The Story You Tell and the Power of Your Tribe

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.

 A month ago, my husband was cycling on a bike path, when he ran over a stick. It jammed in his derailleur and broke it. Fortunately, I was a phone call away and retrieved him (and the bike) quickly.
Yesterday, the exact same thing happened AGAIN. (He swears it was the same damn stick, but I don’t believe that.) Unfortunately, I am thousands of miles away, in Keene, NH. And he had to walk home, in his bike shoes.

Life has a lot of sticks just waiting to jam up our derailleur…er, life. And in the last month, we’ve run over a lot of them.

The already sky-high rent on our home here in Santa Rosa, CA was raised, eating up almost half our income. We now have two large dogs and three cats. The rental market here is as tight as it is expensive, and it will be impossible to find a landlord willing to rent to us. As former home-owners for 27 years, it’s embarrassing to find ourselves here. (We did find a place, a much smaller place. As soon as I get back to California, we have to pack up and move.  My art will be on hold for awhile. Again. But bookmark this, I’ll return to it later.)

My husband’s employer’s company has 3-4 months of funding left, and there will be no more in the pipeline. All sources have been exhausted. The tech industry does not readily employ people in their 60’s.  Jon’s best option is to strike out on his own. But this is an expensive place for our second reboot in three years, and it’s a little scary.

My art sales have slumped. (This is not unique to me, I know, and not entirely of my making, but there you go.)

One of our children is struggling here in Keene. It sounded urgent enough for me to book a flight out here, to see what I can do. It is cold here. Really, really cold. Like 10 degrees when I woke up, and more snow, with winds gusting to shove that snow right up my nose.

My daughter just announced she’s getting married this summer, in the middle of Tennessee (best spot for the solar eclipse).

And that wonderful shared studio space at that incredible artist enclave has disappeared. My friend and I have extremely different visions for how the space should work. To preserve the friendship, I told her I needed to step away. But it all blew up in my face. My friend is deeply hurt by my decision. With all the other setbacks on my plate, I can’t afford the oxygen to fix this, even if that were possible.

That’s one story.

But here is the other side of the story I chose to tell.

My old tribe here in Keene is holding me together in so many ways. They know who I am, they know what to do.

These trusted friends will hold my tender heart, and my huge artistic vision, in their gentle, loving hands, until I can take them up again.

Let’s go way back, to the beginning of my art career. I took a workshop from wise woman Deborah Kruger, on creating an artist support group.

The premise was, “Women can do it all. But not necessarily all at the same time.”

When life throws big effin’ sticks in our path—sickness, death, divorce, job loss, a big move—there is only so much we can handle. Sometimes the first thing that gets put on hold is the very thing that nourishes our heart and lightens our soul: Our art.

Good friends will hold that vision of you: Your goals, your process, your abilities, your path. When you are ready (even if you think you’re not), they will gently remind you who you are. And help restore you to yourself.

Now let’s look at the other story I choose to tell:

Gift #1 Though we have not built that precious network of friends here in CA, it’s in process. And a friendship of 20 years led to our next home. It will only be available to us for a few years. But that will give us the space to figure out where we go from here. They know we have pets, too. Yay!

Gift #2 The painfully broken friendship gave me clarity on a better way to be there for my child. I will not force him to take care of me during this difficult time, no matter how hard it is to listen sometimes. I need only be present, for now. If that hadn’t happened two days before I left, I would have blundered on as I have done in the past. It was a lesson that arrived just in time to be a better mother.

Gift #3 As I make time to meet up with these good friends, each one has an insight for me. I hear the exact words I need to make it through the day. As I bemoaned the fact that I’d fallen into another situation I should have recognized—again—a friend exclaimed, “I just LOVE my life lessons! I love them so much, I learn them all over again. And again. And again!” I laughed for the first time in days.

Gift #4 As I share such wonderful insights with the next friend I meet up with, it’s just what they need to hear, too!

Gift #5 We have already realized the rewards of our life reboot. Jon’s got his game back, reconnecting with old allies, and finding new ones. The work he’s doing is the work of his heart—collaborating with users to create the tools they need to make their own work easier. The projects are timely, extremely relevant, and deeply-rooted in bettering our culture.

