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.

 

 

 

DO THE RIGHT THING

No good deed goes unpunished. Do the right thing anyway.

If you are a decent person in the world, you want to do the right thing.

You want to be generous. You want to be helpful. You want to share what you’ve learned.

I love that line from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, when Gene Wilder/Willy Wonka says, “So shines a good deed in a wear world…”*

It sends a shiver down my spine even thinking of it. Acts of kindness, compassion, courage all make the world a better place.

I believe my artwork, and my writing, is a way to be that good deed. I share what I’ve learned, I share my stumblings and muddling, I try to be my authentic self. I do it so people can see (if they choose)  they have something to offer the world, too. Sharing our creative work is essential, and healing, and powerful.

Before you rush to “help”, though, consider these thoughts:

Ask the turtle. Don’t assume you know what is needed. Find out. Our assumptions get in the way. People who don’t know what they don’t know, and who don’t want to find out, just make things worse.

Don’t judge. I remember being told, “Don’t give money to street people, they’ll only spend it on booze and drugs!” So I didn’t. Until I learned that living on the streets is hard, and frightening, and dark. Someone who knew better said, “If they turns to drink or drugs to comfort themselves, who are you to judge?” A recent article on a homeless-outreach group suggests we lie down on the sidewalk before we judge. “How vulnerable do your feel, with your head on the concrete, exposed and unprotected? Scary, right? That’s how these people feel every single day.” Research now shows that creating safe havens and housing for the homeless is critical to helping them get the services they need–because being on the street is so traumatic, not much can be done until they have a place to call home.  Only then can they begin to heal.

Don’t feed the vampires. In our rush to help, we may encounter vampires, in the most surprising places. Vampires are people who feed on the attention and emotions of others. Sometimes they are simply needy and desperate. Often they already have so much, but it’s never enough. Recognize the black holes in the world. The people who will take and take and take, who feel you/the rest of the world, owe them.

Don’t do it for the thank-you.  We’ve all had the experience of taking on a tough project, contributing, volunteering, often unpaid, as a way of giving back to our community. Inevitably, there’s the jerk who is quick to let you know you’re doing it wrong. They are negative and critical. They are the ultimate back seat, constantly telling the driver where to go. My husband’s comment is, “No good deed goes unpunished!” The response I always stifle is, “I think the word you’re looking for is “thank you”….”

In this TV episode of Supernatural , (a guilty pleasure of mine. Remember the “don’t judge” thing!) Bobby the boogieman hunter is dying. He has to revisit his worst memory, a scene from his horrific childhood, the day he killed his abusive, violent father to save his mother. It’s his original story, his core story, the reason he chose to spend his life fighting evil in the world.

It’s also where he learns for the first time that the people you save will not thank you:

You did what you had to do. This is where you learn that… they pretty much never say thanks when you save ’em.

There are reasons for this, but I’m not getting into that today. My point is this:

Don’t expect gratitude. Don’t do it for the thank-you.

Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.

*”How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.”

–William Shakespeare (The Merchant of Venice)

ETERNAL STUDENT

Learning new stuff is hard, and uncomfortable. But it’s good for us.

Last weekend, I took part in a digital storytelling workshop. It’s a state-wide project, collecting the multi-media stories of 100 California residents, a collaboration between Sonoma County  Library, Creative Sonoma (of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board), the California State Library and StoryCenter.

In two days, ten of us created our personal story, subjected it to intense editing (I don’t think I’ve ever written a story in 350 words or less….), recorded our telling, and added images, music, and text.

It was awful.

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How come I know how to make ancient artifacts, but I can’t figure out how to fix my email addy???

No, no, the project is amazing. The presenters were awesome. My fellow storytellers were incredible people. And the stories were powerful.

It was learning a video-making process that was so excruciating.

I’ve never used a video editing program before. (We used WeVideo.)

I had issues with my laptop (I accidentally used Google Chrome as my browser instead of Mozilla Firefox, and it kept locking up my computer til I figured out what was going on.) I had issues with my internet connection.

The worst part was, as I struggled to work out these issues, I would ‘space out’ and miss the next steps. My notes–usually quite orderly and thorough–looked like gibberish. Other people were working on their third or fourth draft of their video, and I hadn’t even recorded my story yet!

