NEWSLETTERS 101 #18: Love (and Art) in the Time of Covid-19

Bear tells me, "Be strong when things get hard. Listen more. Think slow. Love deep." Perfect advice for 2021!
Bear tells me, “Be strong when things get hard. Listen more. Think slow. Love deep.” Perfect advice for 2021!

There’s no perfect way to get through 2020 and beyond. So just do what works for YOU! 

(8 minute read)

I’ve never sought out positions on boards or steering committees, despite being involved with quite a few art organizations in my life.

I don’t have a “head” for leadership. I hate bossing people around. I mean, I love having my own way, but when I think I know what’s best for others, I fail miserably.

But over the years, I have volunteered for many these same orgs. Oh, I’ll complain along with everyone else about rules and regulations, how things are done, etc. But then I realize that the best way to find out the WHY is to join that committee, and learn.

I love peeking behind the curtain to see what’s going on!

It’s tempered my entire approach about shows, galleries, art groups, organizations, etc. And it also gives me a new perspective about the people who complain, but never take the time to find out WHY.

 My all-time favorite was sitting next to another fine craftsperson at a gathering during a major show, and listening to them complain non-stop about the committee I served on. After addressing almost all of their complaints, with the stories behind the decisions, I said, “Hey, you should join us, maybe you have some great suggestions for us!” (I said this with a straight face, too.)

They said, “How much do they pay you to serve?”

I nearly died laughing.

Apparently, it had never occurred to them that committees in art organizations are rarely, if ever, compensated for the dozens, or even hundreds of hours they put in, as a volunteer.

This year, despite my misgivings, I did join as a member of a steering committee. I’ve been given a relatively-easy committee to head, one that I actually might be okay with.

It was eye-opening on so many levels.

First, I was truly impressed by the quality of work this group does to pull off some pretty major events here in Northern California. I couldn’t believe all the details, permutations, roles these people played, how well they remembered every step of the process, and how quickly they reviewed and updated them.

Me? I forgot this article was due yesterday.

 I couldn’t help wondering what I brought to the table, if anything.

I soon found out. I had to take part in a phone tree to make sure artists had gotten the invitation to participate in our next event, an open studio tour mid-year, in 2021.

I hate making phone calls. I don’t even call friends or family members. (I just found out this year this is a major sign that I am an introvert at heart, though I can fake extrovert for short periods.)

I didn’t know what to expect, but I got the whole gamut of responses.

This year’s event had been cancelled shortly before it took place, due to (duh) Covid-19. Every effort was made to offer refunds for those who opted out, and a lot of planning and work went into making it a virtual event. An entirely new website was created, the event was pushed back and combined with a similar event. I was asked to volunteer with that, and put in easily 50 hours of work.

I made zero sales. I did two more virtual events that same month, and they all tanked for me.

Many of the artists I called had had the same experience (without the volunteer time.) Some accepted the new normal going forward. Some weren’t sure if they were willing to commit. And a few were quite angry over how this year’s event (that was cancelled) was handled.

I get it. I really do. And yet…

I chose to look at the gifts instead of the loss.

 Years ago, I did some major wholesale and retail high-end craft shows on the East Coast. I knew I had to put in a few years for each one before they would pay off.

But first came 9/11. Sales tanked for everyone. And every year after that, it seemed like a couple months before that show, we would invade some country in the Mid-East. I barely paid for my expenses. My last year, all three major wholesale shows tanked and I was in debt up to my eyeballs.

It was hard. But I learned so much.

I learned that there is no guaranteed success with any business venture we undertake. Even my writing, which used to bring in $300-$450/per article, tanked. I now make about 10% of that, and most of those opportunities have disappeared anyway.

I learned it takes time to build an audience, even in “normal” times. My very first open studio in New Hampshire, with a prestigious art group, I had zero visitors. The second year I had one, a nice young man who was very stoned. We had a very nice chat. I hope he remembers that! The third year, my studio was packed every day, and I made about a third of my income from one event.

I learned that an event with a catalog costs a lot of money. In those days, before the internet became a key component of my marketing, I would place ads in magazines associated with those events. It cost a minimum of $350 for one quarter-page ad, in a magazine that had a shelf life on 1-4 weeks.

So when I learned that a catalog accompanied my participation in this event, for the same money, a ‘magazine’ with a shelf life of a YEAR, I considered it a bargain.

 A great show/event catalog is worth its weight in gold.

 I’ve also learned that when we pay our fees, that money is used almost instantly to pay for all the resources: Design work for website modifications and ads and the catalogs, salaries (salaries for non-profits are usually at below-market rates compared to commercial businesses), etc. When an event is cancelled, the org does not get that money back. Design costs alone for this year’s catalog were almost $10,000, not including printing.

Our org has learned what works and what doesn’t with this process. Everyone involved has worked really, really hard to not only keep the organization going (which supports so many different kinds of creative work), but to improve the experience for its artist members.

And here we are today, at Fine Art Views, which dedicated all its efforts towards assisting us with the “new normal” and focusing on social media marketing.

It can work. For one thing, I had an uptick in sales in August, a very nice uptick. I couldn’t figure out where they came from, as none of them came through any of the online events. All of them came from my Etsy shop. Finally, I realized they were from my audience in NH! I haven’t been back in person to do the show. But since the entire show was virtual this year, I was at the same “level” as everyone else. I am so grateful to the League of NH Craftsmen!

In short (I know, it’s too late to make this short!) things are different. “Sure things” aren’t solid right now. Sales are off, it’s hard to connect with people/customers in person, and we all hate the loss of paying customers, and hate not knowing how, or when this will all get better.

But in a way, my life as a creative has ALWAYS been all over the map.

I’m grateful these art orgs are trying to stay in place, so they can be a support and outlet for us. I’m in awe at the people who work so hard to keep us moving forward, from a non-profit’s show committee, to the team at FASO.

I’m grateful I have an online shop, my own website, and system for marketing my art online.

I’m proud to be contributing to the safety of our country and part of a culture that values customer safety over profits.

I know if I can’t sell my work, 10,000 years from now, archeologists will have a blast when they unearth my studio.

I feel lucky that I still have a studio to go to, especially during these dark cold winter months.

And I am grateful that I can still make my work, because it brings me joy when I finish my latest projects.

As I shared some of these insights I’ve had over the years, many people softened re: their anger, their fear, their uncertainty. (That, or I bored them to tears and they said they’d consider joining just to get me off the phone!)

What are YOUR tiny blessings you’ve found in the moment? What have YOU learned in a lifetime of making your art? Doing shows? Sharing your art with the world?

What have YOU done to show your appreciation for what others have done for you, and for your passion for making art?

What are YOUR hopes and dreams for 2021?

If you enjoyed this article, if you enjoyed this article, share it! Link back to it here on Fine Art Views, or my blog at luannudell.wordpress.com.

If someone shared this article with you, and you’d like to read more in this series, visit my articles at FineArtViews.com. 

NEWSLETTERS 101 #17: Share an “Aha!” Moment

My biggest "aha" moment was what put me on the path to becoming a "real" artist. Still powerful. Still works.
My biggest “aha” moment was what put me on the path to becoming a “real” artist. Still powerful. Still works.

NEWSLETTERS 101 #17: Share an “Aha!” Moment

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.

Was there a moment when everything changed for you? Share it!

(4 minute read)

One of the taglines in my Fine Art Views (and elsewhere) is this:

“I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”

Yep, I’m hoping it made you laugh a little. But I am also here to reassure you, that when we have our own “aha!” moment, aka “the Eureka effect”, that miraculous gift of insight where we see what’s really going on, what the solution is, how to move forward from a stuck place, it’s good to share it.

It may be just what someone else needs to get out of a hole today.

Here’s one of my favorites I love to share. It’s about fear. How fear can dominate our lives, inside and out. How it can paralyze us.

And ironically, how shallow it can really be. (Yes, pun intended!)

This story is over 15 years old, and the fear I described was already almost 15 years old. If my husband hadn’t cajoled me to take a dip in the lake on that hot summer day, I might still be holding that fear in my heart.

My intention in sharing this story was to encourage others who are in the same boat. Paralyzed with fear, palpable fear. Impossible to ignore. Only “diving in” (figuratively and literally!) helped me get to the bottom of that scary lake. (Again, pun intended.)

As I linked to the Dublin Lake story, I found another related story in the sidebar, entitled “Breakthrough”. Here is where a bunch of fears, and one random comment, came together into one beautiful solution.

Now my latest insight, that came from revisiting my old blog, today:

Radio Userland was an early blog hosting site (now-defunc) site. I wrote on it from 2002 to mid-2007. (I couldn’t even access it for ages after I left, until my techie husband recoded all the urls into something I could get to easily.) (Thank you, sweetie/love of my life!)

In five years, I got maybe three comments. THREE.

Was it because I was a terrible writer? Or an uninteresting writer? I’ll leave that for you to decide! But I do know the platform had its drawbacks, for me.

It was hard to comment. I don’t even know if I could have responded to those comments. I had no way of knowing how many people visited my blog. I never thought to ask the ones that did, to share it with others.

So: No comments. No likes. No way to measure “hits”. No way to know if anyone ever even read anything. No way to know if what I wrote, helped someone else.

And yet, I wrote. I process hard places in my life, through writing. So I wrote for myself, first. I love having had all those ‘lessons learned’, insights, and free advice.

I love it when I come across them again.

Because I still need them.

As a good friend said a few years ago, “I love all my life lessons! I love them so much, I learn them again, and again, and again.”

And when I share them with the world? Priceless. As in, “free” because you get to read them here at no cost to you.