As we consider our next steps–as our reboot is rebooting–Jon and I realize it will be easier this time. For example, we are only moving across town, and we can break it down into small loads. And the new neighborhood will have all the features we treasure in this one.

Gift #6 My art will go on hold again, though hopefully not for long. OTOH, if we should have to leave Sonoma County down the road, I’ll only have to walk away from a few years of audience-building here. Not three decades, like our first move!

Gift #7 My Keene tribe is still here!

Gift #8 I’m passing on the gifts! When I was living in Keene, I never thought of connecting my tribe members! (I know, I know—“DOH!!”) Two of my meet-ups organically overlapped yesterday, and two friends met each other for the first time. The synergy was astonishing. One had the exact information the other needed to take a step forward in a new career. The other recognized not only a new, rich resource in the first friend, but an ally. Both were validated anew to themselves as they recognized the same qualities in each other: Passion, integrity, professionalism, creativity, emotional maturity, and a wicked sense of humor.

I’m now working on getting all of these core people together, if not on this trip (though we’re trying!) then the next. In between, there’s Skype and Google Hangout. We’ll figure it out.

#9 And now I’ve shared this gift with you, faithful readers.

I’ve shared how sometimes, the seeds of a new beginning are buried in the deep past, and sometimes, even in the most recent hardship. The way to your next step is not carefully hidden in the great universe; it is often right under your nose. The words you need to hear are already sitting in the heart of someone who may cross your path—today.

And when the world feels like a hard and hopeless place, there may be someone standing next to you who will offer exactly what you need to get through it. Holding your dream, your beautiful vulnerable open heart, tenderly and lovingly, until you are ready to pick them up again.

Your bonus gift for subscribing today! Here are some of the wonderful words I’ve heard, in addition to the ones I’ve already shared. There will be more!

“Breath until you’re surprised.” This came up in a conversation about an ancient breathing/meditative practice that helps people heal from trauma, grief, and abuse faster. I sense there’s something deliciously deeper here that will reveal itself in time. It’s still sitting with me, and I love it.

“It’s only blood.” In a discussion about letting go of old family conflicts that may never be healed. If the family we’re born into is difficult, we can choose to create our own family.

“This ain’t your first rodeo. You don’t have to be the clown.” A discussion about me trying to make myself smaller so I can make insecure people feel better.

“You don’t have to go to every fight you’re invited to.” No explanation needed.

 “I sit with uncertainty everyday, until Clarity makes her presence known.” Every. Single. Day.

(If you’d like to see the published article and comments, go here.

FINDING YOUR TRIBE

Today’s post, Finding Your Tribe, originally appeared on Fine Art Views, a daily art marketing blog for Fine Art Studios Online

 Unfortunately, artists are people, too.

 I remember the first time I did a major fine craft show.  It was amazing!

 Oh, sure there were the expected (and unexpected) obstacles to overcome. These shows are incredibly expensive to do—booth fees, meals, transportation, marketing. The realization that your track lighting issues are going to get even worse. The nerve-wracking experience of packing, set-up, break-down, and everything in between.

But then there is the wonderful side, and that’s all about the people. Gallery owners who really love your work. Show coordinators who eventually become good friends.

And finding your tribe.

At one event, a major national wholesale show, I met people I previously only knew through our conversations on a professional discussion forum. (Remember those? I miss them. Sort of. Keep reading!) I distinctly remember thinking, “I’ve found my tribe!”

 For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by people who were creative makers, like me. People who took their work seriously. People who were true professionals (for the most part) about getting their art into the world.  People who focused on doing excellent work, who worked at their craft daily, who sent their kids to college and paid their mortgage doing the work of their heart. People who laughed, shared information readily, supported other artists.

It was a magical year.

After a year or so, though, a few chinks appeared.

There were people who took shortcuts in their process, making it all about the money.

There were people who copied, diligently.

There were people who resented “newbies”, angry about people who “hadn’t paid their dues,” people who were envious of newcomers who won accolades and awards so “easily”.

There were people who were envious. People who were intensely annoying. People with obvious mental health issues. People with egos so big, they took all the air out of any room they enterted.

I tend to accrue a lot of information when I try something new, and I love to share it. (In fairness, tru dat.) So a few people let me know I was an upstart know-it-all with a big head.

And a very few people went out of their way to be obnoxious, to the point of bullying.

