Category Archives: life lessons

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under go to the studio today, life lessons, ProPanel, the power of our choices, What is the story only you can tell?

THE POK POV AND GROUP DYNAMICS

Balancing our individual needs with the needs of the group can be a fine line to walk.

No, I didn’t invent a new language. POK is an acronym for “Pissed Off Kids”, and of course, POV is “Point Of View”.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about mood.

Why do I wake up some mornings already stressed out, on edge, irritated and annoyed? Why do I sometimes wake up feeling inadequate, or as if I’ve been humiliated? I know it’s usually because of dreams I can’t even remember clearly.  But why do those feelings linger? Probably because dreams feel real, right up until we wake up.

I’ve also read how things we aren’t even conscious are, can affect our mood, even our actions. If we read a list of words, one word like “angry” or “unfair” can cause a change in our outlook hours later–even if we can’t even recall that word from the list.

I’ve always had issues about “fitting in”. Some of comes from being a child of the 50’s, where expectations for women (in art, in academia, in business, even in sports) were different than they are today. (As in, they were lower.)

Some of it is being part of a large family. I’m the oldest of seven sibs. I’ve noticed that younger sibs learn much from watching family dynamics all their lives. They observe what works and what doesn’t when dealing with parents, they learn when to keep their mouths shut and how much information to share. Oldest kids have only adults for their role models. We spend a lot of time explaining and justifying our actions. I tend to believe if only other people understood me, my intentions, and my motives, they wouldn’t judge me so harshly. (Um…I just realized that’s probably why I blog.)

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I make black horses, bears, bunnies, otters, and birds. But no black sheep. Yet.

This may also be why I’m so obsessed with the “why” about making art. It’s a powerful tool to connecting others to my work.

Some of it is being a parent. We think we have more knowledge and experience than our kids. That’s true. But we forget we don’t have their experience. Their life is very different from ours. We often make assumptions that get in the way of truly seeing them.

The theme running through all of this is something I learned when I belonged to a craft guild years ago. When you belong to a group of any kind, the group has a lot vested in you being a member of the group, rather than being an individual with different goals and needs. In the case of the quilt guild, group pressure can subtly affect something as big as your color aesthetic over time. When I realized that was happening to me, I left the group. (nb…they were actually very nice people, it was very subtle thing.)

 

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My color choices were not the maroon-and-navy blue popular with local quilt guilds in the 80’s…

I get it. I really do. It’s easier for groups when everyone is on the same page. When there are common goals, much can be accomplished. Accommodation takes time. Patience. Energy. Even compassion. All those can slow down or interfere with a group’s common purpose.

So, in the group or out? Which do I prefer? I always chose me. What are the drawbacks there?

For me, it’s the fact that I still feel guilty about choosing myself over the group. I want everybody to be happy! So I explain. I explain way, way too much, to people who don’t care–because they want the group. Which isn’t good.

The problem with wanting everyone to understand me is, I’m trying to control what other people think of me.

Explaining,  sharing the “why” about me is only powerful when people want to know. If we’re talking about customers who like my work, then they care.

If they don’t care, if they aren’t my audience, or the group is more important to them, then it’s a losing battle, and rarely works for long.

As I get older, I realize I’m expending a lot of energy that could be put to better use.

I might be a POK.  (Thanks and a hat tip to Amy Johnson, who not only coined the phrase, she has lots of insight about what it’s like, how it works, how to reach out to a POK, and what not to say to a POK. (Hint: If I’m focused on my needs and my POV, it usually will not appeal to the POK.)

Today I realized I’m stuck in the middle.

I want to be understood, and accepted. But the people who I want to understand, do not care. So I’m angry and self-righteous, and unhappy.

I say I must be myself, and not molded and shaped by the group’s expectations. That means I must be comfortable with not being part of the group.

But most groups react badly when a member leaves. This is a fact of life. I was taught to be “a good girl”. The resentment directed at me for “not being nice”, for choosing “me” over “us”, is hard for me to bear.

“Not fair!” I cry.

This solves nothing.

And so I understand I still have a lot to learn. (Hence, the “eternal student” moniker.)