I felt like an idiot, and a giant crab to boot. (After a certain point, I do not deal with frustration well.) (I don’t think anyone in my group ever wants to talk to me again.)

Fortunately, when I dumped on my husband, Jon said EVERY video editing tool has a steep learning curve.

It simply takes time. And practice. And not giving up.

I also remembered a valuable lesson from writing my first book . I wanted to cover everything about stamp-carving. My editor gently held me back. “Save that for your next book….” she said.

My next book….

That helped. This was my first story on digital multi-media.

There will be more.

Today was my aha moment: I’d forgotten all about the four stages of competency.

This is how we learn.

This is how we move forward.

This is how we grow.

By stepping out of our comfort zone, and trying something new.

So SuperCrab here will persevere. After all, the one thing I learned in martial arts is gold…

A black belt is a white belt who didn’t quit.

P.S. Actually, now I’m learning how to manage a new website for our local arts district. I’m hoping I have hair left when I’m done.

P.P.S. A huge shout-out to Jon Udell (dear hubby) and Alex Kaufman (who rebuilt our hacked SOFASantaRosa website) for all the technical coaching and patience these last two weeks.

 

 

HOW TO MAKE WATER

Artists urge us to see the invisible, unnoticed beauty, and the important stuff of life.

I didn’t intend to write today.

I opened my journal, intending to try a new journaling technique I just read about. In flipping to the next blank page, I came across a note I’d written a few weeks ago. All it said was David Foster Wallace: This is Water

That’s it. Curious, and always open to an opportunity to procrastinate, I Googled it.

It’s about everything I’ve ever written about.

Of course, my lizard brain went, “Dang! Nothin’ left for me to write.” The angels of my better nature said, “Shut up and write. And then share it.”

Foster tells the story of two young fish passing by an old fish. The old fish says, “Mornin’, boys, how’s the water?” The younger fish continue on, til one turns to the other and says, “What the hell is water??”

Foster talks about a basic fact of life: We are the center of our own universe. After all, he notes, everything that happens everywhere is filtered through our eyes, our experience. He describes a typical experience: Grocery shopping after work. He outlines every single nuance of frustration and exasperation involved, from getting caught in traffic, shopping crowded aisles filled with slow people and whining kids, and ending up in the longest line at checkout. Who are these annoying, terrible people, and why are they ruining my day??!!

This isn’t bad, or evil, he reassures us. It’s natural. It’s ordinary. It’s human. It’s our default setting.

And yet….

We have something unique in us. We get to consciously choose what has meaning, and what doesn’t.

We all worship something, something not necessarily god-like. This, too, can bite us back. If we worship money and things, we will never feel like we have enough. If we worship our bodies and sexual appeal, we will always feel ugly. If we worship power and control, we will always feel afraid. If we worship our intellect, we will always feel stupid.

Real freedom, he says, comes from conscious choice. It involves attention. Awareness. Self-discipline. Effort. Caring for, and sacrificing for others.

That awareness comes from seeing what is real and essential, hidden in plain sight.

“This is water.”

I instantly realized, this is what artists are for.

When I say to you, “Yes, making money from art is nice. But that’s not the whole reason we do it.”

When I say, “When we have a creative gift, it’s our responsibility to bring it forth.”

When I say, “We can’t judge the work we do. We just need to get it out there in the world.”

When I was told, “The world needs your art”, I felt ‘the call’.

When I say, “Art is more than just what it does for you. It’s what it does for others.”

All of this, and more….What I’m really saying is this:

Art and creative work helps us see water.

This is why we must make the work that is unique to us–not what’s trendy and fashionable.

This is why measuring ourselves with fame and wealth is a sure way to kill our creative spirit.

This is why trying to control our legacy creates a disconnect with our rich inner life.

Bringing our creative work into the world involves the same conscious decisions: Attention. Awareness. Self-discipline. Effort. Caring for others. Sacrificing for others. (I’m still wrapping my head around that last one, I can almost get it, but can’t articulate it. Another article??)

First art heals us. When we share it with the world, then it can heal others.

Sadly, Wallace suffered from severe depression, and committed suicide in 2008. Sometimes the angry, frightened voices in our head cannot be silenced. But he left us with beautiful words, and powerful ideas.  He got them out into the world so that you and I can flourish.

He helped us see water.