tomorrow, I’ll be setting up a new display with new work (and higher prices!)
What else am I waiting for?
I’ve been feeling cut off from my friendship network. Was I waiting for people to reach out to me? Yes, I was. And this week, one new local friend did reach out, a small artist support group I started took an important “next step up” (which was powerful), and another friend started a neighborhood women’s gathering. I was going to go. “I’m too busy! I don’t have time! I hate gatherings with people I don’t know!”
But I went, and had a wonderful time. I think everybody did. Afterwards, we all responded to the group text information with words like, “This was exactly what I didn’t know I needed today!”
Sometimes, when we are feeling overwhelmed by life and its myriad complications, in trying to create balance with making our artwork and marketing it, it’s easy to get caught up in “fixing it”. If only I had…..! If only I knew someone….! If only I knew how to…! If only I knew what I really wanted!!!!
We end up waiting. For what?
Do we wait til we’re sure we’ll succeed, before beginning that big new work?
Do we wait til we’re sure we’re “good enough” before we explore gallery representation? (I find the people who are really good who hesitate the longest!)
Are we waiting for a “sign from the universe” before we take on a new challenge? Do we wait until we find the perfect solution to our problem? Have a straight 8-10 hours to start that new work? Do we believe we have to clean our entire studio before we can get back to work after a hiatus, rather than just clear off that one surface we need to start it?
I remember a friend’s wise words one morning a few years ago, when I texted to say I was totally confused about what to do about the stuff on “plate”. She replied, “I sit with uncertainty everyday until Clarity makes her presence known.” If that sends a shiver down your spine like it did mine, you might like to read more about Sheri Gaynor’s life work here.
Today, I sat. I poked around, hoping for a little clarifty.
And there it was, in my own notes, just waiting to be found.
Sometimes we wait for clarity. Sometimes we go looking for clarity. Sometimes it’s right where we left it, just under our noses.
Have you experienced this? Been unable to “fix” an issue that seemed to complicated, too random, with no solution… And then seen clarity what was needed, and what you had to do? How did that work out for you?
Please share! I’d love to hear your story, and I’m sure others will, too.
As always, if you like this article, please share with someone you think would enjoy it.
And if someone shared this with you, and you’d like to read more, you can subscribe to the Fine Art Views newsletter (with many other authors contributing!), or sign up at my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.
One of my strongest memories growing up was seeing my parents work on the crossword puzzle in the newspaper.
My dad did the writing. He would go as far as he could. When he got stuck, he’d say to my mom, “What’s a six letter word for “high hat” that goes s-blank-blank-blank-t-y?” and she’d think a moment and say, “Snooty”.
I’d always wonder why they did something that seemed so boring. Now that we’ve been married over forty years, I know that even such simple things as this, these moments shared, are a blessing in a marriage.
I don’t remember when I took up crosswords, myself. But in time, I would do the daily crosswords in our local newspaper, too. The Detroit Free Press, The Baltimore Sun, The Boston Globe, The Keene Sentinel, and now, The Press Democrat.
But I steered clear of the New York Times crossword puzzle.
They were monsters.
I could read every single clue, and maybe…maybe…have an idea for one or two. I had no idea how the mind of the puzzle-maker worked. Literal meanings behind the clue? A play on words? Or just a word I’d never heard of before?? Add in the underlying theme just added to the misery, such as the theme, “You Are Here” meant adding “ur” to a common adage to twist the meaning.
One of our most brilliant friends regularly tackled the Sunday NYT puzzle, even harder than the daily ones. I knew I would never be in his league. (Pun intended. He also knew every single baseball trivia question known to man.)
So I decided I would never be clever enough to ever finish one.
Except, one day, while browsing a thrift shop, I found a daily calendar pad of, you guessed it, a year’s worth of NYT crossword puzzles. For a dollar!
I’m guessing because they were small, I thought I could try them. (They are the “dailies”, not the monster Sunday versions.) And hey, the answers were right there, in the back! I could cheat! (Put a pin here.)
Yes, in the strictest sense of the word, peeking = cheating…..
IF we assign solving a crossword puzzle the ultimate measure of our integrity and our ability.
Let’s walk “cheating” back to the fence, and start over.
I don’t know how to play the piano.
Nobody is born knowing how to play the piano. (PLEASE do not bring up Mozart.)
If I want to learn how to play the piano, do I sit down in front of it and try to blast my way through it? (Perhaps starting with a Mozart concerto….??)
I’d tinker with it. Play. Maybe pretend I can play.
I’d seek out a teacher. They would start me with simple exercises, practices, teaching my fingers the right places to go.
They might play along with me, as I master one sequence of notes. (Is that “cheating”?)
I would eventually master a song, a simple one. I would continue to challenge myself. When I make a mistake, my teacher would show me the right way to do it, and encourage me to copy their motions. (Is that “cheating”?)
Now, if I make my life ambition to perform as a concert pianist, I obviously have to learn to perfect my skills on my own, challenging myself to do better, faster, with energy, until my hands almost move on their own, without conscious thought.
But what if I just want to ease my mind by the actual practice of playing? Badly, slowly, leaving a piece of music that doesn’t speak to me. Perhaps coming around again to pick it up, after learning a few more moves…. Playing just because playing is enjoyable?
And so I continued to do those (a little simpler) daily puzzles, getting used to that crossword “culture”. Checking my initial answers to see if I’m on the right track.
If I find that the theme is just majorly too confusing, I can set it aside for another time. Or forever.
I began to recognize the patterns, the lines of thinking. For example, a clue for “bed” could be a place to sleep, or plant flowers. An “intro” could be a speech, or a word prefix. (For example, “musical ending” could be “phonic”, (from stereophonic”.)