In a very primal way, I’m still learning the only POV I can control is mine. 

The only person whose actions I can manage are my own.

The only people who want to know “why”, are people who care.

Now if only I could convince my dreaming self to get on board with that, my morning moods might improve.

Er…booze and chocolate for breakfast, anyone?

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I found a gray sheep! Does that count?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under getting unstuck, life lessons, What is the story only you can tell?, world peace

WHY ARE PEOPLE RUDE??

The deliberately rude ARE different than you and I. We must understand that to protect ourselves.

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Still making little bears….

Yesterday I wrote a post, responding to another artist’s frustration on being treated rudely by a gallery she approached.

Shortly after I published it, I received a comment that baffled me. It was condescending and pretentious, and completely missed my point.

I almost replied to it. Instead, I’ll be deleting it soon.

Why? Because any comment that includes the phrase “Sorry to offend your sensibilities, but….” is not a serious contribution to discussion. (The writer’s contention was, I don’t understand that galleries are a business, and rank hobbyists need to know that.)

I almost leapt to my defense. The original article expressed dismay at how the gallery treated them, not the fact that they didn’t like the work. After all, if a business is rude to its potential vendors, is that good business sense?

I decided to delete the crabby response. But I still wondered why someone would be deliberately provacative. When I visited the person’s website, I could see no evidence of a working artist, or even a viable online presence. Nothing. Wha…..??

Finally it dawned on me. Whether I responded, or left the comment as is, people visiting my blog would do just what I did: Click on the crab’s site to see what they’re about.

The crab was using his comment as click bait. Diminishing what I offer, in order to build traffic to their own site.

We hear it all the time: Don’t feed the trolls! Don’t let them bait you, engage you, feed off your anger.

Unfortunately, the trolls are getting bigger, and hungrier.

A memorable illustration is high tech blogger Kathy Sierra, whose inspirational, highly-readable blog changed the face of her industry–until hostile comments and death threats chased her off the scene. (Temporarily, fortunately. She’s back, and she’s awesome.

Another is Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones, who was brutally trashed on Twitter by a someone who’s name I won’t even print.

And of course, the biggest troll of all, the Republican nominee for President of the United States.

What do these trolls gain from their behavior?

Unfortunately, a lot.

They get attention. Publicity. Lots of it. And though we detest and protest their behavior, we end up talking about it–and them–even more. The Google hits skyrocket. The person who cruelly baited Leslie Jones actually celebrated when he was banned from Twitter. Why? Because the media talked about him and his antics even more, nonstop. The interviews continued, the outrage continued, and there he was, sitting in the middle of a media frenzy, enjoying every minute, crowing about his successful grab of the world’s attention.

The more we learn about people like this, we realize they are not motivated by the same things that motivate most of us. I want to be known for my work, of course. But I want it to come from a place of inspiration, compassion, support, and contribution. I want to use my gifts to make the world a better, happier, more joyful place.

These others crave attention. Power. Control. And they will do anything to get it. The world is a playground to them. The media is a system to be gamed. The rest of us are simply fodder for their egos.

In my own tiny world, where I make little horses and bears, where I share what I’ve learned on my journey so that others can be inspired to walk their own path, there is no room for these people. Oh, sure, some will make their way here from time to time.

But I’m learning to recognize them faster. 

And I hope you do, too.

 

 

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WHAT ARE YOUR VALUES?

A simple yet extremely effective practice to ground yourself in your life’s purpose.

I’m recuperate from yet-another surgery this summer (my 11th, and it’s my foot).  I’ve never had my tonsils out, and I still have my appendix. But apparently all my other body parts are either out of whack or get whacked a lot (Tae Kwon Do, Thai Kickboxing, etc.). OTOH, I once twisted my knee very badly chasing a chicken down our icy driveway in Keene, New Hampshire. So maybe it’s just a karma thing.

I’m past the pain and the exhaustion that follows surgery. But I’m still extremely restricted in my activities. No weight-bearing on my foot. No driving. (Which means I haven’t been to TJMaxx, or thrift-shop hopping, or flea marketing in a month. Cruel and unusual indeed.)

