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.