Sports stats? Sports figures? No way. I can now recognize a clue for “RBI”, and a “home authority” can now mean “umpire”, but that’s about it. Though my time in Boston helped me solve “Bobby Orr”. And repetition helped me memorize “Ott.” Otherwise, I either fill in around that entry as much as I can, until I can’t go any further. Or I just “cheat” and look up the entry I will never otherwise know (unless I become a sports fanatic, and that’s just not ever gonna happen, okay?)
Now for the most important reason I do crosswords:
I do them so I can help my buzzy brain relax.
This had led to even more insights on life and crosswords.
Sometimes, I just “cheat”, to keep moving. I’m not doing this as an “ethical exercise”. There are no “grades” at the end. Sometimes I do imagine showing up at the pearly gates, and being asked, “So about all the crossword puzzles where you looked up the answers…..” Ruh roh.
OTOH, if that’s how I’ll be judged, not sure I belong in that place anyway.
So if a puzzle is just too hard or complicated, I can “cheat” or ditch it. That’s not a failure, in my mind. This is supposed to be fun and challenging, not frustrating and impossible to deal with. One of the greatest pleasures in my life right now is to recognize I don’t have to go to every fight I’m invited to. If a crossword puzzle is “putting up a fight”, I can just turn the page and try the next one. (I now buy books of ’em, to take on long trips, airplane flights, and waiting rooms.)
Other insights? Sometimes I get stuck, and cannot figure out any of the remaining clues. Of course, being human, my initial reaction is, “I’ll never be good at this!” I put it down when I’m stumped, and leave it for another day.
The insight is, sometimes I come back the next day, and all of a sudden, there’s clarity. Oooohhh, I see it now! And scribble in five or six more words. My brain needed a break, that’s all.
Another insight: Sometimes, “cheating” with one word helps dozens of others fall into place around it. That one clue was a roadblock I couldn’t get over. But going around it helped me go forward.
Sometimes, I “cheat” but only allow myself to enter the word if I guessed right and my “cheating” confirms my guess. If I guessed wrong, I can’t “forget it”, of course. But I won’t let myself enter it until I solve for more clues around it.
Is it cheating if we ask someone for help?
Is it cheating if we learn by absorbing someone else’s style? Learning to anticipate what they’re asking for, rather than what we think it should be? (Isn’t that called “learning from the experts?” Or “thinking outside the box?”)
Is it cheating if we’re simply stuck, and somewhere else is the answer? Is using the internet for sports clues any worse than the way we used to use encyclopedias to find facts?
Is it cheating if the entire overall process is what is helpful for me? (Giving me a break from buzzy brain by doing a somewhat meaningless task that is relaxing, letting me disengage in a good way.) And not necessarily relying on how “someone else does it”…?
To me, I would be cheating if I did all the above, and then lied about it to you. If I said, “Oh, yeah, I do those all the time. I’m really good at it!”
But I don’t. I do it for myself, I enjoy it, and it helps me relax, while feeling like I’m “doing something useful.” (Which is what our brain needs to relax, sometimes.)
Did I pack too much meaning into a word game? Maybe.
But sometimes, I know exactly what I need to get through a boring period, a stressful place, a stuck place in my life.*
Thank heavens for the New York Times crossword puzzle!**
*I try to keep track of how much help/”cheating” I did on a puzzle, to see if I’m getting better at it. I estimate how much I did without any help. At this point, I consider 75% a passing score!
**(Thanks and a hat tip to Wil Shortz!)
I wnt to bed last night, dreamed, and woke up today with the usual buzzy brain thing going (aka “lizard brain”.) I don’t even remember what I dreamed about. I just know it was the usual–me trying to figure out something that would seem trivial, pointless, or absurd in my waking hours. (n.b. Almost EVERYTHING I worry about at 3 a.m. is rarely worth the expended energy by breakfast time.)
And even though I tried to not check my email “one more time” before I left for the studio, I’m glad I did. Because I found this article on how we tend to sabotage our own happiness.
We have a lot of stuff on our plate these days. Some are things we can’t avoid. Some are things we’ve wanted for years, but now that it’s in process, it brings its own set of worries. Worst of all, we left a strong network of good friends behind when we moved to California five years ago, and we are just barely starting to reboot that here. (See point #2. I’ve actually had that happen here several times, starting to share something that’s hard and having people shush me because I’m “not grateful enough” and “this is not something I want to hear, just be happy!” That. Sucks.)
None of these suggestions require a strict work-out schedule, or a major time commitment. None of them require we take up meditation, or exercise more. (See point #5.)
Just being aware of better ways to frame our situation, our mental habits, our life. Understanding what we can control, and what we can’t. And accepting that we CAN change the things we CAN control.
I’m feeling better aready. And I hope it helps you feel that way, too!
Thanks and a hat-tip to Nick Wignall!
OH, and if you know someone who’s struggling with the same issue (lizard brain!) pass this (or the above link) on to them.
I’ve always known my writing is not for everyone. Some folks expect more concrete “do this” and less “we’re all in this together, and that will make us better”. That’s okay, I get that.
Sometimes that’s what I’m looking for, too. Like today. Why do none of my LED bulbs work in my old booth lighting fixtures??” (The results: It’s complicated.)
The thing is, when people criticize my writing because that’s what they’re looking for, it’s really a moot point. There are other writers who will give them that.
Me? I share when I’m stuck or overwhelmed, or when I’m feeling “less-than”, and how I got through that, as close to “in the moment” as I can.
But here’s the deal with the “just the facts’, ma’am” approach:
I’m a woman, born in the ’50’s, who never saw an artist growing up. (There was one potter in the county I grew up in, but I only heard of her after I graduated high school, and never saw their work.) I was raised to blend in, to go along, not to talk back, and to be nice.