But I’ve been listening to more podcasts, watching more movies, and reading, reading, reading. I can’t remember the last time I got to read a book from cover to cover in a day. (Oh, wait, I do remember. My last knee surgery, two years ago!)

Today I found the PinkHairedMarketer, Sonia Simone. I love her business philosophy: Go where your heart follows, do what works for you, as long as you don’t lie, and you don’t hurt people. (More on that below.)

One podcast really grabbed me today. It’s called.A Quick, Enjoyable Way to Sharpen your Vision, Goals, and Values. In it, she talks about the kinds of stress that actually improves our life and our work. She talks about setting goals. And she stresses the importance of including our values when we create those goals.

Values are the things you care about–not necessarily the things you are good at. For example, you might care about family, and yet your family situation could be totally messed up. This snagged me, because in every way, issues around family are hounding me lately. But family is tremendously important to me, though I struggle with how to be a good parent, how to be a good daughter and sib, without compromising my own needs and outlook on life.

Values give meaning to our lives, and our endeavors. When we set goals, it’s important to consider our values. They play a huge part in the way we measure ‘success’. Because the toys and treats and the other signs of success that we usually define as ‘success’, if achieved at the cost of our values, will drain us. There are ways that even a quirky, multi-faceted art-and-writing business like mine could be amazingly profitable. But so far, I haven’t found a way to do that, that would not compromise my values. (Sooooo…..I’m doing something right!)

Sonia quotes often from Kelly McGonigal’s book The Upside of Stress. (Bless her heart, she also recommended McGonigal’s TED Talk if you only have time for the quick take-away.)

Sonia made many observations I liked. But the big take-away for me is this:

“It turns out that writing about your values is the most effective psychological intervention ever studied.”

That’s right. Simply taking the time to write down your values–or even articulate your values to yourself, in your head–is the best way to align your goals, to create a vision for yourself, to feel more engaged and more purposeful in your life. Sonia says:

Connecting with your values, on the other hand, is easy and energizing. It’s refreshing. It helps you reframe things. And if the research holds true, it lasts a surprisingly long time.

It can just be a matter of writing out a few paragraphs about your values and why they matter to you. Just take a little time to remember what they are, and think about them with some richness for a little bit.

I would definitely recommend that you feel connected to your values — to the ideas that give meaning to your life — as you work with goals and vision. They’ll give you that “Why.”

See why I like this so much? Yep. The big “Why” there. My favorite tool is the word, “WHY?”

And so today, I start off this experiment by identifying, and writing about some of my values:

Family. Complicated. Not always full of love and respect. But I love my family, above (parents, aunts, uncles, grands), below (my kids), and sideways (my husband, my sibs.) Sometimes there has to be protective distance. But I always hold out the hope that things could be better.

Passion for my art. My artwork and my writing are both the work of my heart. They tell my story, all the way. My responsibility is to get it out into the world. Yes, I’d love some money to come of it all. But I will strive to do it even if nothing comes of it.

Compassion.  This can be hard, if I refuse to set aside my assumptions about other people, about how things work in the world. But I am determined to be open, and to listen. To really listen to people who have different experiences in the world than mine. To respect their stories.

Service. By volunteering, I step outside my comfort zone. I learn something new. I expand. I’m almost ready to explore such opportunities here in Santa Rosa. Something will call to me. Soon. And I’ve learned that when I’m called, I should go.

In fact, service is also why I write. I want to share what I’ve learned with anyone else who would benefit from it. I’ve looked at ways to better monetize my writing and teaching. But there are some steps I just can’t justify. And so you get a lot of it free, just by coming here. Or over there, at Bold Brush Fine Art Views newsletter.

Openness, and Authenticity. I am an imperfect human being. I didn’t get where I am today by pretending otherwise. I can’t fake it. When I fail, I’ve let you know. And then I pick myself up, and try to do better. If I can do it, you can do it. And if you can do it, well, maybe that will encourage me to try, too.

Growth. The by-product of all the above.

There are more, of course, but who wants to work with all 50 core values? Wait…you think I should??

I just realized that my artwork is a physical manifestation of my values.

