Bad/Mad/Sad Brain and “Aha!” Moments
Take a tiny moment to say ‘thank you’, and count your blessings!
I’m an artist. And as an artist, my first responsibility is to make my art. It’s what restores me to my better self, makes me whole and centered. I make it for myself, first.
I know this first-hand, and many good friends remind me of this constantly. For example, the one who sent me a card with this quote:
People like you must create.
If you don’t create, Luann, you will become a menace to society.
(the note also says, “With apologies to Maria Semple, author of “Where’d You Go, Bernadette”. See last paragraph in Part 3.”) (Thanks and a hat tip to Amy Helen Johnson!) (Yes, I bought the book.)
Our second responsibility is to put it out in the world. We mostly interpret this as selling our art, and making a living with our art. Some fortunate, hardworking few can do this. But walking away from the work of our heart, simply because we can’t sell it, is hurtful. (See “first responsibility”, above.)
There are lots of ways to get our work out into the world. If you make art, you can make it, share it, give it away, sell it, exhibit it, teach it, collaborate with it, write about it, donate it, etc. etc. The same with writing. The internet makes this almost effortless.
Yes, selling is wonderful–unless you get caught up in the selling, to the exclusion of everything else. Vincent Van Gogh’s work was only sold to his brother. (Do you have 3 minutes? Watch this heartbreakingly powerful snippet of a video about this.) (I dare you not to tear up.) And ironically, the most commercially successful artist of our time seems to have lost everything of value in a life dedicated to fame and fortune.
Somerwhere in the middle is where I’d like to end up.
So I recently stepped up my game in regard to selling. This came after realizing I was struggling to sell a $24 pair of earrings to a casual visitor in my studio. Realizing that one gallery hadn’t sold one single piece of my work in a year. Reflecting that most of my out-of-state galleries were struggling to sell my work. A local gallery that reached out to represent me, finally said they love love love my work (another line that’s fun, but not my “heart” work) just wasn’t selling, and they needed to set me free.
I felt like a failure. (Hey! 2017 was a weird year!)
Then I realized, why should I focus on making $24 earrings??? Why should I base my definition of success on income alone? Why was I falling for the same emotional/spiritual/inaccurate measuring stick I constantly counsel and warn artists against????
So…I upped my game.
I cleared my studio of the fun-but-inexpensive work, focused on the work of my heart.
I realized that just because I’m now writing weekly for an art marketing newsletter doesn’t mean I’m off the hook with my blog.
I reevaluated, recentered, and refocused on my biggest vision for my art. And I cleaned house on my Etsy site, and focused on the work I have on hand, my best work, and moved forward.
I decided to make the work that makes me happy, and not the work I think I can sell.
Another gallery in the same town as the one that cut me loose, took on my work two weeks. And they’ve already made a sale.
The gallery in Santa Rosa has been selling steadily, and it just keeps getting better and better.
A gallery that hadn’t sold any of my work in a year, sold a MAJOR PIECE. And another big (for me) piece the same day.
And I’ve had five sales in my Etsy shop this month. (A lot for me!)
But that’s not all. Every single sale has resulted in a message from the buyer, telling me how much they love love love what I do, how it speaks to them, and how even more amazing it is in person.
Today I got home to a beautiful email from a delighted buyer. I always respond, with gratitude and joy.
But because I’m human, because I’m afraid to be too happy, afraid to be too hopeful, I tend to respond well outside. But inside, I hold back. Thinking, “Well, that’s great, but…..” “Don’t get a swelled head, because…..” “Don’t get your hopes up because…..”
But this time, I read that email. And something told me….
Be in this moment.
Embrace this moment. Stop and celebrate it.
This moment is the blessing, the extra gift, that comes for making my work and getting it out into the world.
Take note of this moment.
I remembered, decades ago, a wise woman I crossed paths with, who shared a powerful insight with me.
When we really want something, she said, there is a centering, empowering way to ask.
Stand up, head bowed, humbly. Think of what your heart desires. Breathe in, breathe out. Then stand tall. Expand.
Raise your head, open your arms, and hands. Look to the heavens above.
And simply ask, with all your heart, what it is you desire.