There were school budget constraints that created a total lack of actual art education.
My college art history textbooks featured no women artists. One author even stated publicly he did not believe women could be considered “real artists”, and of course, that meant no women artists were featured in his book until 1987.
1987, people!!!!! Nineteen effin’ eighty-seven.
Janson’s History of Art has become so problematic as Janson’s own personal canon of “real art” is, that efforts to be more representative still can’t restore its usefulness in art history education.
You know where all the women are in art history? Nudes, as subjects. For the shock value, and publicity.
I’ve seen and read examples of many, many women supporting their male partner’s art career, often at the expense of their own. The Wife, anyone?
I cannot recall one instance of a man doing the same for his wife. (Some wives-of-artists even have a secondary career of advice-giving of how to be a successful artist. Without admitting that it can be hard for us wives to have our own “wife”.)
(Full disclosure here: I could not afford to have a studio nor have an art career, nor even to be a writer, were it not for the fact that my partner’s work pays 100x more than my meager income. And he helps with computer issues all the time. But he does not do my marketing, my correspondence, my social media, sales, shop upkeep, etc.)
Even in workshops on technique, and writing about marketing, most folks refer to famous male artists. It took the Netflix “comedy” special Nanette to share the real reason Van Gogh is famous, and to frame his situation for modern art-lovers. (Van Gogh’s work was hampered by his mental health issues, not inspired by it, and his work is visible today not because he was “good at marketing”, but because “…he had a brother who loved him.”
Although making your place in the art world can be harder if you are a woman, there are several things I also am, that make it a little easier for me. I’m white. (Not a person of color.) I’m middle class. (Not born into poverty, and I was able to attend college.) (No, my family didn’t “buy” my way in, either.) I identify as a woman. (Not LGBTQ.) I was raised Christian. (Not Muslim, Jewish, or any other religion that some consider “less than”.) (And though I now identify myself as agnostic.)
All of these identities are in my favor, NOT because they make me “better than”, but because some believe these traits make us “less than.” (It does not.) These folks have far more difficulty navigating the waters of our culture, throughout our history, and to this day, unfortunately.
Then of course, there is our choice of media we use to tell our story. I cannot tell you how many times people have told me I’m not a “real artist” because of my choice of media. I work in fiber (“That’s craft!”) and polymer (“That’s just fake clay, and clay is just a craft, too!”)
There are those who tell me I’m an awful writer, because I tell a story rather than simply “get to the point and tell me what to do!” (At one point, after someone complained my articles were too damn long, I put things like “5 minute read” in the bylines. In case, you know, five minutes was too much of a drain on their time.)
So when I write, I write for myself first. I write to reassure myself–and other artists who feel the same way–that our work IS needed in the world. It DOES serve a “purpose”–it’s our voice, our chance to have our say. Yes, making money from making our art is wonderful, empowering. But even if we don’t, we still have to find the time and energy to make it, if only for ourselves.
.And so when I write, I write for myself. To inspire myself. To remind myself, that though there are some who still would not consider me a “real artist”, the only person who can stop me from making my art (barring a drunk driver) is myself.
And the one single factor that keeps most of us from creating is…..
Such a little word, and so much damage comes from it! I came across this quote recently, but I can’t trace it to the original author.
Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.
This is why I share my writing with you.
Doubt kept me from trying harder. From making good decisions about my life work until my early 40’s. Doubt kept me from calling myself an artist, until I hit the wall, hard. Until the day I knew I had to do the work of my art, or I would destroy everything around me with bitterness. Doubt made me frightened, weak, and full of excuses why I wouldn’t take my work seriously.
Once I learned to pat doubt on its head, shush it lovingly, and move it back to its corner, failure was nothing. Failure I could deal with. Because if you give it your best shot, if you try and do your best, and fail? Well, at least you tried.
And then we learn to try again. And again. And again, until we either find a way through, or realize we will build a different path over, under, and around that obstacle in our way.
So when I share my beginnings, when I share my setbacks, when I share how I healed my toxic self-image, it’s because I want you to have what I have:
Hope, and courage, inspiration, and strength, and my own definition of success.
I want this for every single artist I meet.
And though we may never meet in person, I want this for YOU.
Hope is the thing with feathers
Hope is the thing with feathers That perches in the soul, And sings the tune without the words, And never stops at all, And sweetest in the gale is heard; And sore must be the storm That could abash the little bird That kept so many warm. I’ve heard it in the chillest land, And on the strangest sea; Yet, never, in extremity, It asked a crumb of me.
Bad/Mad/Sad Brain and “Aha!” Moments
Sometimes a “major change” is simply many tiny changes in outlook.
For everyone who wrote me asking why I’m walking away from my art and writing, let me reassure you, I’m not!!!!!
I am at what my dear hubby calls “an inflection point”. I’d never heard of that before, except as a math term. But one dictionary describes it as
- 1.MATHEMATICSa point of a curve at which a change in the direction of curvature occurs.
- 2.US(in business) a time of significant change in a situation; a turning point.
That’s what it feels like. A “change” is coming, but I don’t know what it is.
What I do know is, my story hasn’t changed. I’m not done telling that story! And so my art itself, and my propensity for writing about my art (and what I’ve learned from making it), will not change.
I got lost in trying to pinpoint what was going to change. Stuck in trying to figure that out, because sitting with that has been hard.
Because when we choose not to move forward until we’re sure what that looks like, we lock ourselves into the present while fearing the future. (Perfectionism, thy name is “Luann”….!!)
I had fallen so low in my self-esteem in this flux state that I broke my own rule about giving away my work.
I don’t give my work away to people who expect it to be free, or those who demand I give it to them.