And “priceless” as in “powerful”, as in “if it helped me, and when I shared it, it helped you, then that has incredible, endless value.”

Is it coincidence that I had this realization so soon after last week’s article, on how the numbers ultimately don’t matter?

I don’t think so.

So consider sharing an insight that helped you move forward in life. An insight that helped you find your way in the dark, towards the light, and a mug of hot milk.

If it helps even one of your subscribers do the same, well, that’s pretty cool.

One suggestion: Stick with the positive, or at least end on a positive note. Not all life experiences are good ones. But when we learn something fundamental, something beautiful because of them, that inspires hope.

Of course it okay to share something we’re struggling with right now, too: Health issues, difficult life events, etc. Believe me, if you’re going through something really hard, someone else out there is, too.

And it’s okay to just gritch now and then. (That’s a word from an old high school friend, a blend of “gripe” and “bitch”, and I love it almost as much as “blort”.) In fact, it might be an opportunity for readers to make suggestions or express sympathy, which may or may not help.

But just knowing they care can mean a lot to us, too.

But don’t be too much of a Debbie/Danny Downer, either. Yeah, we all have our moments, but we also all have enough on our plates.

What is one of YOUR favorite “aha!” moments? Try it out on us, in the comments!

If you enjoyed this article, if you enjoyed this article, share it! Link back to it here on Fine Art Views, or my blog at luannudell.wordpress.com.

If someone shared this article with you, and you’d like to read more in this series, visit my articles at FineArtViews.com.

LEARNING TO SEE #5: This Is Us

We have the power of our choices, even our tiniest choices, every day, literally and figuratively.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

LEARNING TO SEE #5: This Is Us

Sometimes dark times help us see the light within.

(7 minute read)

 

It’s a dreary day today.

Rain. (Not much light in the studio on days like this.) Chilly. (Get the wool socks out again!) Frustrating in the smallest detail (our greediest little cat successfully snagged all the food our frail senior cat, despite me sitting two feet away–again!)

I’m almost out of cream for my coffee, a promised check from a customer has yet to arrive, I just saw how much I spent “stocking up” on supplies last month (YIKES!), and there seems to be no end in sight for you-know-what-I’m-talkin’-about.

I’m down down down with a problematic health issue that literally appeared out of nowhere two weeks ago, and there’s no end in sight there, either. A family member lost their job last month, tempers are stretched, and sitting on the porch in the evening has turned into a yak-fest with complete strangers, as everyone is desperate to talk with anyone else. My studio is a mess, I’ve lost interest in going to it, and I just want to huddle under the covers all day, with a cat or two to snuggle with. (NOT YOU, GREEDY BEAN!)

And yet, as I sit here listing the downers, I’m ashamed. Ashamed of focusing on what is wrong while choosing blatantly to recognize what is good.

We are okay-for now. That’s all we can count on, all any of us can count on. No one in our family has Covid-19 (though I would argue a kidney stone is almost as scary, but at least it’s only affecting me!) Some family members are far away, but they are okay, too.

We have what we need: Food, shelter, silly pets to amuse us (EXCEPT FOR YOU, BEAN YOU BAD GIRL), plenty of TV shows and movies to catch up to, and working internet for work, connection, entertainment, information.

It’s not as cold as New Hampshire right now (NO SNOW!! YES!!) And we really need the rain, so complaining about it seems pretty petty.

As our world feels smaller and more cramped, it’s tempting to compare it to what we had, and what others have, that we do not.

And yet, this weird time has also opened my eyes to a huge truth we all “know”, but never really believed:

All those people who have more-than-us, in every sense, are still people just like us.

I’m talking about the people who live in huge mansions, bigger than every house I’ve ever lived in put all together, who still complain how bored they are.

I’m talking about the famous people we admire, whether they be saints or sinners, movie stars and music stars, the people with fame and fortune we secretly aspire to be, with our own creative work.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to have people clamoring for our work? What would it be like to name any price on our art, and get it? Being in that prestigious gallery who would do all that hateful marketing/promoting/selling for us-and we just get a check sent to us, every month?

What would it be like to walk the red carpet, to accept that award, to give that speech, to have people clamoring for our attention, to have thousands, millions of people hanging on our every word?

There are three things that bring me back to my own world this morning:

  • I’m rereading The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker, and reminding myself why being famous has its own dark side.
  • Complaining about the rain when we desperately NEED the rain, right now, reminds me that I may be the center of my own universe, but I’m not the center of anyone else’s. There are far worse situations to be in than mine, health issues not-withstanding, and rather than complaining, maybe I should be looking at ways to help others who are much, much worse off.
  • Famous, successful people are just people like us, with (usually) better haircuts, makeup, and clothes.

As we watch our ‘stars’ perform in their homes, without all the props and makeup that make them look almost inhumanly beautiful, we see them for who they are: People like us.

As we watch them deliver their routines without an audience, we see how hard it is to get that ‘lift’ that comes from an appreciative audience’s response (laughter and cheers).

As we watch them sing, we note that though most do have terrific voices, it’s also obvious who has gained by having a lot of support behind them: Great venues to perform in, back-up singers, sound mixers, amps, etc.

Famous people are just people, perhaps with nicer homes, better support, more money, more options. But they are still just people, as fragile and frustrated as we are, and sometimes dealing with more crap and actual threats to their safety, too.

As we watch how other people handle the current shelter-in-place orders (or how they DON’T handle them), we understand that every person feels put-upon in their own unique way. Everyone is suffering. As a fellow writer exclaimed years ago, “It’s like we’re all on the same lake in a different boat!” And some people don’t even have a boat….

Here’s the gift of being an artist today:

We don’t need to be famous to have an audience for our work.

We don’t need an audience in front of us to make our work.

We don’t need the approval of others to make our work.

With the internet, we don’t need the acceptance by a specific gallery to share our work with the world.

We don’t necessarily need to make a living at our art, to have it in our lives.

In the end, we are just people. People who have a knack, or talent, or skill, whether it’s an innate sense of color and design, or simply perseverance and the desire to do the best we can with what we’ve got.

We’re people who found a way to have a voice in the world, and we are allowed to use it.

We’re people who, when we make the work of our heart, find we can actually lift the hearts of others, too. IF we share it.

All this ‘marketing-speak’ boils down to this: It’s just a way to get our art-and story–in front of others, without spending very much money, with a certain amount of time and effort, with a camera/smartphone, and access to the internet. That’s all.

And in the midst of all this, though I woke up feeling physically and emotionally down-trodden, just writing this has lifted my heart a little.

Just thinking about my own superpower-the ability to make something that looks like it might be 10,000 years old, with its own mystery and yearning, with a substance that’s only three or four decades old, that only needs a little oven to ‘cure’; the ability to write down my thoughts, to consider my current state-of-mind and ask “why so sad?” and to count my blessings; the self-knowledge that if I go to my studio today, I will definitely find some small but comforting feeling of “I can do this; all of these come from my art-making, my own Throne of Iron. Er…plastic.

I just realized I’m not mad at Bean anymore, either.

We have the power of our choices, even our tiniest choices, every day, literally and figuratively.

Today, I can listen to all those little voices, the ones that want to keep me safe by keeping me small, frightened, caring too much what other people think, too worried about a future I cannot see nor control.

Or I can listen to my mighty heart, which knows what I can control and what I can’t, and to embrace the former while acknowledging and letting go of the latter.

I can listen to my mighty heart, which has always known “Not everyone will be a fan” and yet persevere, with what matters to me.

I can listen to my mighty heart, which whispers, “Be the artist you were always meant to be”, and be grateful I know how powerful this truly is. To have the ability, and the power, to choose this.

If we are quiet, if we listen to our heart today, accepting the “no”, but reaching for the “yes”, what would be possible today?

What is getting YOU through these confusing, trying times? Share your happy place in the comments! I’d love to hear them. But even more important….

There may be someone on the other side of the globe that needs to hear what you have to say, today. Right now.

If this article inspired you today, please pass it on to someone else who might like it, too. And if someone sent this to you today, and you liked it, you can see more advice on art marketing at Fine Art Views, more of my articles on FAV, and subscribe to my email newsletter at my website at LuannUdell.com.

THE NEW NORMAL And the Power of Our Choices

When things change, we get a chance to consider what's really important.
When things change, we get a chance to consider what’s really important.

THE NEW NORMAL And the Power of Our Choices

When things change, we get a chance to consider what’s really important.

Part of me doesn’t want to write about our “new normal”.

My email inbox has about three items that aren’t about COVID-19, and not much is useful or helpful. Part of me doesn’t even want to use that new word in a sentence.

Part of me wishes we could go back a month and start over. Part of me wishes the next six months were over, and we get back to the “old normal”.

Part of me also thinks I’m the only one who’s thinking this. Ha!

And yet, so much of my daily life is pretty much the same. My partner and I have worked out of our home for decades. Video conferences are a staple for him. Friendships have grown by phone calls. We’ve always been “loners” out of necessity, partly because we moved so much when we were younger, and partly because of our last major move across the country five years ago.

So what’s hard about that now?

Because someone said we had to.

It feels childish, and that’s because it is. On one hand, it can feel positive because now we know what the right thing to do is. OTOH, not many of us are comfortable feeling we have no choice.

And that can make us feel powerless.

What is the source of “power” for me?

Changing a mental attitude. Embracing a new “normal”. Choosing. Acceptance.

Finding new ways to do things.

Here are some choices that I’ve found helpful:

Stepping away from the “news” firehose.