Where was my tribe?? I felt broken-hearted.

It took me years to come to terms with this unpleasant knowledge. (I still struggle, I admit that freely.) And now I know this to be true:

Artists are people, too.

In fact, some of the factors that make for a successful (however we define “successful”) artist can make for a difficult human being.

We have to make your art a priority. We have to believe in ourselves, especially when times are hard. We have to trust our process, sometimes to the exclusion of everyone else’s process. We (sometimes) have to fight work hard for our place in the world.

Sometimes this means: We believe we are always Number One. We believe no one else’s opinions matter. We believe our way is the only way. We believe when someone else gets a bigger piece of the pie, we won’t get our own piece.

One summer, after a particularly grueling interaction with someone who was making my professional (and personal) life miserable, another artist finally said, “We can’t all be the Buddha.” “Hah!” I thought resentfully. “I’m just asking her to leave me alone!”

Unfortunately, we really can’t be the Buddha. And in my case, the Buddha would probably be, “Quit trying to fix/change/out-argue those people! You can’t win!”

Because life is filled with difficult people, and creative people are no exception. If anything, we get judged harsher because we are creative people, because we’re supposed to be happier, more fulfilled, livin’ the dream.

And so, instead, I try to see them as, not a problem to be fixed, but an obstacle to get around.

It’s hard. I want to be friends with everyone. (Don’t say it, I know. I know. I KNOW!!!) I have an open heart, and I keep forgetting to put up big effin’ fences when I need to. I consider myself a student of life, and pursuing my art has enriched me on all levels—especially the learning part!

So when it feels like you’ve been voted off the island, consider the source.

Do the people I know and trust support me? Or do they gently suggest I still have some growin’ to do?

Do these people really block my path? Or are they just an inconvenient moment in my life I have to get through?

Can I learn to truly see the good in people who kinda suck are not perfect? (Note: Please do not excuse or make up a story about people with extreme malignant narcissism/sociopathy. Just get away.)

And most important, when the weight of personalities lie heavy on me, I can always go to the sacred creative space of my studio, and get back to making the work of my heart.

Do you have a good story about how you dealt with a difficult person in your art career? Enquiring minds want to know!!

 

 

 

EXPLODING DOORMAT

If you choose to GO ALONG in order to GET ALONG, only do it long enough to GET AWAY.

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“Rat” in the comic strip Pearls Before Swine by Steven Pastis can be very nasty. But he has a place in the world. People don’t like it when we set boundaries. Too bad. We can’t all be the Buddha.

I wanted this post to be something happy and bright for the holiday season. But other stuff is in my head, and so you get something a little more sobering today.

Some interesting choices are in my path for 2017.

I’m not here today to talk about them, not yet. But it’s interesting to contemplate the insights and “aha!” moments I’m holding as a result of those choices.

The exploding doormat.  People are surprised when I finally blow up at somebody. But it never comes out of “nowhere”. When I first heard the phrase, The Exploding Doormat, I felt like the veil had been lifted from my face.

I still struggle mightily with setting boundaries. But when I do, and it works, it is amazing.

Setting boundaries carries its own hard places, like being accused of being “selfish” and “uncaring” and “a sorry excuse for a human being.” But that’s still a heckuva lot better than trying to scrub shoe prints off my face.

Sitting with uncertainty until clarity presents herself.  I first heard this phrase from an incredible woman with deep life wisdom, Sheri Gaynor. It was profound. Sheri and I crossed paths this year, and our journey was filled with insight and miracles. She has since returned to her beloved Colorado, but I have a feeling our paths will cross again someday.

I’ve noticed that when I decide something has to happen, I waste an inordinate amount of worry, and pushing, and hammering square pegs into round holes–which only exhausts me, frustrates me, and ruins the pegs. This simple phrase reminds me that when I let go, many things fall into place–or don’t, but for very good reasons. It may sound New Age and karma-laden, and the pragmatic side of me complains–but it’s true.

do believe that you can’t just sit still let the universe barge in through your front door, because that rarely happens.

But taking one small step outside your comfort zone–taking a class with a friend, going on vacation, being open to possibility, taking a little chance on some small thing–this is often just enough for something new to cross your path.