The very first time I did this, I was in an antique store. I’d been looking for years for a wonderful book that was long out of print. (This was years before I finally discovered Bookfinder.com, the absolute best tool for finding any book in the world.)
I thought, what the heck? I did the mantra.
And when I was done, I look up. I saw a bookcase in the booth across the room. I walked to it.
And I found the book.*
So today, before I could diminish my joy, before I could “be logical” about my delight in this sale, and this email note from my buyer, I decided to take a moment to celebrate.
I did my little ceremony.
But instead of asking for anything, I simply said….
In these days of “Be careful what you wish for”, in these days of “Yeah, but….”, in these days of, as Anne Lamott succinctly put it, “…compar(ing) our insides to other people’s outsides”, in these days of internet fame and viral prodigies, in these days of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), in these days of wondering, “Will I ever be a successful artist?”, without ever stopping to think of what “success” means to YOU….
Take a minute to give thanks.
To count your blessings.
To feel the full joy of having a voice in the world.
And the unexpected delight of having someone else hearing your song.
Now…go to your studio and make stuff.
*David and the Phoenix (Illustrated) by Edward Ormondroyd, if you want to know, and it’s been reprinted since then.
(OH, and you can see my Etsy shop here.)
Artists urge us to see the invisible, unnoticed beauty, and the important stuff of life.
I didn’t intend to write today.
I opened my journal, intending to try a new journaling technique I just read about. In flipping to the next blank page, I came across a note I’d written a few weeks ago. All it said was David Foster Wallace: This is Water
That’s it. Curious, and always open to an opportunity to procrastinate, I Googled it.
It’s about everything I’ve ever written about.
Of course, my lizard brain went, “Dang! Nothin’ left for me to write.” The angels of my better nature said, “Shut up and write. And then share it.”
Foster tells the story of two young fish passing by an old fish. The old fish says, “Mornin’, boys, how’s the water?” The younger fish continue on, til one turns to the other and says, “What the hell is water??”
Foster talks about a basic fact of life: We are the center of our own universe. After all, he notes, everything that happens everywhere is filtered through our eyes, our experience. He describes a typical experience: Grocery shopping after work. He outlines every single nuance of frustration and exasperation involved, from getting caught in traffic, shopping crowded aisles filled with slow people and whining kids, and ending up in the longest line at checkout. Who are these annoying, terrible people, and why are they ruining my day??!!
This isn’t bad, or evil, he reassures us. It’s natural. It’s ordinary. It’s human. It’s our default setting.
We have something unique in us. We get to consciously choose what has meaning, and what doesn’t.
We all worship something, something not necessarily god-like. This, too, can bite us back. If we worship money and things, we will never feel like we have enough. If we worship our bodies and sexual appeal, we will always feel ugly. If we worship power and control, we will always feel afraid. If we worship our intellect, we will always feel stupid.
Real freedom, he says, comes from conscious choice. It involves attention. Awareness. Self-discipline. Effort. Caring for, and sacrificing for others.
That awareness comes from seeing what is real and essential, hidden in plain sight.
“This is water.”
I instantly realized, this is what artists are for.
When I say to you, “Yes, making money from art is nice. But that’s not the whole reason we do it.”
When I say, “When we have a creative gift, it’s our responsibility to bring it forth.”
When I say, “We can’t judge the work we do. We just need to get it out there in the world.”
When I was told, “The world needs your art”, I felt ‘the call’.
When I say, “Art is more than just what it does for you. It’s what it does for others.”
All of this, and more….What I’m really saying is this:
Art and creative work helps us see water.
This is why we must make the work that is unique to us–not what’s trendy and fashionable.
This is why measuring ourselves with fame and wealth is a sure way to kill our creative spirit.
This is why trying to control our legacy creates a disconnect with our rich inner life.
Bringing our creative work into the world involves the same conscious decisions: Attention. Awareness. Self-discipline. Effort. Caring for others. Sacrificing for others. (I’m still wrapping my head around that last one, I can almost get it, but can’t articulate it. Another article??)
First art heals us. When we share it with the world, then it can heal others.