From the remark, “trying to sip from a firehose”, where there is so much water coming out, sipping = drowning. There’s a healthy balance between getting important updates and facts, and immersing ourselves in “knowledge” that sucks up valuable time. We need to know newest developments, of course. But do we need to check those every half hour? Nope. I wasn’t even aware I was doing this until a friend emailed me yesterday. They are busier more than ever with work, since the format shifted to online consultations with clients (which they already know how to do.) But it’s even harder to make room for their creative work because they’re constantly checking their news feed. Their admitting it shined a little light on my own behavior.

Why do we do this? Because a) it feels like we’re doing something productive, and b) it’s a way to manage our fear and uncertainty. OH, and c) it helps us feel less alone. All of these things are good things in moderation. As a “new normal”, not so much.

Making a conscious decision to only read reliable news sources for useful updates can help. (Won’t fix it, of course, THANK YOU LIZARD BRAIN, but it helps.)

Actively thinking about what works for us, and what doesn’t. I can’t do production work at home, because my own workspace here is half the kitchen table (since a family member moved out here with us last year, I lost/gave up my home studio. See how I reframed that?!) I have an elderly cat who insists I focus on her by methodically knocking every thing off the table. Every minute. All day. (Yes, I’ve tried all kinds of work-arounds, but a spray bottle of water works best.) Fortunately, my off-site studio is structured so I can shelter in place there, too. Another artist friend’s studio doesn’t work that way, but they’ve carved out a creative space at home. We can all explore ways to carve out a tiny creative space if our studios are off-limits and our schedules are upended.

Realizing I can still go to my studio, with the proper precautions, has helped stabilize my routine.

Instead of looking for people to blame, look for the helpers. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”  – Fred Rogers

Reading about bad behavior and selfishness feels good, because it helps us feel “better than” those folks who don’t “get it”. We forget that we are all hard-wired to behave badly at times, and that other people may have fewer choices to deal with the crazy. My own shortcoming?

Hating people who cry about having to “shelter in place” in their multi-million dollar mansions. Until I realize if they are that unhappy, then I am truly blessed to be completely happy in our less-than-900 s.f. home that shelters three people, 3 cats and a dog. (Even if my writing desk is half the kitchen table!)//////  (And those dashes are where my cat just tried to walk across my keyboard again.)

Instead, I love reading about the helpers, the people who realize they have something other people don’t: The ability to sew face masks for the rest of us. Time to run errands for others. The person who tipped a delivery driver with money, and a roll of toilet paper. (My cat is trying to knock over the squirt bottle.)

Because these people embody my last suggestion:

Focus on what we CAN do, instead of what we CAN’T. A few major art events (open studios, opening receptions, etc.) have already been cancelled, and I’m surprised at my feelings – relief! I added an extra one this year, a big one. I was beginning to feel a little pressured.

And now I have plenty of time to update my Etsy shop, order supplies for that new jewelry line I’ve been working on (Ooooooh!! Online shopping!!! YES!!!). When I’m at the studio, I focus on making over cleaning and organizing.

My husband and I were complaining about having to be home so much, until we both realized it was only because we have to. Remove that thinking, replace it with “want to”, and there’s our “old normal” back. Simply reframing how we think about it took some pressure off. (Not useful if your kids are young enough to be home from school, too, but again, another tiny blessing I hadn’t thought of before!)

My partner and I made some stupid choices before we “knew better”. (I didn’t think the situation was that serious, until I had more facts.)

Now we know better – and we do better.

And the side effects! Air pollution has dramatically shrunk since the pandemic. People have new appreciation for open spaces and parks (although we also blew those outlets when too many people thronged to the coast and state/national parks last weekend.) Maybe we’ll care more about protecting them, going forward. Realizing what we do have, that others don’t, gives us a chance to be more compassionate, and caring. Health care workers, first responders, teachers, delivery people, all have gained even more respect.

In the end, it all boils down to the power of our choices. Not just our physical ones, but our emotional/spiritual/mental ones, too.

As artists, our role is a powerful one, and will continue to be, sales or no sales. We have always dealt with uncertainty, our markets plummet at the first sign of “danger”, and when society is darkest, art is a tremendous solace to many. Not just our art, but the creative work of all. It’s what restores us to our highest, best self, and it’s what gives moments of beauty and joy to others.

What is one positive change or insight you’ve had recently? What has lifted your heart in these scary times? What gives you hope?

And how can you share it with others? Start here, and pay it forward, today!

WHAT I WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME ABOUT ARTISTS: We Will Never Know Our True Legacy

Try our best, we are not in control of how we will be remembered.

There’s a brilliant cartoon called Non Sequitur by Wiley Miller that ran a few weeks ago. It starts with a caption, “The Get-Rich-Quick Correspondence Art School” and shows an artist standing before a huge empty canvas, paintbrush in hand, reading the first page of the instruction book:

“Step 1: Fill in blank canvas.

Step 2: Sell it for $1,000,000*

*Price triples if you die first!”

Funny? Not funny? Sad? All of the above!

We all know about Vincent Van Gogh, who sold maybe one painting in his lifetime, whose work (one painting) sold in 1990 for a record $82.5 million dollars.

Then there’s the most popular artist of the Victorian era, whose work, within a few decades after his death, was deemed saccharine and trite. He is so forgotten I can’t easily find him by Googling, I just remember that story from one of my art history books.

We have our own Thomas Kinkade, arguably the most commercially successful artist of our time, mass-producing paintings that look like a sickeningly-sweet Christmas card my grandmother might have sent out. Love him, hate him, he certainly knew how to manipulate the market, to the extent it’s estimated that 1 in 20 households in the U.S. own a print of his work. Will his work stand the test of time? We’ll see.

The irony is, we tend to concern ourselves with achieving fame and fortune, or at least a presence in the world. (Yes, I secretly dream of a time when people will clamor for my work!)

But we actually have very little control over that.

Oh, we participate in art events, we self-promote, we strive to work with the best galleries. We work for good publicity, we work our social media, we are delighted when the rich and famous buy our work. (Double publicity!)

Some of us use more extreme measures.

We could be famous for cutting off an ear (this was not done for publicity, of course, but this is how many ordinary people identify Van Gogh), or inserting a crucifix upside down in a bottle of urine. We could be famous for trademarking “Painter of Light”, (except that all painters, technically, are recording light.) It can be difficult to think of a more disturbing painting than Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights”, and yet, it has held its place in time. In my recent column about finding an audience,  I shared how the attention actress/writer April Winchell’s now-archived website Regretsy actually brought attention—and sales—to truly awful handmade items sold on Etsy.

So maybe we’ll be famous after we’ve been dead awhile. Maybe, if we manipulate the media cleverly, we can be famous now.

If not, well, maybe our art, like the images in those prehistoric Ice Age caves, will survive for thousands of years, to be discovered by an entirely new race of humans (or…..aliens??) who will marvel at our work, find its full beauty, and wonder what the heck we were trying to say.

We’re not wrong to feel this way. We’re just humans.

We all want to believe we matter.

We all want to believe we have made a difference in this world.

We all want to believe the work of our heart matters.

That is the central core of my artist statement, realizing that we all want to leave our mark in the world.

That’s not wrong. That’s achingly beautiful. It’s extremely human.

Maybe we will, maybe we won’t.

In the end, though, all we can do is to do the best we can.

We have to work at our own pace, in our own manner, with our own style. We have to make a little room in our lives to do that work.

We must respect the work we do, and try not to be envious of the work of others, nor their reputation, income, or celebrity.

We have to discover the stories that mean everything to us, and share them, through our creative work, with the world.

In a perfect world, all creative work would foster tolerance, harmony, love, respect for our earth and all the people on it, and be a force for good in the world.

But there is also a darkness in every heart, just as there is a bit of light within the greatest evil.

 That, too, is what it means to be human.

And so my hope for you, today, is that this helps you set aside your agonizing about fame and fortune. I hope it can change your definition of success, so you feel fulfilled with your efforts to make art.

I hope we can create our work today and let go of focusing only on where it lands in the world.

I hope we can all find a way, and a reason, to keep on ‘making’. I hope we can let go of envy of the success of others, and our own fears of failure, and simply rejoice that we have the luxury, and the privilege, to be able to do this work.

Our only real obligation is to make it. And then share it with the world, through sales (yes!), through connection, through relationships, and mostly through our love for what we do.

And have hope that this will be enough.

(As always, if you enjoyed this article, pass it on! Someone you know may need to hear it, today. You can sign up for more articles at my blog here.)

 

Shaman

Years ago, an older gentleman using a wheelchair, and accompanied by his wonderful wife, came into my very first booth at the League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair.

He was an artist himself. And when he saw my work, he…exploded (figuratively), in a wonderful, emotional, deeply spiritual way.

He asked questions, he listened carefully to my answers, about the sources of my inspiration, what led me to do this work, where I was heading with it.

He got it. He got every single tiny little thing about it.

As he circled the booth, he kept saying, “You’re a shaman! You’re a shaman!”

His words made me very uncomfortable. Now, I (thought I) knew what a shaman was.  If I’ve learned anything in my life, it’s that the minute I think I know everything, life will quickly and surely show me I don’t. (That’s why “eternal student of life” sneaks into almost all my my bios and intros.)

He stopped. He said, “I’m scaring you a little, aren’t I?”

I said yes. I said, “I thought I knew what a shaman was. A wise leader. but I don’t feel that way.”

He shared with me this beautiful, powerful definition of a shaman:

All shamans are artists.  But not all artists are shamans. 

All shamans are teachers. But not all teachers are shamans. 

All shamans are healers. But not all healers are shamans.”

It spoke so deeply to me, to how I felt about my art: My art healed me, and I believe it sometimes helps others heal. I love to share what I’ve learned, but not in a here’s-how-you-make-a-little-horse-way that so many people expect. More in a “what is the story only YOU can tell?” way.