Protection through rejection. So many times, the things we desperately want, and don’t get….well, it often turns out to be a good thing. When we look back, we see we narrowly missed walking into a quagmire beyond belief.

Note: This isn’t a reason not to “go” for things. Being afraid to try something new is stifling. But it can help me get on track with “the next thing”, instead of living in the past, and wailing about it. (Some people might say, “Not so much…” but pooh on you. I am getting better.) (A little better.)  (Sometimes.)

Going along to get along.  (See also: Exploding Doormat) Trained from my infancy to “be nice” and “get along”, I am still addicted to this behavior. And it’s led me down some downright scary paths. I’m getting a little better at this, too. But I will always, always, have to actively think about not doing this. My new mantra is, “Go along to get along, until I can get away.” It’s working.

Suffice to say, this year has been baffling and puzzling, with strange, frightening behaviors in some people who I thought were friends, a lot of pompous posturings from same, many micro-aggressions. (One tip: If someone gets upset and starts making pointed and repeated remarks about “rape” in your presence, that person is no friend of mine. Or yours.)

The last insight has many permutations. This ain’t your first rodeo, you don’t have to be the clown. (Thank you, Melinda LaBarge!) You don’t have to do stupid stuff to be part of the group.)  Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys. You don’t have to take on other people’s issues if you don’t want to. And someday, take half an hour to read The Nibble Theory by Kaleel Jamison. You won’t regret it. (Explains why some people behave the way they do, in simple, beautiful, enlightening prose.)

And my absolute favorite, from Dr. Maya Angelou::

When people SHOW you who they are, believe them.  

It is astonishing how much bad behavior we accept from others, and the incredible stories we make up to explain it away.

Don’t do it anymore. You are just prolonging the agony. Every single time we look back on our interactions with toxic people, we realized we had willingly overlooked all the ‘tells’.

We’re getting better at this, too.

I really do hope your holidays are filled with love and joy and family and friends. But remember, sometimes you just have to add a lot more rum to that eggnog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PRIVILEGE–Use It!

 

Today I was talking with someone about traveling across the U.S. 35 years ago. “No credit cards, we had traveler’s checks.” (Remember those? Before they were a scam??) “No cell phones in case our car broke down.” (When I backed up our car into a deep hole in a campground, we had to hike out seven miles to get a tow truck.Fortunately, someone gave us a lift, and we got to ride back with the tow truck.) “No smart phones or Kayak.com to look for hotels for the night.” (Let alone hotels that allow dogs, like on our move out here two years ago.) I said I was anxious every time we traveled, because I was afraid we wouldn’t find a place to sleep at night, our car would break down, and we never knew where the next gas station was.

Ahhhhh, the privilege the internet, cell phones, and credit cards….. especially a card that gives us reward miles.

Yesterday, I finished binge-watching the Gilmore Girls reboot. My daughter and I checked in, and agreed Rory was not as mature as we’d expect by now. She (Rory) was having trouble finding a steady journalism job, as she flubs up and thrashes around in her adult life.

Ahhhhhh, the privilege of wealthy grandparents and an even-wealthier secret boyfriend who lives in London (who’s engaged to marry someone else.)

I’ve been thinking of my kids, who never tire of pointing at their childhood in Keene NH, which was (and I quote) a “white liberal bubble of privilege”. Which, to be fair, it was.

I could get resentful and say, “Were we supposed to deliberately be poor?? Aren’t you glad we lived in a place where you could play AirSoft in the woods and not be shot on sight by a police officer? Aren’t you glad we were able to help you with college, and housing, until you could make your own way in the world?”

But there’s no getting around it. Privilege doesn’t necessarily mean wealth, or an easy life. It does, however, mean there are some things we didn’t have to worry about, and some dangers, aggressions, situations, hostilities, we didn’t have to face.

The thing with privilege is, you’re either born with it, or you’re not. You’re either born in a first-world country, or you’re not. You’re either born a person who’s not considered “of color”, or not. You’re either born with your “assigned” gender, or not. You either have the wiring for mental health, or you don’t. You are either born being able to take or leave alcohol, or not.

I can’t change how I was born.  No one can.

But we can change what we do with our privilege.

