NEWSLETTERS 101: #20 Share the BIGGEST Gift of All!

Otter's story is a good one for 2021!
Otter’s story is a good one for 2021!

NEWSLETTERS 101: #20 Share the BIGGEST Gift of All!

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.

What a Disney movie did to lift my heart!

(8 minute read) (Spoiler alert! If you haven’t seen Soul yet, wait to read this til after you do!)

 In last week’s column, I shared why sharing a family tradition (or one we’ve modified) can show our audience our human side.

For today’s column, I thought about discussing New Year’s Resolutions (which I rarely make, and keep even less.)

But instead, I’m sharing what I realize is the greatest gift of all:

We’re here, right now. Alive!

 Enjoy every moment, and look for the tiny little miracles that are EVERYWHERE!

Sorry/Not sorry for yelling. I’ll back up a bit. This came from a lot of ‘little thoughts’ that piled up into a massive mound this past week.

A few days ago, I was thinking about how desperate we all could be about sales.

Like it or not, “sales” is a powerful desire and goal for almost all creatives. I’ve always advised against pursuing sales as the only measure of our success. (I could create an entire series with the articles where I’ve mentioned Thomas Kinkade!) But we can’t help wishing and hoping to be successful with our creative work, and strong sales are hard evidence our work is popular.

Unfortunately, as you know from how many times I’ve mentioned Vincent Van Gogh’s work, we may never truly know how others will value our work. And being famous after we’re dead is…well, a nice thing to hope for, but we’ll never know.

Exactly how did “famous artists” in the past become famous? They had collectors with the money and the means (and the beautiful spaces) to purchase and display their art. And eventually, those works made it into museums around the world, “proof positive” that these were, indeed, great works of art.

But what about the artists who didn’t have that kind of audience? At first I thought of the work that wouldn’t even make it to any market: Artists of different cultures, different races, etc., especially those deemed “primitive” in nature. Then I thought of women artists, who were—and still are—under-represented in museums, art history, and even galleries today. Soon I was a little embarrassed for wanting fame and fortune, when so many people may have never had the chance to make their work, let alone show it, let alone sell it.

Even those artists who did make the cut, what about those works of art that never survived into our times? Entire cities, cultures, etc. were destroyed by fire, war, famine, pestilence, volcanoes. Cave art wasn’t a thing until Alta Mira, a prehistoric cave full of beautiful images of animals, was discovered in 1868. Even then, it aroused no curiosity for another decade, and it was actually Maria, the 8-year-old daughter of the caves owner, nobleman Marcelino Sanz de Sautola, who discovered the beautiful artwork within. (And even then, the work was often dismissed as modern forgeries by gypsies, until more caves were discovered in the early 20th century.)

Even then, such artwork was again dismissed as “hunting magic” by modern “experts”, whose unconscious bias limited their understanding of what was right in front of them. This bias continued. Mary Cassatt was a “real artist” whose work took a long time to be classified as such. In this article, the author says she had three strikes against her, “…her gender, her foreignness (she was an American living in France), and her reputation as a painter of motherhood.”

Even if we do achieve a decent reputation, a strong audience, some good sales, does that seal our fate? Nope. I can’t find this artist for the life of me, but one session in my art history classes in college focused on an extremely successful Victorian artist, the Thomas Kinkaid of his times, whose popularity tanked soon after he died. Too sentimental, too trite, did not stand up over time. (Could it be this guy?)

In our modern times, with a changing-for-the-better consciousness that all people matter, that all people have creative talents of some kind, that we all yearn to be “seen” in the world, and especially in this year of pandemic and unrest, how do we pursue our goal of being a successful artist?

I went to bed too tired, too sad, on a dark Christmas Eve, without an answer.

Until Disney+ tossed its newest Pixar animated movie, Soul, into our lap on Christmas Day.

I’d read a review that considered it “meh”, but for some reason, it still called to me. It’s about a musician, a music teacher, who’s always dreamed of making it to the big time, who finally gets his chance…

And falls down a manhole and dies. His soul is desperate to find a way to ‘go back’, to get the opportunity to realize his dream-of-a-lifetime.