And yet, even years later, I felt uncomfortable using that word in reference to myself.

Until, just a year or so before we left New Hampshire, I shared that story with a professional shaman. And she said, what I call Definiton of a Shaman Part IV:

“‘Shaman’ isn’t something you call yourself. It’s what others call YOU.”

A day or so ago, I had a teensy emotional breakdown. (In addition to difficult family matters, scary family matters, my most vulnerable pet on the lam, more uncertainty about my studio space, etc., I’ve been demolished by allergies this month. It’s scary, and exhausting, and leaves me fragile and exposed.) I wrote about it, listened to Mary Gauthier (pronounced go-shay. Who knew?? Not me!) singing “Mercy Now”.  I had a little cathartic cry, and felt better.

So many people reached out to me, (you know who you are. THANK YOU!!!), including a few old and dear friends.

I get lazy when I’m “out of earshot.” I love catching up with people in person, but I suck at phone conversations, and when I write, I lose track of what I’ve told, and to whom.

But in the last two days, I’ve reached out. And people have reached out, especially a handful of people I call “my wise women”. And each one had just what I needed to hear to start down a healing path again. (Note to self: One quality of a good friend is, they don’t try to tell you your reality. Thank you, Melinda!)

None of these people would call themselves a shaman. (Of course they wouldn’t! See Definition Part IV above.)

None of them believe they have everything figured out. (Of course they wouldn’t! If you meet someone who claims that, run away.)

Some of them, who are going through extremely shitty stuff, would not even consider their blorting to be “wise words.” (But they are. Their words show self-awareness, self-responsibility, anguish with a huge dash of humor thrown in, and incredible strength of character. Not because “they’re doing it right”. Because , even when they think they’re doing it horribly, terribly wrong, because when they are in a hard place and they hate hate hate it, yet they continue to do the incredibly difficult work they have to do. And they are open to the tiny miracles and blessings they find along the way.)*

And so I say to you today, thank you. Thank you, Melinda, Carrie, Amy J., Julie, Deb, Mary-Ellen, anyone I’ve missed because I am a bird-brain this week, and also to those who would have reached out, if they’d known, because that’s what they do…. Even someone I hardly know, who simply validated my experience recently at an Art Trails event that went totally weird. Thank you, Linda! Thank you, Clare, for encouraging me to take some “horse time” today.

Thank you.

You are a shaman.

P.S. Just want to say, most of my issues I’m moping about are third-world issues. Others have it harder. A helluva lot harder. Just sayin’, I’m aware of my privilege here.

P.P.S. If you are struggling today, try this: Everything is Awful, and I’m Not Okay

*I’ve just read the book Everything Happens for a Reason (and other lies I’ve loved… So I want to clarify this. I don’t believe we are sent shit to deal with for a reason. Shit happens. I do think that what can help us through, through the fear, the anger, the despair, is to look for those tiny synchronicities that help us get through another day.

Like me saying to Jon, during his quick visit to New Hampshire last week, and on his way back to Keene from the White Mountains, “I wish we could talk with Jim and Kate (whom we haven’t seen in years) because they went through this exact same thing, and maybe they have some wisdom on how we can get through this, too.” And ONE HOUR LATER, Jon stopped for a quick dunk at the Discount Beach Club (“Bring your own damn towel”) on Dublin Lake, and he heard someone say, “Jon? Is that you?!” And there were Jim and Kate on the “beach.”)**

**The Discount Beach Club was a turn-off on Route 12, which runs around part of Dublin Lake.*** It’s literally that–a turn-off where you can scoot down to the lake. Not “restricted membership”, like some other lake accesses, or the boat launch, or whatever. The chances of finding someone there, let alone someone we know, let alone the exact people we needed right then? Well. That’s my definition of a miracle! So add Jim and Kate to the list!

***Dublin Lake has worked magic before, as these two blog posts illustrate. Cool place.

 

Dublin Lake 2005
Dublin Lake works its magic again! Discount Beach Club is just around the corner. Literally!

 

 

GRATITUDE

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.

What happened?

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.

Wow. Just…..wow.

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….

“Thank you.”

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.)

 

TODAY IS A BEAUTIFUL DAY

I was having a pretty good day.

I had a good cup of coffee.

I had a list of things to do, and enough time to do them. And I found a great parking space at each destination.

I made a fruitful sales call today. And a bruised professional relationship is back on track, thanks to a good friend’s intervention.

I bought a fresh turkey for our Thanksgiving dinner. Our oven is on the blink, but a good friend is lending us the use of theirs while they’re away.

I have a workshop to run tonight. It’s going very, very well, and I’m looking forward to what people will come up with.

I didn’t get too annoyed with people at the very crowded grocery store, and I don’t think I did anything too annoying to others. Except, maybe, the woman into whose grocery cart I plopped my turkey, thinking it was my cart. (She laughed, though, so I think I’m good.)

Someone asked me how my family is, and I could truthfully say, “We are all okay!”.

I was just beginning to get annoyed with Jon, but took a break, eating a quick lunch while browsing my email.

And then I found this beautiful little movie about today.

How about you?

Do you have six minutes to make this a perfect, beautiful day?

My view looking north out my studio window.
My view looking south.
My view looking up. Yep, it’s a beautiful day. And I am grateful!

MOTHER’S DAY

I’m too hot and lazy today to write a post. So I’m reprinting one from my old blog at Radio Userland, one of the early blog sites.

Enjoy!

Many years ago, I was miserably single, sure that I would end my life alone in a messy house filled with cats. Each new relationship seemed to vie for the previous one for weirdness and dysfunction.

I drove up to my sister’s house for a visit one weekend. While we waited for her husband Tom to get home from work, I helped watch her boys while she took down the laundry.

They lived in a tiny town 30 minutes outside a big city, in a run-down but charming old farmhouse Sue had painted and wall papered to within an inch of its life. It was warm and homey.

We were out in their spacious backyard. It was a beautiful, sunny summer day. A brisk wind whipped the sheets on the clothesline as Sue struggled to unpin them. Joey, her oldest boy, was running happily to and fro, occasionally plowing into a flapping sheet, his little three-year-old body pushing into its folds. Her baby Eddie was gurgling in his bouncy chair.

I was almost heartsick with envy. I was happy for Sue, of course. But I wondered if I would ever have such joy in my life.

The bees buzzed through the flowers, the wind blew, and all birds sang. I finally set aside my envious heart and chased Joe through the sheets as he shrieked with delight.

I remain, to this day, “Aunt You” thanks to Joe’s inability to pronounce the letter “L” at the time.

Years later, my husband and I moved to New England with our newborn baby. We bought our first home, a run-down farmhouse in the middle of Keene.

It was July, and in the middle of a major heat wave when we moved in. We only had one fan. Jon went off in the mornings to his air-conditioned office. I would lie on the floor panting in front of the fan, with Robin gazing at me with solemn eyes at my side.

We had a washing machine, but no dryer. I slogged out huge baskets of cloth diapers (yes, we fell for that ‘environmentally responsible’ crap), clothes towels and sheets to hang on the clothesline in our backyard.

One day, I hung our clothes out to dry. Before I could bring them inside, it rained.

I spun them in the washing machine, and hung them out to dry again.

It rained again.

And then they started to smell, because they’d been damp for so long.

So I washed them again, and hung them up once more.

They were barely dry when it started to sprinkle again. I dashed outside with Robin in her bouncy seat, and frantically began to fling everything into laundry baskets before it really poured.

Despite all the rain, it was still incredibly hot. The rains only seemed to increase the humidity.

The mosquitoes were fierce, and I alternated between smacking them off me and off Robin. She had developed a rash, and was prickly and bumpy. She was usually a happy baby, but not today. She fussed and cried as I raced the rain.

The lawn badly needed mowing–the weeds came up almost to my knees. The mosquitoes absolutely loved it. So did our cat, who repeatedly leaped out of the grass to pounce my ankles whenever I passed too close.

Halfway through unpinning sheets, I suddenly remembered that it was almost time for Jon to come home–and I had totally forgotten about dinner. There was nothing in the house to eat.

And the house was a total mess.

I thought of that day at Sue’s house.

When I called my mom that evening, I told her about my busy afternoon.

She said, “So you realized the dream wasn’t as wonderful as you thought it would be?”

“No, that’s not it at all”, I answered.

“I realized I was deliriously happy.

THE BURNING QUESTION: Today’s Exercise in Gratitude

I’ve been running around like the proverbial chicken without a head lately. As my surgery date nears (one week!), I find myself awash in frantic, circular thinking. It hits me hardest in the wee hours of the morning, when I wake up to find my brain a-spinning from wild, crazed anxiety. (Warning: You can skip this part, I assure you it makes very little sense.)

“OMG, OMG, my studio is a mess and I haven’t shipped new stock to my galleries and I don’t have enough materials for that new project I’ve been dreaming about for so long, and where am I going to find X, and Y, and Z supplies, I can’t do my summer show, I’m going to run out of money, I should be writing my next article, the dogs are driving me crazy, my house is a mess, that surgery is gonna hurt like HELL and I’ve changed my mind, what if I die or something?? What should I do first? Clean the studio, no, clean the house! NO, I don’t want to spend my last few days cleaning, for God’s sake!! I’m so tired, my knee hurts, my leg hurts, my back hurts, I should get some exercise, but everything hurts, and besides it’s raining, and I still have to take the dogs out, those dogs are driving me CRAZY, my house is a mess and in one week I won’t even be able to wriggle a toe without pain, I’ve changed my mind, I want my life back, no, I want my knee back, no, no, OMG, what should I DOOOOO??? I could take a nap, no, that’s a waste of time, I should go for a walk, no wait, it’s raining, I can’t take the dogs out, OMG, OMG.”