In Rory’s case, I think back to a time where, if you were a writer, there was only one way to make a name for yourself writing. You wrote a book, which hopefully became somewhat successful. Or you got a job working as a journalist, or wrote for a magazine. Otherwise, you could write to your heart’s content, but not very many people would ever get to read what you write.  When I think of how this has changed, with the internet, with self-publishing on Amazon and other sites, heck, with blogging, the mind boggles. I did write a book (a craft book which did not become a best seller, but hey, my dentist owns a copy, and she absolutely loves it.) I did write for a magazine, until they decided I wasn’t really relevant anymore. (ouch) I finally did write an article for our local newspaper. It was published two weeks before we moved to California.

But now I can write whenever I like. I may whine about deadlines, and how little money I make from writing now (my one paying gig pays me $30 a column). But the bottom line is, I can write and share my thoughts with the world. Saying I won’t write unless I’m paid to, just seems…..ungrateful. For the simple reason that I do have an audience, and sometimes they even let me know how much they enjoy my work.

I can’t change the fact that I grew up in a different world than millions of other people. I won’t apologize that I gave that same safe haven for my kids. But I can show my gratitude, that in certain ways, my life was/is easier than some people who have different experiences because of their gender, skin color, religion, nationality. I can be aware I have this privilege, and do engage with causes and actions that hopefully will make the world a better place for all of us.

And so, too, with my art. Here I am this afternoon, racking my brain on how to make more money from my art during the holidays. Until I catch myself….

Like every other artist I’ve ever met, I worry that “not making a lot of money” with my art means “I’m not a successful artist.” I’ve learned that money is not the only measure of my success (a big hat-tip to Alisha Vincent, who challenged me on that almost 15 years ago.) I’m fortunate to know from the start that the only thing keeping me from making, and sharing, my art with the world, is me.

Every day I wake up, I get to choose. I get to choose what I make, how much I make, how I make it. I get to decide how to share it with the world–by selling, teaching, donating, exhibiting, posting online. I have the time and a studio space, I have the materials and the knowledge I need, and I have the support and encouragement of my husband, my kids, my friends, and yes, even a few happy, loyal customers.

Making art is a gift. And a privilege.

Sometimes my buzzy brain goes a little crazy. Then I fret about money, about success, about fame, about exposure/sales/taxes/PayPal fees/my website/time/ideas/inspiration until I finally sit up and yell, “Stop!!!!!

Because I am so grateful I have enough time, enough money, enough success,  enough exposure, enough of a following, enough of everything. Heck, I’m delighted I have a website, a blog, PayPal, a Square, even! (If I think really, really hard, I’m sure I can get to the point where I’m grateful I have enough of an income to even pay taxes on.) (Still thinking.)

So just for a few minutes today, think long and deep about your privilege. Blessings aren’t a good thing unless you share them. Privilege is meant to be a springboard to raise others up, too. When you start to feel sad about your art, take a deep breath and exhale slowly.

Rejoice you have this time in your life to bring the world of your heart out into the world.

And then go do it.

If you have time (and I know the holidays are ramping up!) tell me something you’re doing this month to brighten the world. I’d love to hear it!

 

 

THE NEWLYWED GAME

I’ve been away, but I’ve also been thinking.

Here’s my post for Fine Art Views, that appeared on November 17, 2016.

The Newlywed Game

by Luann Udell on 11/17/2016 10:04:07 AM

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.

 Yes, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks.

 Four years ago, we came to California after an exhausting year in New Hampshire. Both our adult children had been in extreme danger. Our mantra, when people asked, was, “Nobody died!”  And we meant it with all our heart.

Still, nobody wants to get that phone call at midnight, and two of them had definitely taken a toll. A friend suggested we take a vacation, just my partner and I. “We’re fine!” we insisted. The suggestion got stronger. And we listened.

 My husband was a long-distance employee of a West Coast company. Long story short, his job was disappearing soon. We decided to fly to Washington to see what could be salvaged there, and then drive down the Pacific Coast, then fly back from San Francisco.

 Turns out the job was a lost cause. So we started a thousand-mile journey subdued, anxious, not knowing what was going to happen next nor what we should do.

 The restorative power of the ocean, the wild landscape, the light, the winding roads, soon healed our souls. Unusual for us, we had nary a bicker nor a cross word. (We were nicknamed “the Bickersons” early on in our nearly-forty-year relationship, and we try to live up to it every day.)