In his efforts, he crosses the path of Soul 22, who has refused all efforts to get her to live a life on earth. Her cynicism is impressive! Even the souls of Mother Theresa, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, and many others can’t encourage her to even try.

After many failed attempts to not only recapture his own life, but to encourage hers, a tiny miracle happens.

Let me repeat: A tiny miracle.

I found this beautiful quote in an article about Soul today:  “Instead, Soul was left to be about the little moments that make up our lives rather than where we end up, and that’s ultimately what makes the movie resonate so well.”

My own greatest joy comes in persevering until I find a solution to whatever is blocking my way. I keep track of my progress in my notebooks and journals, capturing the tiny moments of joy and wonder I encounter in my day.

When I write my way through episodes of despair, when I find myself at the mercy of destructive, negative people, when I begin to doubt my own worth in the world, my gratitude list lifts me up again.

Those tiny moments add up!

When I make my work, I feel my purpose. It’s to share what I find beautiful in the world. To share where I’ve found meaning, solace, peace in my heart, if only for a moment. And it’s so easy to do that today! A quick photo, a caption, a few tags on Instagram, and my insights go straight to my artist-and-writer page.

I find as many ways as I can (writing for Fine Art Viewsmy blogTwitterFacebookmy email newsletter, etc.) to share what I’ve learned, what has lifted me, with others, quickly and easily. (The gifts of social media, when used as a force for good in the world!)

And you can too! Include your audience in those moments of inspiration as part of your marketing process. Sharing those moments of light, beauty, awe or sorrow will also help to connect your art with others.

Including these shares in our newsletters — whether it’s posting an image of our latest work, or writing about a flock of snowy egrets catching a random ray of sunshine, silhouetted against dark and stormy clouds, or including these moments on social media –is not only a gift to others, but a great marketing tool too.

When we make the work of our heart, we are lifted, even if just for a little bit. When we share it with others, maybe their hearts will be lifted, too. Whether they buy it, or share it with others, the ripples in the pond of life continue.

More than this, we can’t expect, nor count on.

In closing, a dear friend and I talked together on Zoom recently, soon after watching SOUL. She was struggling with her own “next steps”, what would get her to her goals, and I felt so helpless regarding advice. Fortunately, it turns out she didn’t really need advice. And she is already so many steps ahead of me!

One little (hah!) story she shared with me: She has a school history and a longtime interest in ecology, and she loves going for long walks, being immersed in nature and all its wonders.

Over time, she realized that on every walk, at some point, a tree would “wave” at her.

It could be a branch, a twig, sometimes just a single leaf. But it was independent of any noticeable wind or animal action. And she began to wave back.

Just a tiny wave, so if she weren’t walking alone, her companion wouldn’t notice.

Because who waves back at trees, right?

It hit me. There’s a powerful moment in SOUL that involves a tree. An insignificant, perfectly ordinary moment, actually less than a minute, that changes everyone. And everything. Something I’m betting every single one of us has experienced at some time in our walks and travels.

I told my friend about this moment, without giving away what it was, and encouraged her to watch the movie. She did. She cried. And she was happy again.

This year, make your art, especially if it makes you happy.

This year, share your art, because it will make others happy.

This year, pursue your goals, but don’t let them define you, or limit you in any way. Don’t worry about being “good enough”.

We are enough.

This year, live your life. Live it fully. Live it deeply. As my little animal artifact Otter told me many years ago…

“Oh, be joyful! Play! Enjoy every moment of this amazing life.”

 Oh, and this morning, I looked to see if a tree were waving at me. One did, but it was because it was full of two different flocks of birds, finches and Brewers Blackbirds. So maybe it was waving, but maybe it wasn’t.

But I waved back anyway. And somehow, I felt a little happier.

You’re shares and comments are always welcomed!

Share this link FineArtViews.com or view my blog at luannudell.wordpress.com.