What are some of your values?

And how do they relate to your personal, and professional goals?

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MARTHA BECK TELLS US WHY LIFE’S NOT FAIR

Let’s talk about success for a minute.

When I first stood up for my artistic self, it was a powerful moment in my life. I set aside self-judgment, feelings of inadequacy, needing success, ALL the baggage that being a creative person in our culture carries.

The questions I asked myself were:

I see my young children, vital and grounded, full of potential to do anything they turn their mind to. Was I like that as a child??

How can I want my children to live a life filled with passion and fearless commitment to their highest self, and not want that for myself?

How will they know what that looks like, if I don’t show them?

My mantras were:

I have to be an artist, or I’ll die.

I don’t even care anymore if I’m a GOOD artist. I just have to do it.

If one person in a thousand likes my work, I’ll be happy.

In addition to taking my art seriously, I took the business of art seriously, too. I created a business plan, a strong artist statement, hired a professional photography (great images are EVERYTHING), taught myself how to write good press releases, and promoted the heck out of myself.

So, a few years later, I was juried into major high end fine craft shows. My work was juried into art and fine craft exhibits across the country, and my work was carried in 63 shops and galleries in several dozen states. My work was featured in dozens of books, magazines, and newspapers. I wrote regular columns for two craft magazines. I wrote a book for Lark Books.

And I still didn’t feel successful.

I wasn’t, compared to really famous artists and craftspeople. But I was already learning that many of the markers of ‘success’ in our culture can feel empty and hollow. And money–or at least LOTS of money–doesn’t necessarily follow, either.

I had done everything right. But it wasn’t working for me. I quit the fine craft show circuit. I cut way way back on my wholesale market (with help from the 2008 recession.)  I stopped applying to juried exhibits. (Oddly, I made just as much money doing one big craft show and holding two open studios a year.)

I’m not saying my good business sense muddied the waters. I believe you can be committed to creating good work, and committed to getting that work out into the world. I’m saying that I need to periodically examine my personal definition of ‘success’. What would success look like to me? And how will that change along the way?

I’ve also learned that we cannot possibly measure the effect of our art, work, our deeds, our words, in the world. For me, ‘faith’ means we do the right thing, the good thing, the kind thing, not because we’ll be rewarded, but because that’s what the world needs from us, whether we ever know it or not. We have to believe that we throw our little stone into the water, and the ripples travel to places we cannot see, may never see.  Some days it may seem that the world does not want my art. Coincidentally (or not), I’m usually feeling like a sulky four-year-old on those days. But I also know I still have to make it.

I’ve written over the past few years about this, doing many course-corrections along my way. And recently, one of my favorite writers, Martha Beck, put it succinctly in an article (Life’s Not Fair) published in the September 2015 issue of Oprah Magazine. (Here’s the link, but it’s not a direct link. Scroll down to the second article on this page, to What Redefining Virtue Can Teach You About Happiness.)

In a nutshell, Martha says, “Life’s not fair. It’s possible to face that fact with grace. You just have to stop expecting fate to dispense satisfying little packets of justice.”

It’s an astonishingly good article. I think you’ll be glad you read it.

And whenever I get jealous about how wise and wonderful and well-known Martha Beck is, I just go read one of her articles about that, too.

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MINI LIFE LESSON FOR TODAY: The Importance of Doing What We Do

I had a little existential crisis a few days ago. No worries, it’s solved.  That is, I politely (I hope!) disengaged from a venture that wasn’t really a good fit for me. (I only took it because I’ve been freaked out by a major writing gig I’ve had for years, and had to walk away from recently.)

Anyway, a good friend and wise woman called me on it. Called me on wallowing in self-pity, when I’ve already proven I have something to give that the world needs.

So…

A few years ago, I met up with another wise woman I’d taken a workshop with, and told her how much her words had affected me.  I can still see her face as I recited several things she’d said, powerful words that have stayed with me for years.

She said, “I don’t remember saying that. You must have a good memory!”

I said, “Not really. But it was exactly what I needed to hear, and I carried them in my heart for a looooong time.”

It made me realize then (and hey, right now!) how we never, ever know how far our words will travel.