And on that trip, we fell so deeply in love with Northern California, six months later, we decided to move there.

 We put our home up for sale, and sold or donated almost 75% of our possessions (we had a full attic, a mudroom, a basement, a garage, and a two-story barn, and we I had filled them all.) We filled a shipping container with the rest (which went into storage), packed a car with everything we needed for a two-week trip (including our two big dogs) and started our last New Hampshire-to-California drive across country.

 Jon was losing his job any minute. We had no place to live. We had no agenda or plan, just to stop and see friends and family members along the way. We were leaving behind a life of 27 years, good friends, good times, good memories.

 It was exciting, and daunting at the same time. It was hard for some of our friends to cope. What were we doing?? Were we crazy??  How could we leave all this behind? And for what?? Earthquakes, sky-high housing prices, you name it, California was full of it.

 We told a friend’s mother, who was widowed, our “plan”. And she said the words that beautifully framed our biggest, latest life adventure:

 With a deep, happy sigh, she said, “Just like newlyweds….!!

 Those simple, wistful, yet powerful words set the tone for us, for our journey, and for the years ahead.

 How many times in life do we deliberately take a leap into the unknown? For most people (especially me!) we don’t. The older we get, the harder those choices become. Better to rely on the tried-and-true. Play it safe. Don’t rock the boat. Hunker down, and weather out the storm.

 And yet…..

 All ships are safe in harbor. But that’s not what ships are for.

 Coincidentally, we are also on another California trip, heading south to explore new places, fresh vistas. Simply a vacation, but again, with no agenda, no schedule. All we ask is for it to be another metaphor for the work that lies ahead.

 After the disappointing end to a scurrilous year, wondering what will survive of all the gains we’ve made in this country, we are all taking another leap into the great unknown. There is strange new territory ahead, one that looks formless and raunchy, full of hate bubbling over into hateful actions. Countless people are fearful because their gender, their skin color, their religion, is simply the wrong kind now.

 And yet…..

 Our role as artists is even more important than ever.

It may not feel like it. When times are hard, when people are afraid, they often hunker down. And art is not usually the kind of purchase they make when they don’t know what fresh hell is coming.

 Now it is even more important to create the work of our hearts.

 It’s even more important to help others see the true beauty of this world.

 It’s up to us to share our vision of what is light-filled, color-full, thought-provoking, and soul-deepening.

 When the towers fell in 9/11, I went to my studio in despair, sure the world had changed forever into a dark and dreary place.

 But instead, I found inspiration from the very cave that inspired me to pursue my own creative journey. The cave of Lascaux also dates to a time of great upheaval and frightening change. Those people saw their entire way of life in flux.

 Their choice, their powerful choice, was to send a message, a message we cannot ‘read’ as it was not addressed to us. They filled the cave walls with hauntingly beautiful images of running horses, leaping deer, agile aurochs—images that still create profound echoes in our modern hearts.

 Today, you and I start a new journey, too.

 Your art can heal the world.

You can do thia by sharing what is in YOUR heart, so your work will speak to the hearts of others. The act of making art is restorative. Share that with others, so that they can be restored to themselves, too.

 Stand with those who are given no place in the world. Speak up for those whose voices are not heard. Make room for those who are different than you. Support those who cannot stand alone. Feed those who are hungry. Hold the hands of those who are afraid. Sing. Write. Dance. Paint.

 However you bring joy into the world, do it now.

 Let them know the true role of the shaman/artist in the world….

 Teacher. Healer. Creator.

THIS IS LOVE

For Bobbye…..

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Bobbye Sansing’s beautiful handformed, pit-fired pottery vessels.

I felt something was wrong for weeks.

I sensed it when I first reached out to an old, dear friend, months ago. I was relieved to find she was glad to hear from me. Yet no new messages followed.

We hadn’t parted on bad terms, really. Oh, I look back and cringe when I see how I sometimes took her friendship for granted. And how I pushed–too much–for her to get her art out into the world.

She was my Wise Woman friend for years, as I slowly broke out of my eggshell beliefs that I wasn’t good enough to be a real artist. She was in my first “artist retreat”, a workshop led by another Wise Woman, about how to find true support from a small circle of trusted cohorts. We would celebrate each others’ successes when the world noticed us. We would raise each other up when the world took us down a peg.