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

WayBack Whenever: That Small Voice Inside

Oh, dear. My intentions to republish some of my old RadioUserland blog posts seem to have fallen by the wayside….

No matter. When I run across one that still speaks to/for me, I’ll reprint ’em here. (And most of them do!) (Also, thanks to Karyl Shields, who alerted me that the links don’t go to the right content any longer. Fixed! Darn you, Internet!)

Still following that “little idea” and I’m finally making some progress!
Monday, March 28, 2005

THAT SMALL VOICE INSIDE

Amy Peters, silver jeweler to the stars and Queen of self-promotion, posted a fascinating link on a forum today called “Marketing for Introverts.” I can’t find the article but her book can be found here: Self-Promotion for Introverts. Nancy Ancowitz’s insights provided very manageable steps we can take to promote ourselves and our work, and I highly recommend her article.

While poking around her site, I found an article she was interviewed for that also caught my attention. It’s called “To Find A Path, Just Follow That Little Hint” by Patricia Kitchen:

Why did this article appeal to me so much? Because a journey begins with having a place to go. And if you don’t know where to go, how do you take that first step?

Kitchen’s premise is, most people wait for a “bolt from the blue” to indicate where our true heart’s desire lies. But it usually doesn’t happen that way. Instead, she sayd, we have to pay attention to that tiny little hint of something that captures our interest. And follow it.

As adults, we often find we’ve lost or muffled the instinct to follow our hearts. We don’t have the time or energy to try new things, or pursue a glimmer of an interest. We lose faith in our abilities and strengths, we forget our gifts.

Last week I invited a friend to a free self-defense workshop at the martial arts studio where I study kick-boxing. I asked her on a whim, thinking it would be fun for both of us. “Oh no,” she said, “I wouldn’t be any good at that!”

I was baffled. Why would you have to be good at something to try it out? Heaven knows I have no “knack” for marial arts. And who would expect you to be good at self-defense without learning or practicing it??

But I understood the mindset. It’s that fear of NOT being good at something, the fear of embarrassing yourself in front of others, the fear of making a mistake. It’s the fear of being caught doing something foolish, or the fear looking stupid. It can be the fear of not getting your money’s worth or the fear of wasting time. It can be as awful as the fear of finding out you are NOT talented, or special, or capable of being better.

That’s why it’s so important to “follow that hint” of something interesting, new and fun. Why it’s so important to allow yourself the teensiest little opportunity to try something different. Why it’s so important to simply be open to something that piques your interest.

And why it’s so important to listen to that quiet voice within yourself that says “why not?”

Because who knows where that could lead you?

Kitchen ends by stressing that you must take active steps to pursue that hint. Otherwise, it stays a dream and never becomes your reality.

Tiny hints…small voice…and daily little steps. All adding up to a big dream come true.

 

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

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

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

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

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

(4 minute read)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love it when I come across them again.

Because I still need them.

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

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

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

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

I don’t think so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STORMY WEATHER (A Wayback Friday)

This is one of my all-time favorite blog posts, originally published on March 8, 2005. So many powerful memories! Bunster (who we found the perfect re-home for when we left New Hampshire, figuring a 12-year-old bunny would not travel well in a car with two dogs.) My daughter Robin, who wrote a poem for Lee.  Lee Filamonov, who died a few years later after I wrote this, a talented artist who lived with extreme mental health issues most of his life. Blizzards! And of course, the lessons learned along the way.

Enjoy!

My adorable Bunster, who was as feisty and bold as a cat!
STORMY WEATHER
I just found out another huge snowstorm is on its way. Tension is in the air. Snowstorms are “the New Hampshire way” here, more nuisance than anything. Schedules upended, plans unmade, no milk in the fridge. But secretly, I love it–the way you are forced to abandon the world’s demands, the way you have to hunker down with family and a good book and simply be at home.

Today my friend Lee visited me in my studio and we talked about art. I told him some of the fierce upheaval I’ve been feeling in my life lately. “I feel like I’m suddenly surrounded by people who want me to believe they are who they SAY they are. But I see what they DO, and I cannot believe them anymore.” I struggled on for a bit and finally, for lack of words, exclaimed, “I’m surrounded by liars!”