Such a simple rule, and I broke it. To the tune of agreeing to do free work worth thousands of dollars. And to be grateful to the person who said I should do it.
No worries, I walked it back! I’m only out $200, and I consider that a lesson I will never have to learn again. I hope!
I was in the middle of a health crisis (not life-threatening, but life-style threatening), a state of physical and emotional exhaustion, a state of living with uncertainty so long, I couldn’t see the gifts I already have: A home, a family, a loving partner, my health in general, the beauty of the California landscape and seascape, my studio, etc. I’ve been focusing on how close we are to losing many of these gifts, obsessed with security, and my struggle to control our future. (Ha!! Good luck with that, human!)
So I made a few more bad decisions.
But I also made some very, very good decisions.
Like reaching out to family, good friends, old friends, new friends, readers, supporters.
I reached out, and found people who listened, deeply.
I overcame my main worry, that I only reach out when I need help, others will judge me on my own selfishness (“She only calls when she’s stuck!”)–and found they were genuinely happy to help. Not only that, I found everyone was going through similar stuff, themselves. And they welcomed my help/feedback/support! (“Reciprocity” is a word that’s been resonating with me lately, and I was delighted to engage in it.)
They walked me back from the next bad decisions I’d made. And although I’ve been in a deep funk about who I am, they’ve been holding the memory of who I am, when I’m at my best.
And even better, they shared how much they love and respect me even when I’m at my worst.
Which gets me to where I am today: Tiny steps forward, and for the first time in months (many months!), holding a tiny bit of hope.
How I got there in a few hours yesterday is what I want to share with you today.
There’s an online class offered by Yale University, and anyone can take it if you can cough up $40. (And if you can’t, there are grants available!)
It’s called The Science of Well-Being, a class based on brain science and scientific evidence, developed and taught by Laurie Santos. It’s been in the news since the course wen’t online in March. It’s quickly become Yale’s most popular course.
The short story is, we don’t really know what we want. We don’t really know what will make us happy. And if we don’t understand what really will, or won’t, make us happy, then our pursuits in life won’t result in happiness.
The first video talked about “A ‘Good’ Job”. When you ask people what they want from a job, it’s often things like “a big salary” and “opportunities to advance”, and “prestige”, etc.
But it turns out those can be misleading goals that don’t necessarily make us happy in the long run. Yes, a livable income is important. But not at the expense of other goals that will actually improve how we feel about life. Like work that appeals to our strengths and values, work that challenges us in a good way, work that provides us opportunities to be “in the zone” or what is now called a “flow” state.
So how do we do that? How do we identify those unique strengths, our important values? How do we learn to nurture them those strengths and values? Because doing so will nurture us, will increase our sense of well-being and happiness.
This isn’t the old 90’s thing about “follow your bliss and the money will follow.” It’s more evidence-based, and doable. This class shows what works, and how to do it right.
After a few hours of work yesterday, I read something that gave me a glimmer of hope that I, too, can figure this out.
One evaluation survey showed that after taking the course, and implementing the (very simple) exercises, almost every student showed an average 30% increase in their sense of happiness. That’s nice.
But what blew my socks off was this statistic:
On average, every single student also reported a 70% DECREASE in depression.
Think about that.
We all know there’s no such thing as “happy all the time”, or a life filled with constant joy. I think we all shy away from anything that promises that. After all, I’m following my passion in life, and I still struggle with insecurity, a sense of not-doing-it-right, not being able to even pay for my studio rent with my art, and not being able to pay for much of anything from my writing. (A friend was gob-smacked when I told her how little I am paid for my one paid writing gig. And that’s just “the new normal” for free-lance writers.)
So “being happier” was something I’m always a little suspicious of.
And I already know some of the more obvious, popluar goals, like “make more money”, won’t fix everything–especially if I sacrifice integrity and what makes my work powerful. I know fame and celebrity can be a shadow goal, and potentially a self-destructive pursuit.
But the promise I could be less unhappy? Significantly less unhappy?? Bring it on!
That tiny ray of hope, the realization that things really could be better, inside, with a shift in perspective, was enough to raise my spirits.
And the way that happens–aligning key character traits and values with my life mission–is already giving me a wee bit of clarity of what that “inflection point” might be.
As always, I’ll keep you posted on my progress.
And in the meantime, I hope you check out the course, especially if you are also struggling with what would really make you happy!
How do you know when it’s time to move forward? When nothing else is possible.
If you follow my blog, you know I’m writing about a series of steps to create your own artist support group. It’s harder than I thought it would be, though I’ve done it many times. Even though I took the training not once, but twice.
I am obsessed with doing it right, hoping this “I’m not in the room to show you” approach will translate and transfer. I can’t stop thinking there’s someone out there who really needs to hear this today.
Today I finally realized that person is me.
I’ve been trapped in a whirlwind of my own emotions, my self-doubt, my inability to figure out what “the universe” is telling me. On top of the difficulties of melding with (relatively) new surroundings, trying to rebuild an audience for my art (and writing!), dealing with difficult family matters (I almost said family “members”, but have to remember they might describe me the same way!), I have been in a tsunami of allergy-related health issues. I am achey and ill-at-ease, exhausted, and I sleep round the clock. A friend said, “When allergies hit us, it feels like the universe is attacking our body.” True dat.
I’ve been reaching out to people who have had my back in the past. People who know me well. People who have seen me at my worst, and still love me. Unfortunately, when I look at how far back our conversations go, I can see that some started before we even left New Hampshire!
And slowly, slowly, I’ve realized, the universe isn’t trying to tell me something.
My heart is.
I’ve always struggled with “shaman”, just as I used to struggle with “artist”. The three aspects of a shaman are intriguing and feel right. Whether I am one or not, to go “in that general direction” just felt like the right path.