You read that? I warned you not to. I told you it would make no sense.

Why?

Because everything I’m whining about in that crazed spin-y place comes from a majorly amazing blessing in my life.

My studio is a mess? I HAVE a studio. A beautiful, spacious studio that I love being in, working in, writing in. The space–an antique barn we renovated for the purpose–is the reason we bought this house. It’s a mess because…well, frankly, I’m a very messy person when I’m working. And I’d rather spend my time making and writing than cleaning. (Although I HAVE managed to clear up some floor space and reorganize some stuff in here the last few weeks.)

My beautiful studio.

I haven’t shipped work to my galleries? Well, I still have time to do that. But even if I don’t, the work isn’t going anywhere. It will still be here when I’m up and around after my surgery. Maybe I’ll even have some new work ready when the time comes.

I can’t find enough materials for my new body of work? That’s just me trying to have total control of a project at the outset. The truth is, I have enough materials to start the series, and play, and experiment. I don’t have to have everything figured out, and materials for a hundred pieces, in order to get started.

I can’t do my summer show? My main income builder, and the only way I see most of my customers and collectors? Actually, it’s kind of a relief to take a sabbatical this year. It’s a wicked hard show to do. Nine days of retail sales, outside, in the August heat. Weather-dependent–if it rains, I’m toast. Plus set-up and break-down. I’ll miss my customers–they inspire me and support me. But they won’t forget me overnight. I’ll invite them to my open studio in the fall. And I’m also curious to find out what will appear this year, when I make room for it. I’ve been given the gift of time–time to think. Time to be open to new possibilities. Time to make new work. Time to (gasp!) truly relax and enjoy summer in New England, for the first time in fifteen years.

Long days. Man, do I really look that grumpy??

Scary surgery? 500,000 people a year have total knee replacement surgery. Some of them have complications, but most of them don’t. And a lot of pain for a few months may mean a lot LESS pain for the next 20 years. Not a bad trade. And I’m not going to be able to clean the house OR the studio for awhile. I have the perfect excuse to have a messy house and a messy studio!

The crazy dogs? We currently have three dogs in house. All were Turks & Caicos rescue pups. Tuck we brought home with us from our vacation there three years ago. One we fostered last fall, and adopted out to a young woman. We are babysitting her for a few weeks. And Nick was adopted out to a family in Boston last year, but they can’t keep him. We thought we had a home for him, but it’s beginning to look like he’s already home. HERE. He’s a goof, and he’s still a pup (9 months old.) But he’s also sweet-tempered, cuddly, and loving. He and Tuck are already best friends. Yes, dogs are a lot of work. Any pet adds to your daily chores. So do kids. And spouses. Yep, everything would be so much easier if we didn’t have all those other people and critters in our lives. Easier. Definitely cleaner. More calm.

And terribly, unbearably lonely.

Good dogs.

So what’s the burning question?

Today, one of my favorite bloggers, Danielle LaPorte asked, “What do you want… that you already have?”

It was the perfect question for me to ask myself, today.

ANGELS IN ODD PLACES

Yesterday I met the family who may have saved my son’s life.

The daughter heard the car crash late that night. She roused her mother. They ran outside in their pajamas to his car.

Everyone who saw the car said the same thing. They all thought no one could have survived that crash.

The woman and her daughter sat with him while the dad called 911.

The mom stayed with son til the police and ambulance came. She couldn’t reach him–he was too entangled in the dashboard. The car was so badly crushed, he couldn’t move.

It was cold that night, in the teens. She gave him her coat to staunch the bleeding from his head wounds. She kept talking to him, trying to keep him from passing out or falling asleep. He was obviously in shock, and suffering from a concussion.

The first police officer on the scene waited with him til the ambulance came. “He was gentle and supportive,” the mom said.

If the daughter had not heard the crash, my son could have lain there for hours before someone found him. No one else heard it–all the other houses in the area remained dark and silent.

I know he is a man, all grown up, with a deep voice, a scowl for his out-of-it parents, with a job and an apartment, a whole life we know so little about.

In my mind’s eye, I still see that small child, solemn one moment, giggling with laughter and joy the next. In his purple snowsuit, wearing the purple hat I knit for him, pulling his beloved wagon and carrying his stuffed dog.

I asked him if he remembered her. He said no. He’s too embarrassed to meet her. Someday, he may feel differently.

In the following weeks, the mom and daughter gathered up the detritus from the crash–broken mirrors, pieces of metal–that the clean-up crew overlooked. They didn’t want anyone else to be injured by sharp glass and metal. They also found some CDs, some computer games, a hacky-sack or two. They gathered these in a box, and called our home a few days ago to let us know we could pick them up.

“We’re in the big house right across the street from where it happened,” she said on the phone. “You can’t miss us.”

My husband had been to the site, taking pictures of the skid marks, the road, later the car at the tow garage. I hadn’t been to the site. It was hard to look at that deep drop-off from the road, the gash in the tree, the scrape on the telephone pole.

I remembered the photos my husband had taken of the car. I remember not being able to take my eyes off those images. They were horrible.

The mom and dad came to the door to greet us. I thanked her. It was nothing, she said. She simply did what anybody would have done–taken care of a stranger, a young man in need.

She’d been in a bad accident once. She’d fallen asleep on her way home, and woke up to confusion and pain. But she was not as fortunate. No one heard her car crash. She’d made her way, slowly and painfully, to a nearby house. They wouldn’t let her in. They made her wait in the driveway while they phoned the police. She remembers how that felt–in the dark, in the cold, in pain, waiting. She said she couldn’t let that happen to someone else.

I was thinking, so it’s NOT what anyone else would have done.

I took them some of my jewelry as a small token of gratitude. I told her how grateful we were, that she had been kind to my son. We hugged, and went back home.

I had a chance to meet the police officer, too, at the emergency room. He was gentle and kind. We met again at the police station a few weeks later. He did his job, but without the need to heap further humiliation on top of my son. I shook his hand. I told him it had been a very difficult night, and he had made it a little easier with his kindness.

It was nothing, he said.

It was everything, I said.

I thought of the police lieutenant in Ann Arbor, the one who listened to me when I called asking for help, for guidance when we found out our daughter’s fiance was a potentially dangerous person. She couldn’t offer much as a police officer, she said. But as a mother, she had a lot to give.

We spoke to her many times over the next few weeks. In our trips out to Michigan to be with our daughter, we got to meet her. A wonderful, intelligent, thoughtful woman, she was one of countless remarkable souls who were with us in our hour(s) of need.

Her email address said “Angela”, and as I got up to leave after our visit, I called her that.

She laughed. “It’s ‘Angela’ here in the department,” she said.

“But my real name is Angel.”

Of course it is, I thought.

Of course it is.

THE YEAR OF (PAINFUL) GROWTH

We’re still in February and it’s been a rough year already.

We thought 2011 was bad. My best friend/lover/husband/sounding board and I hit one of those places in our marriage–you know what I’m talking about–where we’d look at each other and think (or even worse, say), “Who the hell are you, and what have you done with my husband/wife??!!”

Oh, we’ve gone to couples therapy before, for short-term help. And I mean really short-term. Sometimes we’d only need to meet with a referee counselor two or three times to get clear on our stuff. We jokingly referred to those interludes as ‘tune-ups’–just like a regular oil change to keep our partnership running smoothly.

This time, like our Subaru Forester, we went in for what we thought was an oil change, and ended up having to pull the engine. (No, we are no longer happy with Subaru.)

The repair process was simple, but not easy. If you want a year’s worth of couples counseling reduced down to a few suggestions, here are mine: Don’t assume–ask. Then listen to the answers. And don’t eat those restaurant leftovers unless you ask their owner first. (It’s one of those situations where preferring to ask for forgiveness instead of asking for permission will backfire. Just trust me on this one.) Oh, and the biggie: Value the relationship over having to be right.

It was a tough process, but we’re on the home stretch. We can now afford to look back and say, “I almost lost you” and be amazed. A good thing.

So what could be worse than almost losing your marriage?

Almost losing your kids.

Last fall was the time of extreme anxiety. Finding out your kid is in an abusive relationship? It’s the worst (or so we thought.) We had to tread carefully, keeping doors open, staying grounded, trusting in….well, trust. Putting our faith in the love and trust we’d built over the years.

We were rewarded with a happy outcome. Our child is safe. Life is good. We’re moving on. We breathed a grateful prayer. 2012 was going to be so much better!

Then, a few weeks ago, we got ‘the phone call.’

It’s the one in the middle of the night, the one you never want to get.

The police telling us there had been an accident.

Before my heart could stop, the caller rushed to assure us, “He’s okay! He’s okay!”

We nearly lost our other kid. To a car accident so fierce, our aforementioned Subaru Forester would now probably fit inside a large refrigerator. I still can’t look at the pictures without choking up.

He’s okay. Or rather, he’ll be okay. Miraculously, though his injuries are numerous, he will recover fully. It will be a long, hard journey, but someday he will be able to put this behind him. And I am very aware that this is not always the case, for so many people or the families they leave behind… My heart breaks for them.

Of course, there are blessings in all of this. I learn from everything, even the bad stuff. But sometimes it’s just too….too. As one of my sisters said years ago, delirious with pain after burning her hand badly while dealing with a small kitchen fire, and listening to us all tell her how lucky for her it was her left hand, not her right, just her hand, not her life, just the kitchen and not the house, etc., “Well, I don’t feel so damned lucky!!”