“Hell!” he said, “I have to LIVE with them!”

Point taken. At least I do not have to live with liars, and that’s a blessing.

I printed out a lovely poem my daughter has written about him, and gave it to him:

The Artist

I came to this country

in a year with no real numbers.

I wore my fur hat with pride.

I may have lost my teeth,

but never my dignity.

I have visitors here sometimes,

but they don’t come by

as often as they used to.

So I sit here, sketching

kaleidoscopic Russian princesses

with noble features and

holy backgrounds.

I paint red, for the Revolution.

And I use dead glass

to represent my own mind.

I walk in the cemetery,

feeding to squirrels the nuts

I can’t chew.

I write on the walls, and

they have threatened to paint over them,

but I know they won’t.

Everything I am, and ever have been

is on those walls.

Especially the shards of

glass.

By Robin Udell

Lee is so moved that he gives me a beautiful painting of his sister to give to Robin.

As we talk, I show him the book I’ve been rereading, “Art and Fear”. He grew impatient. “There are a million books written about art, and I’ve read them all. They will lose you in the woods. They are like a box of chocolates with one poisoned truffle. You eat them and eat them and they taste so good—but that poisoned one—watch out! It will get you! Quit reading them!”

But this one is different, I protest. It’s reassuring me about my fear.

“Quit reading about the fear!” he exclaimed. “Be ordinary! You are creative—make your art!” He bent over to stroke Bunster, and his voice became gentle again. “Be like your bunny. She’s fearful—but she has a place in this world…”

His words stunned me, weaving (as they always seem to) together a myriad loose strands in my life.

Months before in kickboxing, I was struggling with the moves. Too many injuries, too much weight. I’d jokingly suggested that my “animal hero” was the guinea pig—nervous and fearful, easily drop-kicked, chubby body with short legs and not able to jump very high—but I could NIBBLE my enemies to death. It got the laugh I was seeking and the tension relief I needed. My work-out partner and I have been mouthing “Be the guinea pig!” to each other when things get tough….

But I’ve been frustrated, too. I’ve now studied martial arts for over five years and constantly feel the limitations of my studies—both physical, and spiritual. I’m more afraid than ever in both arenas of my life. I’ve wondered if I’ve reached the limits of what this discipline can offer me.

Am I quitting if I give up? Will I find anything to replace it—the excitement, the challenge, the workout, the mental benefits?

And yet, in other ways, it’s not enough, and I’m through being patient, waiting for this ancient art to catch up to MY needs, as a woman and an artist in this dangerous world. I’m tired of learning how to square off for a fight in a bar. That’s not the scenerio where harm will come from.

So, if it’s too much and yet not nearly enough….What else could there be?

In the space of a few hours, I HAVE found other options. Suffice to say, small miracles have occurred. Other teachers, other opportunities have come forward. Permission. Acceptance. And perseverance.

Above all, indomitable spirit.

I am astonished at what has appeared in my life, so suddenly, so quietly, like the first few snowflakes of a winter storm.

Hearing the Call…

Homelessness is a problem not unique to California, but it can be more obvious because, obviously, the gentler weather works in their favor. There were plenty of homeless people in every placed we’ve lived over the past five decades.

My first art studio in Santa Rosa was near a park that had been a hot mess the years before I moved there. Rampant drug use and sales were an issue. But over time, this was mostly resolved, and now it’s a place where anyone can enjoy a little bit of nature.

I met quite a few homeless people, which was disquieting after the coffee shop next door closed for the day at 3 p.m., and again when it closed for good. Fortunately, I had a Dutch door, which allowed me to chat with them when they knocked on my door. I could assess them slightly, and simply close the top of the door when things got iffy. I had quite a few rich conversations with some.

My most frightening encounter was during an open studio event one evening late in the year, when night comes early. My tiny studio was filled with visitors, all happily exploring my space.

Until one older woman in a cheetah coat erupted.