Artist. Teacher. Healer.
What about my training for those facets of who I am?
I claimed my story, and my art grew from there.
Teaching? It was one of my very first “aha!” moments, when I thought/realized I wanted to be a teacher. (Turns out I DO, and I AM, but not in our traditional idea of teaching. I share what I’ve learned in my writing, in workshops, and often in conversations with people who happen to cross my path. In a classroom, 8-4 every weekday?? For 8 months??? Not so much.)
Healing? My hospice training blew my heart up, in a good way. From sitting with clients, sitting with them, not “fixing” but simply being present. Then learning to sit with clients with Alzheimer’s, not “fixing” but simply being in THEIR moment, not mine. Then I moving on to creating and leading grief writing workshops: Helping people heal from deep and/or complicated grief and loss. (ALL under the guidance and supervision of trained professionals!) I learned, and I learned, and I learned.
But though people have urged me, I’ve always edged away from actual “coaching” coaching. It would seem like a natural “next step”, but it feels…wrong.
When I work with the wrong person, at the wrong time for them (and me!), before they are ready, before they are able, and when they are in my life for the wrong reasons, it ricochets badly.
And sometimes, I just get caught up in “I know better than you!” (I call it “triangulation”–“Let’s check in on these questionable people we both know, are they just goofy, or dangerous?” But some people call it, “Please mind your own business, I didn’t ask you!” OW!!)
I feel these efforts are always sketchy anyway–I don’t feel like a healer, though I believe my art heals me, and my art can sometimes heal others.
Lately, my “coaching” efforts have been a lot more than “less than”. They feel awful.
What it feels like: The minute I assume I know what I’m doing, it blows up in my face. And because I’m vulnerable in that role, it’s devastating.
It felt like the universe was saying, “Get over yourself!”
But today I realized there’s a gap in my training.
I need more training in healing/coaching.
I still reject the notion of this aspect of my life. It still feels wrong, it still feels uncomfortable.
I need more information on how to stay grounded. How to assess the situation. How to realize when to fold, the sooner the better! (I do have good instincts for self-protection, but sometimes they kick in too late.) How to tell when someone really is “ready”.
And to acknowledge that often, when it works at its best, there is reciprocity. Not money-wise. But every time it works beautifully, there is an exchange of energy. We both walk away better for the interaction.
Hard for me to describe. I’ll think about that.
So I share this with you today. It’s why I’ve been quieter than usual. Why I’ve made myself “smaller” instead of “bigger”.
I’m at another turning point in my life. I don’t know what it looks like, and I pretty sure I’m leaving art and writing behind. (How would I survive?!)
So today I start another trail of learning. My “next step”: Today I’m contacting someone I trust with my heart, to get a thought on how to move forward on this.
Today is another “life lesson”, just waiting to be learned.
When a tiny shift in your point-of-view makes a world of difference….
(4 min. read)
So yesterday was one of those days where nothing really went well.
First, I realized I’d missed going to the gym. I didn’t want to feel guilty, but I did. I’m really trying for three days a week, and I hated to miss a day my third week in. Dang!
I’m working on a commission order, a jewelry item that might appeal to a niche audience. Another artist suggested. It was not a hugely out-of-the-box thing, but the composition, the findings, how it works, all are new to me. I’d start down one path, check in with Mike, and regroup. Everything I assumed, was wrong. Argh!
Special orders and commissions make me nervous. It’s fine when someone sees something in my studio and loves it. Trying to make something and HOPING they’ll love it is a whole nother thing.
I’m participating in a wonderful show (with a tiny preview this Friday at Suzanne Edminster’s Saltworks Studio at Backstreet Gallery).
We were supposed to deliver a wall piece on Wednesday for this mini-preview. (As you can see, the show doesn’t “officially” open until the First Friday in May.)
I picked a piece that wasn’t really my best work, but it filled the definition of “wall piece”, a framed fiber fragment. I need to tweak it, though, and I really should reframe it. But I didn’t have time, and thought it would be okay.
I walked down to the studio at the agreed-upon hour and NOBODY WAS THERE. I knocked, I called two people, I snarked and barked, and grumbled all the way back to my studio.
And here’s the kicker, in case you hadn’t already guessed…..
It wasn’t Wednesday, gym day, delivery day.
It was Tuesday.
I called and emailed everyone to apologize re: the delivery issue. (I didn’t snark AT them, thank goodness, but I’d been THINKING snark. Gotta own that.)
So here I am, the REAL Wednesday.
I went to the gym.
I set aside the wall piece that was “good enough” and selected another piece, a wall-hung shrine, that I’m happier with. I made a few tweaks that made it even more powerful, and took them both for Suzanne to choose from. She agreed the shrine is the stronger piece, and she’s happy to have it.
Special orders? Yeah, they’re crazy-making. Still, I realize I need a challenge from time to time, to step outside my comfort zone. And half the time, something wonderfully new comes from that. I looked at my two “perfect” prototypes and realized there were some other options I could try. I ended up with five. I’m still not sure I’ve got it “right”, but at least he’ll have enough options to try, and give me good feedback on the prototypes….I hope!
I had a spare 40 minutes, and realized that was just enough time to sort, price, and photo a box of leather scraps I want to sell on my Etsy site. (I just add a destash section.) One more box removed from my cramped storage shed, and a slight load off my mind, too.
So today, Wednesday, was a good day. And that’s when I realized….
Only one thing had changed….
Everything that was “wrong” about Tuesday was because I thought it was Wednesday.
Everything I was miffed about on Tuesday was no one’s fault but my own, for thinking it was Wednesday. And probably my own guilty conscience about submitting a piece I knew could be better.
