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.
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.
Take a tiny moment to say ‘thank you’, and count your blessings!
I’m an artist. And as an artist, my first responsibility is to make my art. It’s what restores me to my better self, makes me whole and centered. I make it for myself, first.
I know this first-hand, and many good friends remind me of this constantly. For example, the one who sent me a card with this quote:
People like you must create.
If you don’t create, Luann, you will become a menace to society.
(the note also says, “With apologies to Maria Semple, author of “Where’d You Go, Bernadette”. See last paragraph in Part 3.”) (Thanks and a hat tip to Amy Helen Johnson!) (Yes, I bought the book.)
Our second responsibility is to put it out in the world. We mostly interpret this as selling our art, and making a living with our art. Some fortunate, hardworking few can do this. But walking away from the work of our heart, simply because we can’t sell it, is hurtful. (See “first responsibility”, above.)
There are lots of ways to get our work out into the world. If you make art, you can make it, share it, give it away, sell it, exhibit it, teach it, collaborate with it, write about it, donate it, etc. etc. The same with writing. The internet makes this almost effortless.
Yes, selling is wonderful–unless you get caught up in the selling, to the exclusion of everything else. Vincent Van Gogh’s work was only sold to his brother. (Do you have 3 minutes? Watch this heartbreakingly powerful snippet of a video about this.) (I dare you not to tear up.) And ironically, the most commercially successful artist of our time seems to have lost everything of value in a life dedicated to fame and fortune.
Somerwhere in the middle is where I’d like to end up.
So I recently stepped up my game in regard to selling. This came after realizing I was struggling to sell a $24 pair of earrings to a casual visitor in my studio. Realizing that one gallery hadn’t sold one single piece of my work in a year. Reflecting that most of my out-of-state galleries were struggling to sell my work. A local gallery that reached out to represent me, finally said they love love love my work (another line that’s fun, but not my “heart” work) just wasn’t selling, and they needed to set me free.
I felt like a failure. (Hey! 2017 was a weird year!)
Then I realized, why should I focus on making $24 earrings??? Why should I base my definition of success on income alone? Why was I falling for the same emotional/spiritual/inaccurate measuring stick I constantly counsel and warn artists against????
So…I upped my game.
I cleared my studio of the fun-but-inexpensive work, focused on the work of my heart.
I realized that just because I’m now writing weekly for an art marketing newsletter doesn’t mean I’m off the hook with my blog.
I reevaluated, recentered, and refocused on my biggest vision for my art. And I cleaned house on my Etsy site, and focused on the work I have on hand, my best work, and moved forward.
I decided to make the work that makes me happy, and not the work I think I can sell.
Another gallery in the same town as the one that cut me loose, took on my work two weeks. And they’ve already made a sale.
The gallery in Santa Rosa has been selling steadily, and it just keeps getting better and better.
A gallery that hadn’t sold any of my work in a year, sold a MAJOR PIECE. And another big (for me) piece the same day.
And I’ve had five sales in my Etsy shop this month. (A lot for me!)
But that’s not all. Every single sale has resulted in a message from the buyer, telling me how much they love love love what I do, how it speaks to them, and how even more amazing it is in person.
Today I got home to a beautiful email from a delighted buyer. I always respond, with gratitude and joy.
But because I’m human, because I’m afraid to be too happy, afraid to be too hopeful, I tend to respond well outside. But inside, I hold back. Thinking, “Well, that’s great, but…..” “Don’t get a swelled head, because…..” “Don’t get your hopes up because…..”
But this time, I read that email. And something told me….
Be in this moment.
Embrace this moment. Stop and celebrate it.
This moment is the blessing, the extra gift, that comes for making my work and getting it out into the world.
Take note of this moment.
I remembered, decades ago, a wise woman I crossed paths with, who shared a powerful insight with me.
When we really want something, she said, there is a centering, empowering way to ask.
Stand up, head bowed, humbly. Think of what your heart desires. Breathe in, breathe out. Then stand tall. Expand.
Raise your head, open your arms, and hands. Look to the heavens above.
And simply ask, with all your heart, what it is you desire.
The very first time I did this, I was in an antique store. I’d been looking for years for a wonderful book that was long out of print. (This was years before I finally discovered Bookfinder.com, the absolute best tool for finding any book in the world.)
I thought, what the heck? I did the mantra.
And when I was done, I look up. I saw a bookcase in the booth across the room. I walked to it.
And I found the book.*
So today, before I could diminish my joy, before I could “be logical” about my delight in this sale, and this email note from my buyer, I decided to take a moment to celebrate.
I did my little ceremony.
But instead of asking for anything, I simply said….
In these days of “Be careful what you wish for”, in these days of “Yeah, but….”, in these days of, as Anne Lamott succinctly put it, “…compar(ing) our insides to other people’s outsides”, in these days of internet fame and viral prodigies, in these days of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), in these days of wondering, “Will I ever be a successful artist?”, without ever stopping to think of what “success” means to YOU….
Take a minute to give thanks.
To count your blessings.
To feel the full joy of having a voice in the world.
And the unexpected delight of having someone else hearing your song.
Now…go to your studio and make stuff.
*David and the Phoenix (Illustrated) by Edward Ormondroyd, if you want to know, and it’s been reprinted since then.
(OH, and you can see my Etsy shop here.)
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.