Sadly, Wallace suffered from severe depression, and committed suicide in 2008. Sometimes the angry, frightened voices in our head cannot be silenced. But he left us with beautiful words, and powerful ideas. He got them out into the world so that you and I can flourish.
He helped us see water.
You and me, we are only human. Embrace that!
Yesterday I wrote how I sabotaged my creative workday. I did dishes and laundry instead of making art.
Today, I did the same thing.
Doesn’t matter what I did. (Okay, I finished a book. It took a couple hours. But I had to do it. Why? Well, it was kinda creepy. Giving me bad dreams. But the writing is good, and I had to get to the ending.) (No, I’m not going to tell you.) (Okay, The Chalk Girl, by Carol O’Connell.)
Yes, as I was reading, I thought, “I should get to the studio.” But I chose to finish my novel instead, knowing I had other choices.
Why? Because I’m human.
This means there are days where I will have the power of my intention. And days where I will give in to temptation.
There are days where I will make time to make the work of my heart. And days where I will set it aside to do something else I love. Or like. Or fool myself into thinking I have to.
There are days where I will move heaven and earth to explore a new design, a new color palette. And there are days where I have to look up “palette” for spelling (because I always forget the which of the three options is right) and I come across a wonderful new color palette app–so cool!) and get distracted. (Color Pal–get it? Auto fill-in with Google led me right to it.)
You are human, too. Which means, if you read that last post, you may have realized how often we sabotage our creative efforts with more mundane tasks that can wait.
And, being human, you–me–all of us–will do it again. And again, and again, and again.
Here’s what I’ve learned from my decades-long observation and exploration into what makes me click as an artist, what holds me back, what holds me down, what gets in my way, what leads me astray.
It’s always me. Me making that decision, consciously or unconsciously, to leave the path.
And no matter how many times I observe it, write about it, clarify it for others, there’s also something else I’ve learned….
I’m going to do it again.
Here’s why I’m not beating myself up about it. And why you shouldn’t either:
This is what people do.
You are not a bad person because your will power is made of rubber, not steel.
Here’s an interesting fact: We’ve all read the benefits of meditation. We all know what we’re supposed to do. Sit quietly, empty our mind, and if we do it right, we will achiev a state of enlightenment.
And most of us know that finding that time, that quiet space, is something we just can’t seem to make room for. We know we start emptying the mind, and all sorts of stuff rushes in to fill the vacuum. “Did I remember to turn the oven off?” “How do my kids/cats/partner/employees know when I’m trying to sit quietly for five minutes?!” “I can’t remember my mantra….!!” We are left with yet another feeling that we’re doing it wrong. We’ll never be enlightened, unless yoga class goes on for another hour or to.
But do you know that enlightenment is not the goal?
Turns out the benefit doesn’t come from “doing it right”.
The benefit comes from trying.
Here is a two minute video of a beautiful explanation of why the trying matters.
I’m sharing this with you, today, so you don’t waste a single minute feeling bad about yourself today. I want you to know how normal, how human you really are.
People don’t exercise, lose weight, break addiction, stop drinking, meditate regularly, make their art, because they have superior will power.
They achieve that habit because they never stop trying.
My favorite quote from martial arts is, “A black belt is a white belt who didn’t quit.”
So do make room for your art today.
Do set aside time to note some ideas. Play with paint. Stitch a little. I’m experimenting with animals you can carry in your hand.
Practice your intention, daily. Observe what the
lizard brain monkey mind says.
Decide you only have to dedicate a wee bit of time for your art. (I allowed ten minutes to make these. Yep, I fooled my monkey mind, and actually finished these!)
And listen to the achingly beautiful, loving-kindness of Mary Oliver’s words today:
Go to your studio today. You won’t regret it.
And if you don’t get there today, why, try again tomorrow.
You do not have to be good.
|You do not have to walk on your knees|
|for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.|
|You only have to let the soft animal of your body|
|love what it loves.|
|Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.|
|Meanwhile the world goes on.|
|Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain|
|are moving across the landscapes,|
|over the prairies and the deep trees,|
|the mountains and the rivers.|
|Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,|
|are heading home again.|
|Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,|
|the world offers itself to your imagination,|
|calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –|
|over and over announcing your place|
|in the family of things.