The guilt I felt about not working out was totally pointless, because…well, it was Tuesday, not Wednesday.
That special order will be a good thing, no matter what the outcome. I stepped out of my comfort zone, did the experiment, and figured it out. (Now for the hard part: NOT ORDERING findings until I know for sure which ones will work best.)
Nothing really changed on the “real” Wednesday. I just made better choices–because I paid attention to how I felt about Tuesday. (Er…the “faux” Wednesday.)
Sometimes, all we need is a chance to choose a different window to look through.
And what a blessing it is when we realize that, and choose differently.
Fear keeps us immobilized, but action is what we need now.
I remember only one line from David Cronenberg’s 1986 movie, The Fly:
“Be afraid. Be very afraid.”
Fear is a protective mechanism. It can keep us from pursing dangerous pursuits. It can keep us safe.
It can also keep us locked in anxiety and block us off from the very opportunities that help us, and others, grow and thrive.
Just before we left on our California aimless road trip, a studio visitor brought me a book to read: Unsaid, by Neil Abramson. I didn’t actually get a chance to read much on the trip. But today I read the author’s note, to see if I should read it right away, or start with my pile of borrowed-time library books.
And then I read his words:
…I was surprised at the depth of the loss I felt. The only way I can explain it is to tell that something deep within me shifted. I realized I was so grateful for every minute with Skippy and I wouldn’t have traded the time with him for anything in the world, even thought that time ended too soon. Then I realized that this was Skippy’s last gift to me…(H)e taught me how important the act of living really is and how limited by fear I had become…. (Italics are mine.)
How limited by fear I had become…
Everyone I’ve talked to the last few days has shared how they’ve felt the last few weeks–stunned, anxious, ill, sad, depressed, fearful.
We thought the social changes in our world were going to continue for years to come. We thought we’d overcome our fear of ‘the other’–people who are different than us, people who talk differently, who have different skin color, who pray with different prayers, who love a different way. “Different” had gone from “dangerous and scary” to “yet another color on the spectrum of humanity”.
All that seems swept away. The fear of “different” feels like it’s not only reversed, but reached monstrous proportions. And we feel helpless.
We are not helpless.
It’s time for us to get brave, and step outside our comfort zone. It’s time for all of us to become activists, however we can. It’s time for us to put our money, our time, our words, our presence, where our mouth–er, heart–is.
All of us have skills and strengths, interests and connections. It’s time to put them to good use.
I’ve talked to people recently, who have gently moved from “being afraid” to realizing they can put their expertise to good use. They can contribute to stopping the spread of fake “news”. They can teach people how to research the crazy articles that foment hate and fear. They can put their hobbies to good use raising funds for social justice. They can share the joy and courage in their hearts, that has spurred them to make their creativity visible in the world, and create joy and courage in others. They can use the simplest acts to help others.
Food kitchens have hordes of volunteers on the holidays. Why not commit to helping on the ordinary days instead?
I love reading. It’s time to share that love with elementary kids again.
I see friends who have people they cares deeply about, people who, historically, have been easily marginized. They are standing up for them.
I’m going to join the Million Women March in January. I’m scared–I’ve never been the protest-march type. But what is my fear, compared to the very real fear of so many other people? Not much.
Don’t let fear immobilize you. Don’t let it speak for you.
Let your heart speak for you instead.
Something will cross your path in the days ahead–a volunteer opportunity, a fundraising effort, a conversation, a chance to participate. For me, the afterword of a book I haven’t even read yet.
When it does, your heart will let you know. You will feel “the call”–a tiny, unexplained lifting of your spirit.
Follow it. See where it goes. Share it here. I’d love to know!
Remember those other, just as powerful words, that will take you to a place of light, and connection, and justice:
Be not afraid.
Be like my rabbit Bunster, may she rest in peace (with lots of stuff to chew on, and someone’s lap to leap into.) She was full of fear. Rabbits are full of fear.
But she also had a place in the world, and my life is richer because of her.
Balancing our individual needs with the needs of the group can be a fine line to walk.
No, I didn’t invent a new language. POK is an acronym for “Pissed Off Kids”, and of course, POV is “Point Of View”.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about mood.
Why do I wake up some mornings already stressed out, on edge, irritated and annoyed? Why do I sometimes wake up feeling inadequate, or as if I’ve been humiliated? I know it’s usually because of dreams I can’t even remember clearly. But why do those feelings linger? Probably because dreams feel real, right up until we wake up.
I’ve also read how things we aren’t even conscious are, can affect our mood, even our actions. If we read a list of words, one word like “angry” or “unfair” can cause a change in our outlook hours later–even if we can’t even recall that word from the list.
I’ve always had issues about “fitting in”. Some of comes from being a child of the 50’s, where expectations for women (in art, in academia, in business, even in sports) were different than they are today. (As in, they were lower.)
Some of it is being part of a large family. I’m the oldest of seven sibs. I’ve noticed that younger sibs learn much from watching family dynamics all their lives. They observe what works and what doesn’t when dealing with parents, they learn when to keep their mouths shut and how much information to share. Oldest kids have only adults for their role models. We spend a lot of time explaining and justifying our actions. I tend to believe if only other people understood me, my intentions, and my motives, they wouldn’t judge me so harshly. (Um…I just realized that’s probably why I blog.)
This may also be why I’m so obsessed with the “why” about making art. It’s a powerful tool to connecting others to my work.
Some of it is being a parent. We think we have more knowledge and experience than our kids. That’s true. But we forget we don’t have their experience. Their life is very different from ours. We often make assumptions that get in the way of truly seeing them.