I just spoke with my beloved hospice supervisor, Lorraine, who struggled to find the right words today. I finally said, “Oh, yeah, there are are blessings here…..DAMN IT!!! And we both burst out laughing.

But…there are blessings.

I am grateful we both believed our marriage was worth fighting for.
I am grateful that my kids know for sure how much we love them. Or, if one of them isn’t sure, we’re getting another chance to prove it to him.
I am grateful for the people who listened. Really, truly listened
I am grateful for the small courtesies received from friends, and family, and complete strangers.
I am so, so grateful for the people who do not judge.

I’ve learned a lot, too.

I know now that a good day doesn’t depend on the weather, or how much I got done, or what didn’t go wrong. Sometimes a good day is simply a day where nobody dies.

Some people think we are ‘bearing up’ well. It’s simple. I know now that there are times when you know the worst has already happened, and times where you know the worst might yet happen. The first is a piece of cake, compared to the latter. I know now that the latter is much, much scarier, and harder to bear.

I know now that no matter what you’re going through, there are other people who understand. Those powerful words of Rosanne Cash, from her book Composed: A Memoir, still resonate in my heart:

You begin to realize that everyone has a tragedy, and that if he doesn’t, he will. You realize how much is hidden beneath the small courtesies and civilities of everyday existence. Deep sorrows and traces of great loss run through everyone’s lives, and yet they let others step into the elevators first, wave them ahead in a line of traffic, smile and greet their children and inquire about their lives, and never let on for a second that they, too, have lain awake at night in longing and regret, that they, too, have cried until it seemed impossible that one person could hold so many tears, that they, too, keep a picture of someone locked in their heart and bring it out in quiet, solitary moments to caress and remember…

I’ve learned that people will judge. It’s a knee-jerk reaction, though. I want to say to them, “Look, if the universe slapped us down or tried to KILL US whenever we did something careless, there wouldn’t be too many of us still walking around…” But I know it’s just human nature. It’s how we convince ourselves that something like that would never happen to us, a way to distance ourselves, a way to protect ourselves. “Well, my kid/husband/daughter would never do that!” Really? Huh…..

Today, my wish for you is what I would wish for myself.

Today, may your blessings be small ones. Simple ones. Easy ones.
May they involve a hug or two, and perhaps a good laugh, and someone to share it with.
May you get a chance to learn something the easy way. Not the hard way.
And may you always get a second chance, another chance to say, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” To say, “Thank you.”

To say, “I love you.”

MY ART IS WHO I AM: Another Lesson From Hospice

Every hospice experience teaches me something. And my latest hospice client has already taught me something big.

The first client visit can be tricky. Each situation is very different, and I never know what to expect. So I come prepared for almost anything.

My visiting bag usually holds several books. One is something for me to read if the client is sleeping or not conscious. Another is a book of poetry, or a prayer book, or perhaps a favorite story to read aloud. (One of my favorite memories is reading Dodie Smith’s bittersweet “I Capture the Castle” to an elderly gentleman, who was as enthralled by the story as I was.)

I also carry a good supply of crossword puzzles, a notebook or journal to write in, and sometimes, my latest knitting project.

On my first visit with this client, she spied my knitting needles and asked me about my project. I pulled it out and soon we were talking about knitting. Turns out she was an avid–and extremely talented–knitter. And though her yarn stash does not rival mine, it’s still impressive.

Sadly, she’s losing the ability to knit. “But we can still look!” I said cheerfully. So we spend our time looking at knitting magazines, exclaiming over the pretty pictures of sweaters, hats and scarves, commenting on the yarns and the patterns. Last week, she turned to me and said in a fierce whisper, “I just LOVE looking at knitting patterns!” “So do I!” I whispered back.

Today she spoke sadly (and metaphorically, which is common at this stage) about not being able to knit anymore, and about “an event” that’s coming, something that cannot be stopped, something that comes for everyone.

It’s hard to talk about, she said. And people sometimes pretend it’s not coming, but it is. “It is hard,” I tell her. “People don’t know what to say. So they say nothing.” She nods fiercely.

I ask her how she feels about it. She thinks for a moment.

There are things that have defined her, all her life, that are now slipping away softly but surely, into a growing gray mist. “I can’t remember what it is, but it’s all going away,” she says sadly.

My heart goes out to her. It reminded me of my very first day in hospice training.

One of the hospice chaplains ran the exercise. It sounds laughably simple.

But it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

She gave each of us ten little slips of paper. We were each told to write down ten things that were important to us.

They could be people (family, friends), they could be experiences (marriage, traveling, work), skills (arts, gardening, dancing, martial arts), character traits (intelligence, humor).

We spent quite a bit of time getting our lists just right.

Then the chaplain said, “I’m going to come around and take one of your slips. Decide which one you can give up.” It was hard, but it went quickly.

Then she said, “Now I’m going to take three things. Here I come!” Those three things were much harder to choose. We all breathed a sigh of relief when she was done.

Then she said, “Hold up your remaining slips. This time, I get to choose!” I guess I thought she would read each ‘hand’ and make a decision. Nope. She strode purposely around our circle, grabbing randomly at the slips in our hands.

It was really really hard.

What we lost was hard.

What was even harder, was knowing it was coming.

And not knowing what we would lose.

Some people tried to fight it. They held on tightly, refusing to let go. (But they had to, in the end..)

Some people–okay, all of us!–cried out in dismay when a precious slip was taken.

Many of us just cried. I did.

It wasn’t fair! Some people got to keep a few precious slips. Others lost all of them.

I cannot describe how it felt. Anger, fear, resentment, sorrow…. None of us were unscathed.

The power of those little slips of paper was palpable. Losing them was devastating.

“This is what it’s like,” said the chaplain softly. “This is what it’s like, at the end. Everything–everything–is lost.”

Such a simple exercise. Such a powerful lesson.

I looked at this amazing little woman, who was looking at me, wordlessly asking me….something.

I couldn’t remember the rest of that training day. I couldn’t remember what the chaplain said next.

I could only remember a little story this woman’s daughter had told me an hour earlier.

“Remember the sweater you made for your daughter?” I said. “How beautiful it was, and how beautiful it made her feel?”

She nodded.

“That is what will never go away. You did that. You made something beautiful. It made her feel beautiful. It made her feel loved. That is what will last.”

She nodded fiercely again.

I think I saw a little smile on her face.

My friend Kerin Rose once tried to tell me this, a few years ago when I was in a bad place. I felt apart from my art for awhile, and was frightened of who I would–or wouldn’t be–without it.

“You would still be you,” she insisted. I wasn’t sure….

But now I understand.

Yes, my art is who I am.

Not because of what I can or can’t do. Nor because of what I could do.

But because of what I’ve already done.

Because of what it’s already meant to me.

And because of what it’s already meant to others.

And that is what will last.

Dishclothes

JUST ANOTHER BEAUTIFUL MORNING

Yep, life was weird and scary this fall and winter, and I’ve been in a funk.

So many days I didn’t want to leave the warmth and comfort of my own bed. I couldn’t think of a reason why I should, either. I slept ten hours, eleven hours, sometimes twelve hours at night.

And still felt lethargic and only half-here.

Now some of the grey has lifted. Slowly, I return to the things that have always given me strength–my writing, my craft, my marriage, my family.

And my friends.

Last week, on an impulse, I invited myself to piggy-back along on a friend’s trip down to Webs, a fabulous yarn store in Northampton, MA. I’m in knitting mode, which hits me in winter. Actually, I’m in yarn-and-pattern-and-book buying mode, but whatever.

I couldn’t believe how much I anticipated that road trip. Jenny was taking a class, and would spend most of the day at the store. It’s the kind of place I can hang out in for hours, too–shopping the yarn warehouse, with its bargain-basement prices. With a shopping cart, people! I need more yarn like a hole in the head, but it was so soothing to be with the lovely colors and textures of yarn. Then I spent more hours browsing through every single pattern book and leaflet.

It all appeals to the hunter-gatherer in me.

I was in fiber junkie heaven.

And I got to spend some time with Jenny. Which turned out to be the best, most healing part.

To know Jenny is to love her. She’s simply a good, gentle woman. Always there for her family and friends. She has an open and loving heart, and we gravitate to her as a sunflower follows the sun.

One particular exchange resonates with me today. Jenny has sheep, and she’s the ‘morning feeder’. She gets up at the crack of dawn, rain or shine, to care for them. (Her husband Mike, another treasured presence in our circle, is the ‘night feeder’.)

Jenny said sometimes she hates getting up in the cold winter mornings. It can be a hard time of day here in New England. Freezing rain, deep snow, cold winds can put a damper on your enthusiasm. (I’m personally grateful we don’t have ducks or chickens this year…. The feelings of guilt on those zero degree nights is mind-numbing!)

But then Jenny, as she usually does, said something quiet and clear, and deeply profound.

“I look around, and see the morning,” she said. “And each morning is so different, Lu! Each one is beautiful in its own way….”

Light. Sky. Clouds. Wind. Water–snow, ice, rain, mist, dew. Birds. Color–in the flowers, in the leaves, everywhere you look. Something that catches your eye, or your ear, or your heart, something different, every day….

Sometimes the sunrise is brilliant and gorgeous. Other times, perhaps just a small cluster of rose-gold clouds glowing on the horizon. Sometimes the wind puts all the trees in motion. Other times, she said, it’s so quiet, you can’t even hear the traffic from the country road a few miles away. Sometimes you hear the cackling commotion of crows, other times, simply the sweet, low cry of a morning dove.

Every day. Something different. Something…unique.

Something you only see when you pull yourself out of your warm and safe bed, and venture bravely out into the new day.

I’ve thought about that every day since.