We may never know who needs to hear them almost as much as we need to say them.

And maybe we’ll find that someone has held our words in trust for us, for a time when we ourselves will need to hear them so badly.

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LESSONS FROM THE FUNNY PAGES: Big Dreams SHOULD Be Scary!

No, I’m not running out of ideas for other ‘Lessons’ series I’ve started. It just seems like lately, lessons are everywhere!

Today’s insight came this morning while reading our wonderful local newspaper, The Press Democrat. I always save the comics (In color! Every day!!!), crossword and Dear Abby for last–like dessert. There’s also not just one word scramble but two: JUMBLE, and a new one for me, SCRAM-LETS. (I can’t find links to these, sorry!!)

The mini-lesson about these word scrambles is, I used to work really hard to solve them. I had a couple of logical, methodical strategies for attacking them. I got really good at it, too. Until one day, I wasreading up on why those CN Y RD THS? thingies on Facebook are actually easy to read. (Turns out our brains automatically fill in missing vowels and out-of-order letters, as long as the first and last letter are in the right places.) I realized word scrambles are similar. I could identify almost every scrambled word by simply glancing at it. The mini-lesson? Quit trying so damn hard!! (see example below)

The big lesson, though, was buried in the SCRAM-LET, which usually features a wise saying or adage with the last word or two missing. These are so easy, you can actually work backwards–figure out the missing word, fill out the letters to the word clues you have, and discover the missing letters in the unsolved scrambled word. (Why is explaining it so much harder than simply doing it?!)

Today’s adage was, If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not BIG ENOUGH.

Yeah, yeah, I thought as I finished. Dream big. So trite.

And yet……

The things I’ve been worried about as I go to sleep at night, the things I worry about as I start my day… They all involve taking the next steps to rebuild my artist reputation out here on the west coast.

They are all about starting over. Only this time, knowing how much time and energy that’s going to take.

Even worse, they’re about worrying that this time, it’s not going to work.

If I approach a gallery, and if they accept me, and I give them the best of my current work, I worry that I won’t have any more good ideas in me.

If I sell an item online, I worry that the buyer, not having seen it in person, won’t like it.

If I pitch a column to a new magazine (because I think I’m being slowly ‘let go’ from my current gig, and no one wants to tell me), I’m afraid I’m not good enough to get another gig.

Part of me just wants to kick myself. ALL artists worry about running out of good ideas. ALL artists worry that, like Hollywood, we’re only as good as our last movie. Er…exhibit/show/column. ALL artists worry that somebody is going to be disappointed in our work.

But the rest of me knows we never learn a lesson for keeps. (Well. Not me, anyway.)

We need to learn those lessons over and over, practicing them, internalizing them–until our work habits are so solid, we finally learn to believe in ourselves. Til we know truly, in our hearts, that one setback will not break us.

Even then, life can kick us back to the starting line. A family crisis. A health issue. Losing a job, a cross-country move, AND NOT BEING ABLE TO FIND THAT TUBE OF RAW UMBER PAINT I KNOW IS IN MY STUDIO SOMEWHERE!!!! (Sorry about that. Once again, I have to go buy a replacement for something I KNOW is somewhere in my studio…..)

So I’m going to make an appointment to visit the gallery that’s expressed an interest in my work. I’m going to send a pic to a new customer who’s ordered from my online store, of the exact piece I’ve made for her. And I’m going to submit my images to a big art tour coming up this fall.

If I fail? Well, there’s always another opportunity. There’s another chance next week, next month, next year.

And I must remember that other life lesson that’s so hard to learn:

Sometimes, in order for a new door to open, an old one has to close.

P.S. A few people have contacted me, asking where the heck my online store is. My Etsy shop is dormant for the time being, but my shop at Bonanza is still open. http://www.bonanza.com/booths/luannudell

My goal is to replace “sample images” with individual images of each piece of jewelry. And hey–maybe I could start, like, today!

A sample 'hard-to-read text" (NOT) as found on Facebook.

A sample ‘hard-to-read text” (NOT) as found on Facebook. And oh! Notice it spells ‘without’ wrong!

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