The theme running through all of this is something I learned when I belonged to a craft guild years ago. When you belong to a group of any kind, the group has a lot vested in you being a member of the group, rather than being an individual with different goals and needs. In the case of the quilt guild, group pressure can subtly affect something as big as your color aesthetic over time. When I realized that was happening to me, I left the group. (nb…they were actually very nice people, it was very subtle thing.)
I get it. I really do. It’s easier for groups when everyone is on the same page. When there are common goals, much can be accomplished. Accommodation takes time. Patience. Energy. Even compassion. All those can slow down or interfere with a group’s common purpose.
So, in the group or out? Which do I prefer? I always chose me. What are the drawbacks there?
For me, it’s the fact that I still feel guilty about choosing myself over the group. I want everybody to be happy! So I explain. I explain way, way too much, to people who don’t care–because they want the group. Which isn’t good.
The problem with wanting everyone to understand me is, I’m trying to control what other people think of me.
Explaining, sharing the “why” about me is only powerful when people want to know. If we’re talking about customers who like my work, then they care.
If they don’t care, if they aren’t my audience, or the group is more important to them, then it’s a losing battle, and rarely works for long.
As I get older, I realize I’m expending a lot of energy that could be put to better use.
I might be a POK. (Thanks and a hat tip to Amy Johnson, who not only coined the phrase, she has lots of insight about what it’s like, how it works, how to reach out to a POK, and what not to say to a POK. (Hint: If I’m focused on my needs and my POV, it usually will not appeal to the POK.)
Today I realized I’m stuck in the middle.
I want to be understood, and accepted. But the people who I want to understand, do not care. So I’m angry and self-righteous, and unhappy.
I say I must be myself, and not molded and shaped by the group’s expectations. That means I must be comfortable with not being part of the group.
But most groups react badly when a member leaves. This is a fact of life. I was taught to be “a good girl”. The resentment directed at me for “not being nice”, for choosing “me” over “us”, is hard for me to bear.
“Not fair!” I cry.
This solves nothing.
And so I understand I still have a lot to learn. (Hence, the “eternal student” moniker.)
In a very primal way, I’m still learning the only POV I can control is mine.
The only person whose actions I can manage are my own.
The only people who want to know “why”, are people who care.
Now if only I could convince my dreaming self to get on board with that, my morning moods might improve.
Er…booze and chocolate for breakfast, anyone?
TMI can overwhelm. Start where you are, let go of what doesn’t serve you anymore, and take one step forward–today!
Today’s column from Fine Art Views:
Trying too hard is the kiss of death for creative projects.
I don’t know if this happens to you. But sometimes when I’m trying to create, I get caught up in what I want my end result to be. And very quickly, I find myself totally off-course.
Now, that seems a little counter-intuitive. Aren’t we supposed to have goals? How can we accomplish anything if we don’t know what we want our end results to be???
Here’s an example right in front of your nose–literally! (You’re reading this, aren’t you?) :^)
Sometimes when I sit down to write in my blog, I think, “Wow, that was a really funny post I wrote yesterday! I’d like to do that again.”
I try to think of funny things to write about. Soon I’m trying to “force” a subject. The writing gets labored and self-conscious. I eventually quit in frustration.
This happened awhile back because I was sending samples of my writing to a new editor. As I pulled together the columns I wrote for Crafts Business magazine, I started reading them and laughing. “Damn, I’m good!” I thought. “I loved writing this column! Just look how funny these are!”
Kiss o’ death to a writer. I could not think of anything to write about for the next few days. I was trying so hard to be funny, I couldn’t even think of anything to be funny about.
Same if I try to write about something serious. I start sounding pompous about six minutes in.
If I try to make “a really great piece” when I put my fiber collages together, it gets even stickier. Suddenly, nothing looks right, nothing clicks. And halfway through, I chuck the whole thing in frustration.
There’s a similar effect for some people in martial arts. Performing a kata in front of the whole class, for example. Some get caught up in how they look to others. They forget to focus simply on what they’re doing. It’s agonizing to watch, too. Especially to those of us who realize we do the same thing when it’s our turn to perform a kata.
I think this happens because this mindset–putting our focus over “there”, “there” being someone else’s judgmental mind–gives over way too much power to our Inner Critic. We try to look at ourselves the way we think other people look at us.
The minute we set ourselves up for, “I’m going to be funny today!”, the Inner Critic is right there with us: “That’s not very funny. That’s not funny, either. Hey, maybe….mmmmm, nope. No. Sorry.”
Our Inner Critic starts out as an internal bullshit detector, a very useful creature to have in our brain. It can keep us from getting too full of ourselves. But when you let him drive all the time, then he becomes that Non-Stop Inner Critic–a lethal combination. And putting that guy in the yoke with your Inner Artist/Performer/Class Clown means your brain is going to go in circles. (I had a metaphor going there but I lost it. Sorry. It was something about oxen.) The two Inners are too busy fighting about who’s in charge. Your creative movement goes right out the (car) door. (Barn door??)
We temporarily lose our way by focusing on the effect we want to create. We have stepped away from our authentic voice–the place where we focus on what’s important to us–and instead given focus to what we think other people will find important.
Once you try to work for other people, you are lost. Mostly because “other people” is too big an audience. Too many points of view to consider, too much ground to cover.
Come to think of it, that’s why singers and speakers are often told to envision themselves performing for a single member of their audience. It’s so they can bring that focus down to one concentrated point.
I’ve found a few approaches to working through the self-conscious crap thing.
PLAY. Warm up with little exercises that aren’t as emotionally loaded with expectation. With fiber, that might mean working with a tight color scheme, and simply playing with smaller compositions (I call them “fragments”) and different uses of those colors. The “play” or “study” aspect allows my brain to get flowing in that more natural creative mindset again. “Hey, that one looks cool! What if I used a pumpkin-colored button instead of goldenrod?” Soon something exciting is happening. The brain is focused simply on what really matters to you as a visual artist–composition, contrast, eye movement. Your creative footing becomes sure again. You can move confidently ahead.