I am so grateful for people like Jenny, who gently, sweetly, help me remember what it is to be alive.

And though I’m more of a sunset person than a morning person, today I, too, try to see–with fresh eyes, an open heart, a calm spirit and grateful nature–the beauty of each new day.

ME, THE TATTOOED LADY

Yep, I started out 2012 with a bang. I got my first tattoo.

Now, I didn’t do it to look hip (if hip is even the up-to-the-minute word for….well, up-to-the-minute.)

It’s on a hidden place on my body. But don’t worry, it won’t embarrass you (or me) for me to show you in a public place.

It’s an animal. But surprisingly, not one of my animals.


It’s Mama Bunny from Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown, a children’s book I read to my kids when they were little. (I love the illustration that mirrors the ‘cow jumping over the moon’ illustration in Wise’s other popular children’s book, “Goodnight Moon”.) My Mama Bunny is the one from the very last page, where Mama Bunny and Baby Bunny are eating carrots together. (I asked to NOT have the carrot added. Didn’t seem right to have a carrot on my ear.)
Oops. Gave away the tattoo location. It’s on the back of my right ear.

How did this come to be?

Well, this summer, soon after my daughter announced her engagement, she asked me to accompany her to get her third tattoo.

Robin has unusual tattoos. The first is a heart. Not a cute little Valentine’s Day heart, but an anatomically correct heart illustration. I keep forgetting to ask her what it symbolizes, but knowing her, I’d guess strength and passion and core values, with no sugar-coating.

Her second is a line from the great Russian poet, Marina Tsvetaeva. These powerful words encircle her left wrist– Where does such tenderness come from?–from the love poem of the same name. It looks like a flowing wreath of Elven-speak, as beautiful as the words themselves.

So what was Robin’s choice for her third tattoo?

Why, it’s Baby Bunny! She had it done on the back of her right ear, at one of our local tattoo parlors, Mom’s Tattoo. And she asked me to go with her.

It was my first visit to a tattoo studio. I loved the signs (“YES, it hurts!” and “We tattooed your mom!” Can you say, “Foreshadowing!”…?) I held her hand, though she assured me it hardly hurt at all. I complained, teasingly, that now I had to get my ear tattooed, too. After all, if your daughter is willing to endure pain to proclaim her joy in being your daughter, don’t you have to follow suit? She said no need, but I knew.

Soon after, the season from hell started. It’s still not my story to tell, but suffice to say, my daughter is safe, and healing, the engagement is off, the danger has moved on, and life slowly returns to normal.

And when Robin came home for Christmas break, I told her we had to get my Mama Bunny tattoo.

Just to warn you, yes, it hurt. But it didn’t last very long. Robin held my hand. The artist told us he had just done his own mother’s very first tattoo, just before us. (She had a BIG one, with full color, of his name and his brother’s name. SHE was a better mom, tattoo-wise, than I!)

Now we hope to convince my son to get a Baby Bunny tattoo, too. I’m sure he’ll refuse, for many years. But I think someday, when he is less fierce about his independence, and space, he might consider it.

My husband mourns the lack of Daddy Bunny in the tail…er, tale…but I think he’s secretly glad he doesn’t have to get a tattoo.

And as I hold my family safe, with love, and the fierce honesty and respect that got us through that wrecking ball of a relationship, I am so very, very grateful for my blessings.

It’s good to be human, with all the pain, and fear, yes, and even the despair that comes with it.

For then there can be hope, and love, and gratitude, too.

“If you become a bird and fly away from me,” said his mother, “I will be a tree that you come home to.”

THE END OF THE YEAR: Still Standing

It’s been awhile since I’ve written here. Thank you to all of you who wrote, because of the silence, to ask if anything was wrong.

There were some scary things going on this holiday season. It’s been impossible to share them, for many reasons. The main reason is, to do so would violate the privacy of someone I love more than my life. It’s not really my story; I was a bystander who got caught in the backlash of the tornado.

After the worst of the storm had passed, and things looked more like normal (and I am very, very grateful for normal), I wondered why I wasn’t bouncing back as quickly as I usually do. I felt violated, stripped of my reason-to-be, and off-balance about the role art plays in my life.

Two things have put me back on the path.

One is a children’s book I’ve been reading this week. It’s the finale to Susan Cooper’s marvelous series THE DARK IS RISING, about the battle between good and evil in the world. called “Silver on the Tree”. I found “Silver on the Tree” at a thrift shop last week, snatched it up and read it.

Near the end, the heroes venture through a beautiful kingdom, a land of makers and craftspeople, singers and story-tellers, in search of a magic sword to help them in their quest. The king of that land, the maker of the Crystal Sword, sits alone in his castle, immobilized these many long years and silent.

And right there, on page 161, is this amazing passage:

(The enemies of the Light,) they showed the maker of the sword his own uncertainty and fear. Fear of having done the wrong thing–fear that having done this one great thing, he would never again be able to accomplish anything of great worth. Fear of age, of insufficiency, of unmet promise. All such endless Fears, that are the doom of people given the gift of making, and lie always somewhere in their minds. And gradually he was put into despair…..Despair holds him prisoner, despair, the most terrible creation of all.”

I saw myself.

To be open to the world, to be open to your creativity, also means we are exceptionally vulnerable to the dark forces of the world.

When we are open to the chaos of possibility, we are also vulnerable to the chaos of evil.

Even as we delight in the small fierce flame of creation, in ourselves and in others, we are in danger of someone carelessly, deliberately, cruelly, snuffing it out for the sheer enjoyment of tormenting us.

It’s frightening to realize the world has such people in it. They’re surprisingly hard to see, too. In fact, they may be the most charming person you’ve ever met.

Your only clue may be how awful you feel about yourself after dealing with them. How inadequate you feel, how selfish you see yourself, how useless your talents are to the world.

And because you yourself have let in that despair, only you can see it, and only you can tell it to leave.

There’s no logic to it, except this:
You can accept there is evil in the world, and give in to it.
Or you can say there is also good in the world–and embrace it.

I have to choose the latter.

I have to believe in what I do, and in who I am.

The other thing that’s a miracle today, is a little piece of paper I found while cleaning piles and piles of my crap for a party we’re having tonight.

It’s typical of my little notes to myself: Written on a torn sheet of paper, some little thought–the title of a book, an idea, an insight–in an futile attempt to shed some of the mind-slurry that is my brain into something that might help me organize. Or at least remember!

In the middle of a list of books is a quote:

Writing is a meditation for you.”

I have no idea where it came from, or who said it. It sounds like something my friend Quinn MacDonald would say. Heck, maybe I said it! But surely I would have remembered….??

What matters is this: It’s true.

I need to write to process what happens to me. My lack of writing has delayed my healing.

I’ve been writing, privately, the last few days, after this long drought. And slowly, my heart is making sense of the last two months’ events. And some peace is restored in my soul.

So I find myself at the end of the year. It’s been a hard, hard winter already, and many more dark, cold nights ahead.

But now I know this for sure:

When winter comes, can spring be far behind?

And I am so very grateful for these two tiny, wonderful miracles in my life today–a torn piece of paper, and a well-worn old book.

And I’m grateful for my marriage, my children, my family, and friends, and dogs who sleep on your feet at night, and cats who try to sleep on your head.

BIG PUPS

When your life is full of poop, it’s time to stop and smell the roses.

We had a rough week. Nothing serious, nothing even very exciting. Just one of those times where you feel out of it and out of synch. You feel your battery draining instead of charging, and your feet drag for no good reason.

We also picked up two more Potcake puppies from Logan Airport in Boston. And for the next two days, I was frantically thinking, “What have I done??!!”

The pups seemed overly shy and anxious. To make it worse, they’re BIG. Much bigger than any pups we’ve fostered. And heavy. It’s hard to keep up with two puppies to begin with, let alone two you have to chase, and hoist with a big ‘oof!’ and even then, I could only hold one at a time. Twice as hard to manage.

I complained loudly to anyone who would listen. The woman at the rescue operation on the islands they came from; the shelter contact we’ll be delivering the pups to soon; my husband. And myself, in a running chattering dialog of “What-was-I-thinking-I-can’t-do-this-these-pups-are-awful-who-knew-such-a-small-critter-could-hold-so-much-poop-dammit-get-back-here-oh-my-back-OMG-he’s-peeing-AGAIN-help-help-HELP!!!!”

Having kids was like this. And starting my art career. And doing my first show. Come to think of it, doing all my shows. Learning how to shoot my own photos for my online shop. Teaching my first workshop for artists. Teaching my first grief writing workshop.

Get it?

Everything that’s worth doing comes with some dog doo.

Two days later, the pups have calmed down. They’re on a schedule of eating/outside to eliminate/play/sleep. Rinse and repeat.

My sanity returned. Time for damage control!

I wrote a contrite letter of apology to my island contact and another to my local shelter contact for my overreaction. I eased up with the pups. I made peace with my husband.

I realized the gift these puppies are to me.

They’ve traveled a long way from home, through scary airports with complete strangers, without food, in tiny carry-on bags. They arrive to a place with snow (yes, we had snow on Easter Sunday!) and a suspicious older dog and a houseful of grumpy teens and adults.

If that were me I’m not sure I would have been on my best behavior, either.

Marriage, kids, puppies, and yes, art, come into our lives with much romance and excitement. Eventually this is overshadowed by the sheer drudgery and weight of custodial care. You and your spouse have to agree on who’s turn it is to do dishes, and who gets to go into their office and shut the door for a few hours. Kids need custodial care the first few years, and emotional care forever. Pups and kittens sometimes seem to be a conduit of poop from another dimension. (Well. Human infants, too.) With art and career and writing come days of discouragement, missed deadlines, disgruntled gallery owners, difficult customers, sagging sales.