As I grew more confident, and knowledgeable (I thought), I began to urge her to be more visible in the world.

It’s easy to believe we know better than others. I felt I knew what was best for her. And she (rightly so) resisted, firmly.

So we drifted gently apart for awhile. And then both of us eventually moved thousands of miles away, until we both found ourselves out West, me on in Northern California, her in Nevada.

My early blog posts and personal journals are filled with her words of wisdom. She taught me so much. She could be so honest, it hurt. But not in a mean way. In a way that held my feet firmly to the fire of my own self-doubt and whine-iness. (Yes, I’m a bit of a whiner. There. I said it.) Because of her, I began to grow a backbone. (Still growing. Not done yet.)

In a few small  ways, I helped her, too. She is a potter, specializing in pit-fired vessels. Determined to be professional in every way, she asked us (our group) for help to build a body of work for exhibiting and selling.

After several suggestions were shot down, I thought to ask her this question: What is your production process now?

She explained how, when her husband got home from work, they would eat dinner and watch TV together in their warm and cozy den, and talk. Every night, almost without fail. She hated working in her basement studio, alone. She wanted to be with Bob, and so she chose him.

As they sat, she worked a lump of clay, turning it into a beautiful hand-pinched pot, ready for the kiln.

“Every night?” I asked her.

Yes.

“And every one is a good one? Good enough to exhibit, or sell?”

Yes.

“So at the end of a year, you have over 300 good pots?”

Yes.

“Is that enough for a year’s worth of exhibits and sales?”

Uh…..yes.

So she had a reliable process that slowly-but-steadily created a beautiful, substantial body of work. Why would she mess with that??

She said it didn’t sound very professional. She felt she was doing it wrong.

I hope in this single, small way, I helped her realize that any way you get your work made, and out into the world, is ‘professional’ enough.

So today I just learned that her husband died.

Almost half a century together. So many years. So much love.

I took her pots out today. I only have a few, but I treasure them.

And when I look into the graceful swirling edges, the haunting mystery of their interiors, the hand-polished exteriors, everything of her hands and fingertips, their shared hours of companionship, togetherness, a life built from fragile–yet resilient–human clay, filled with laughter, and children, and family, and friends, and home, and art.

Each pot, made with love, surrounded by love, infused with love.

This is love.

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BEING NICE vs. BEING KIND

“Being nice” is about caring about what other people think. “Being kind” is about you caring–and choosing–to be a better person.

From the moment we tried to grab a toy from another kid, (or tried to get back the toy they took from us) we’re told to “be nice”.

When that boy in on the bus said horrible, horrible things to us, we were told “he didn’t really mean it.” We’re not allowed to be  angry. We’re told to “be nice”.

Even Disney rubbed it in,  when Thumper says, “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” (Bambi)

“Nice” is a facade, a mask we’re supposed to wear in order to be seen as a ‘good’ person–especially women. At best, we may do it out of fear, to protect ourselves, or to avoid confrontation.

At worst, we do it so we don’t have to go deeper. It lets us off the hook for meaningful engagement. So being ‘nice’ can also be a social cop-out

Being ‘nice’ simply in order to get something you want is patronizing and shallow. When I hear about a guy complaining because a woman they just met, doesn’t want to sleep with him, even though he’s a “nice guy”, I want to say, “You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.” (Courtesy of Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride.)

To this day, even when someone is behaving badly, even to me, to my horror, I rarely ever confront them (except my poor husband). Instead, I back off or walk away. To call someone on their behavior is “not nice.” Heaven forbid I hurt someone’s feelings after they’ve just shredded mine.

Being nice hasn’t served me.

On the other hand, what about kindness? Let’s strive for that instead.

Being kind means being a real person, and striving to see others as real people, too.

Choosing to be kind is to create a state of compassion, to have empathy with another person or living thing.

It can be as simple as seeing–really seeing–another person, even if you cross paths for a few seconds.  A smile. A step aside to let them go by. Holding a door.  Even a quarter in the cup.

It can be as powerful as being a witness, recognizing what someone else is going through, and celebrating if-and-when they reach the other side. Being present, during a rough patch in their life, or at the end of life.

I’ve spent a lifetime being nice.

Now I want to focus on being kind.