PRACTICE. With martial arts, it’s doing those damn kata about a jillion times, until our body can almost do it in our sleep. As the body moves with confidence about what movement comes next, we can focus on what really matters–balance, rhythm, power. Your footing literally becomes sure again. You know what to do.
PAY ATTENTION. It’s paying attention to what matters to me. Forget about that audience for the moment.
Is there an incident that’s bugging me? Why did it bug me? Aha! Once I have insight into that, I can expand upon it and write about it. Did something frustrating happen? How did I work through it? Aha! There’s another insight, an idea of how to stay committed to my dream when things get hard. And here’s way to use humor to get through the some of the scruffier parts of life.
When you start with what catches your interest, your heart, and go from there, the work will follow, naturally. When these basic self-focus points are created, then the work can move on more naturally to something more powerful.
Your audience will just naturally come right along with you.
And if they don’t, well, at least maybe your mother thinks you’re funny.
(“Self-Conscious Crap” originally published on my old Radio Userland blog on April 13, 2007.
And I was not trying to be funny nor serious, so there.)
I just found out I can republish my own article that I write for Fine Art Views–yay! Here’s today’s article:
The Very Bad Saddle
by Luann Udell on 9/30/2010
This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
If your art career is giving you a hard time, maybe it’s trying to tell you something.
My art life and my “normal” life spill over into each other a lot. Things that occur in my “normal life” often provide surprising insights into my artist life. In fact, it happened just this week.
I’ve been taking riding lessons (horse, not motorcycle!) for awhile now, my reward to myself for getting through an excruciating period in my life.
I’m at the point where, like making art, I simply need to do it more in order to get better. So this month I upped my commitment. I’ve been riding more than the standard weekly lesson, sometimes two or three or even four times a week.
But instead of getting easier, things got harder.
I’ve been riding this new horse on the trails. To put it mildly, he didn’t agree with anything I propose during our rides together. He was getting so antsy, willful and unruly, I began to fear for my safety on him.
I complained to my instructor, who finally took him out herself. And she couldn’t find anything wrong with him.
“So,” I asked gingerly, “Does this mean I really suck at riding?”
“No”, she replied. “You have a really crappy saddle.”
I couldn’t believe it. I’d bought the saddle just a few months ago online, under guidance from someone I believed to be an expert on such things. We’d spent a delightful afternoon shopping for saddles on Ebay, drinking wine and talking about the trail rides we’d take. She helped me find a great deal on what she said was a great saddle.
But apparently, it doesn’t fit the horse at all. It was pinching the horse in all the wrong places. He was doing his best to let me know it. But I couldn’t read his message.
My expert friend was mistaken. Or hey, maybe it was the wine. But my saddle is a cheap, poorly designed saddle from a country famous for cheap, poorly designed saddles.
In a way, I was relieved. Better to blame my woes on a bad saddle that didn’t cost me much in the first place. (And at least that might also mean my riding doesn’t totally suck.) But it got me thinking….
What “bad saddle” am I using when it comes to getting my art out into the world?
Right now, we are in a transitional period on how art and fine craft are marketed and sold. The old ways—getting into great galleries, getting juried into great shows, advertising, finding a patron or agent–are not sure-fire strategies for success anymore.
Yet it’s not clear what we should be doing. And when we don’t know what we should do, we often cling to the old ways. At least they’re familiar.
“My friend says I should do this show. It’s the best in the country! It’s expensive, and shows overall aren’t doing well. But maybe this one will work for me!”
“I’m going to keep applying to juried exhibits. I’ve never sold my work from one before. But maybe this time it will be different!”
“I’ve been doing this prestigious show for years. It used to be my best show! But they seem to be letting a lot of people who aren’t up to snuff, and sales are way, way down. But maybe this year will be different…”
“Nothing’s working for me right now. My work must be bad!”
“Nothing’s working for me right now. It couldn’t possibly be my work! It’s always sold well before…”
I knew an artist whose goal was to exhibit in juried gallery shows in every 50 states in the U.S. Now, there are good reasons to do a juried gallery show. But when I asked her why on earth she thought that would be a selling point for her work, she realized it was a goal she’d outgrown.
I know a prestigious fine crafts show that now juries in people whose work is just not up to snuff. Their spaces are filled, but the quality of the show suffers. That’s a professional credential I can do without.
After rescuing my work from three failed galleries in the past few years, I’m not as eager as I used to be to get into that “perfect gallery”.
Sometimes we just have to take a good, hard look, and listen deep to our heart to see what the next step is. And move on from what isn’t working anymore.
Maybe our work needs a fresh eye. Maybe it’s time to give up that prestigious show. Maybe it’s time to explore selling online. Maybe we need to rethink what potential customers really want to know about us and our work (as opposed to what academics and art schools say we should tell them.)
I thought about some of the events and venues I’ve committed to over the next six months. Some will be worthwhile to keep. Others aren’t paying their way, are not furthering my greatest vision for my art, and take up too much time to boot. I want to clear out some clutter in my life, both literal and figurative. I want to look carefully at all the goals I’ve assumed would move me forward, that are actually holding me back.
I can let go of some of these things I used to think would mean I’d “made it”, and articulate ways my art could “work” more powerfully for me. Get rid of the strategies, venues and goals that don’t work for me anymore, and find a better “fit”. Maybe instead of just getting my work into a great gallery, it could actually serve a great cause.
I’ve learned my lesson—don’t let a bad saddle keep you from having a good ride on a great horse.