When everything goes wrong, we’re very quick to complain. We want to bail. We wonder if we made the right choices. And is a quickie Mexican divorce really that simple and inexpensive?

When I feel this way, I know it’s time to stop. Breathe. And think about what has to change.

Sometimes we really have barked up the wrong tree. (Dog pun. Sorry!) If everything about what we’re doing is draining our battery and never recharges, then maybe it’s time to consider a new direction.

Maybe we need to change our way of doing things. What’s worked for us in the past may need to be tweaked now. With teens, we learn to choose our battles. At shows, we find ways to streamline our set-up. With big puppies, more structure and containment is necessary.

Sometimes we just need to see beyond the poop for a moment. We need to stop and smell the roses. We must remember that the most fragrant and beautiful roses–antique roses–come with plenty of thorns. When the thorns prick us, that’s the time to slow down. And sniff.

Caring for these puppies transports me to the days when my children were young. It was a lot of work, but there was even more joy. Like children, these pups come into this world with a powerful need to be loved, and the desire to love in return. Both of these young ones will do almost anything to get that love. They learn to control their bowels and bladders (though it can feel like an eternity, as my teacher sister says, “They’re always potty trained by kindergarten.”) They learn not to chew on your favorite shoes, or use them for a Barbie bathtub.

In return, they teach you that it’s never a waste of time to sit quietly in the sun on a warm spring day, watching young things gambol and cavort in the new green grass.

They teach you that there is nothing quite so wonderful as a good belly laugh–from them, or from you. (And I swear those pups are laughing.)

They teach you that when you hold them in your arms, and they gaze at your with perfect knowledge they are safe and sound, and profoundly loved, there is no better balm in the world for a troubled heart.

So I’m grateful for the gift of these puppies today. They’re beautiful dogs, full of joy and hope, ready for their forever homes. They’ve given me peace in my heart. They’ve reminded me of what it means to be alive, to be in the world, with all its joy and beauty.

And all the poo that comes with it, of course.

Aren’t you glad I didn’t say you had to learn to love the smell of poo?

P.S. Jack and Gillie will soon be on their way to the Monadnock Humane Society in Swanzey, NH soon. Help spread the word!

Run, baby, run!
Jack and Gillie.
Jack, in perfect Potcake tail mode.

RETELLING A STORY: How to Get Your Mind to a Better Place

Find a different way to tell your tired, sad old story, and watch your heart grow.

There’s a sad story I catch myself telling over and over. And I’m sick of it.

When we moved into our current home, I did a major de-stash of my fabric collection. I actually reduced my inventory by almost 75%. It was a glorious horde of vintage fabrics and used clothing (from my vintage looking traditional quilting days), home decorating fabrics (from my make-my-own curtains, duvet covers and pillow phase), silk ties and antique velvets (from my crazy quilt days).

It was really really hard. I had to use all kinds of strategies to overcome my hoarder mode brain. I was determined to keep only the materials I would use in my art quilts, and the fabrics I truly loved. For example, pink isn’t really on my Lascaux Cave color wheel. So I told myself if I ever made another baby quilt for a girl, I could go out and buy NEW pink fabric. (Don’t worry, I kept most of the vintage pink fabrics.)

Another strategy was to find the perfect home for my stash. For years I’d donated fabrics, books and supplies to a little sewing group at a women’s prison in northern New Hampshire. They accepted almost anything gratefully. They made quilts for various causes. It felt wonderful to help a group of people who, in such sad circumstances themselves, made things for other people who were even less fortunate. It made the ‘letting go’ easier.

I bagged up almost twenty giant bags of fabrics. Someone from one of the causes found out about my donation, and offered to meet me at a town halfway between us to get the stash. I was grateful, for it saved me hours of driving time.

We met, the bags were transferred to her van, and I went home to wait for the donation receipt.

A long time later, I emailed to ask her where the receipt was.

Her answer struck me speechless.

She said her organization only accepted donations of new, 100% cotton fabrics. Because so much of my fabrics were old, blends, vintage or specialty fabrics, the entire lot (except for some picking by the staff) was…..dumped.

I called her immediately to remind her that the donation was not to her organization, but to the sewing circle that donated some of their projects to her organization. There was a long silence and then a quavering, heartfelt apology for the misunderstanding. I received the receipt for the donation anyway.

But I still cringed at the thought of all those fabrics sitting in a landfill somewhere.

For many years, that affected my ability to de-stash. Because one of my main motivations is to feel that my cast-offs are going to a new and better place, to people who will truly love and use what I’ve given them.

And it made for a good story, too. When I was feeling small and vindictive, I could tell that story with a sad little face, and with relish. See how awful that was?? All that good fabric gone to waste! It was a guaranteed sympathy-grabber and aren’t-other-people-awful moment.

Yes, no good deed goes unpunished, as my husband always says.

But lately I’m embarrassed to tell that story. And ashamed I’ve kept it going so long. It feels…wrong.

Because the truth is, many good things came out of that incident. Things that served me far, far better than a small truckload of fabrics I was happy to move on.

1) I discovered the light heart you get when you finally let go of things you don’t really need nor even really want anymore. If it took a ‘good cause’ to get me going on that, so be it. But when you really let go of something, demanding that it still serve you somehow is unproductive.

2) Remembering how quickly my stash of not-really-useful fabrics grew, it makes me think twice before letting just ‘any old fabric’ into my studio. Oh, I still succumb now and then. And those of you who have seen my fabric stash and are snickering, “Really, Luann? You actually restrain yourself from buying more fabric?! Yeah, right….snort!”, just cut it out.

3) Someone I respected admitted they’d made a mistake. And apologized with a full heart. (I am a complete sucker for a sincere apology.)

4) This same woman taught me a simple technique for prayer. And though I am quite the agnostic (meaning I don’t feel we can KNOW there is a higher power, and I know there probably isn’t, but I like to believe there could be), I believe the act of prayer is human and healing and good for the soul.

To pray for what you want and need, you don’t fall to the ground and hunch over with closed hands.

You stand. You take a deep, cleansing breath, and let air fill your lungs. As you gently exhale, let your arms drop, hands open and facing outwards. Raise your face to the sky, and close your eyes. Get quiet. And ASK the universe for what is in your heart.

I have a story about how dramatically this worked for me the first time I tried it. It was so powerful, I’m actually a little scared to use it much. But somehow, simply going through these motions is often enough to lift a weight from my heart, and soothes my savage, yapping little brain.

It restores me to my true self. I find I rephrase my wish into a better request. And the sole act of asking fills me with a feeling that’s even more healing than getting the wish. (Which, perhaps, is what I’m always actually yearning for.)

5) And, hey, I got my tax deduction.

So I’m telling that sad, self-righteous little story for the last time (I hope!) I think the process I’m describing is called ‘reframing’ in psychological terms. Whatever. It works.

And from now on, I will strive to ONLY tell it in this shiny, wonderful new context.

BLESSINGS

I keep a gratitude journal (irregularly, but it’s there.) It’s a powerful tool for attitude adjustment, especially a few years ago when I had three surgeries in six months and was in constant, frightening pain. The journal really helped me see what my blessing were, even though, during that time, the lens I viewed them through had grown very small.

I also have days where I wonder if the time and energy I put into my art and my writing have had any effect on the world. On those days, I console myself with the image of a pebble thrown into a great lake. We know we throw that pebble with our greatest intention. But we may never know how far the ripples travel, nor what shores they eventually fall upon.

So those are my tips on how to get over the Eeyore thing.

Yesterday was a perfect day for me. I finished up a new series of small framed pieces for a little art show at a friend’s coffee shop, Prime Roast, in Keene NH.

Judy Rogers roasting coffee at Prime Roast Coffee in Keene, NH. Photo from the Keene Sentinel.
Judy Rogers roasting coffee at Prime Roast Coffee in Keene, NH. Photo from the Keene Sentinel.

That’s my friend Judy in the photo. She hosts exhibitions for emerging and local artists, supporting our community artists.

I’m thrilled with the new work, and I had a few compliments before I’d even finished hanging them.

The icing on the cake was finding this reaction to articles I wrote recently.

Is it bragging to share with you? I dunno. Well, yeah.

(Remember, I said I’m trying to be a better person. I didn’t say I was perfect.) (VBG)

But it’s not often we get to see the shore where the ripples gently fell. And when we do, it’s a blessing.

So I am grateful to LaDonna today. Thank you, LaDonna!

P.S. And just in case you think I take myself too seriously, here’s one of my favorite movie quotes, about what Conan the Barbarian thinks is good in life.

I don’t think he keeps a gratitude journal, do you?

OPEN TO THE GIFTS IN FRONT OF US

It’s been a very difficult last few days. I won’t even dwell on what happened, that’s not important. What IS important is the lesson I’ve learned.

When weird things happen, my brain (and your brain) leap forward to figure out WHY. Why did she say that? Why did they do that?? What else should I have done? What did I bring to that situation?

In the end, some things cannot be “figured out”. People will overlook your good intentions, life will not be fair, hard times will come no matter how much we try to protect ourselves.

But if we let our brain continue to spin and fret and fuss, the real tragedy will overtake us…

We will be focusing on the bad stuff, trying like heck to figure it all out.

And we will not be facing the right direction for the next blessing that awaits us. The next “namaste” moment. The next recognition of the of the miraculous in our lives.

So I’ve had my little hissy fit, I’ve cried and felt sorry for myself.

And now I’m ready to see the blessing already in my life, and be grateful for them.

I’m ready to turn in a new direction. And see, with an open heart, where the next blessing is coming from.