She overheard me talking to someone about how I imagined myself an artist of the distant past with my artwork. It had been a long day, I was tired, and I said “pretended” instead of “imagined.”

She exploded. “Pretend” seemed like a fake façade to her, and she ranted on for several minutes about lack of integrity.

I was stunned, and tried to clarify my intentions. But she wasn’t having it. The push-back made her angrier. And everyone else fled my studio in a heartbeat.

Except for two women who stood silently by.

I am not good in these situations. When I’m scared, I run. I am not good in conflicts, and aggressive people scare the bejeezus out of me.

But something in me was paying attention. Something in me realized I was “doing it wrong”.

So instead of being defensive, I focused on connection.

I can’t remember what I said at the time. It was wasn’t about me, it was about the cave. How climate change caused those people to see their whole way of life disappearing in a handful of years. How those paintings were a prayer, calling the horses back. How the horses represent hope, and courage, for me as an artist, and for the world.

She calmed down, and listened.

And then I gave her a little horse. I put it in her hand, put mine around hers. I told her I wanted her to have it as a reminder of that. That we all matter.

Then I gently led her to the door and said goodbye.

Now, to be fair, in my mind, I figured giving her something was a good way to get her to leave. But that’s not how my two remaining visitors saw it.

Turns out both of them had experience with this. One was a psychiatric nurse, one had a similar background. Both of them said, “We knew she was going to be trouble. We knew it could go south in a heartbeat. And we weren’t going to leave until we knew you would be okay.”

Wow! Talk about angels in odd places….!!

They both said I had handled it beautifully. Met her where she was. Saw her as a fellow human. Being kind and patient.

I was flabberghasted. I felt I didn’t deserve the praise. I told them my own selfish intentions. They wouldn’t have it. (One of them still shows up to my events from time to time.)

Now, as an insight, that was pretty powerful. But it gets better.

A couple years later, I saw her picture in our local newspaper, The Press Democrat.

It was an article about people who lived on the streets who had finally been rehomed. She was on of them. An apartment had been found for her. In fact, she’d been in it for a couple months by the time she came to my studio.

What blew my mind?

She said that living on the streets was so traumatizing, it had taken her a looooong time to heal and recover. She said she was still ‘crazy’ for almost a year after, and she was just beginning to envision a normal life for herself.

It made me realize that even a home for a homeless person is not enough. They need support services, some for awhile, some for the long haul. They need to finally feel safe. And they need people who care.

That made me a teensy bit bolder in my interactions with this population. I remember a beautiful conversation I had with one person who was transitioning to female. At the end of our conversation, I asked her what she needed, expecting to hear “money”, and I would have given her some. But said, “I’m just so hungry right now.” Fortunately, I had a giant bag of granola I’d brought in for my snack stash. I asked if that would work, and she lit up with joy. I gave her the whole bag. (A year later, she appeared in a similar article. She now lives in a tiny house settlement outside Santa Rosa. Another artist in my community at the time had donated original hand-painted house signs for each unit.)

My assumptions about how to help others has gone through many transitions over the years. First it was, “Don’t give them money, they’ll just spend it on booze and cigarettes!” So I didn’t give out money. Until our same local newspaper shared that, if people on sleeping on a sidewalk, and cigarettes and booze help them cope, why should we judge that?

From then on, I would give pan-handlers $10 or even $20, after reading it could make a difference. One elderly gentleman danced for joy when I gave him a $20. “I’m gonna go over to that (fast food place) and buy breakfast!”

But later I learned that money is better spent supporting the non-profits that serve the homeless. Money gained through begging simply encourages them to “stay put”. In fact, my new studio is close to a residential facility that is the first step towards rehoming this population. It’s temporary shelter that works with people who have taken that first step.

I drive by there at least twice a day. It can be daunting at times. There’s often someone who will walk in front of my car as I drive by, on their way to the bus stop up the road, sometimes obviously intentional. During the hours they need to vacate the premises, they gather along the street. They leave trash behind. It can be annoying.

But then I think, if this is their only feeling of control in their lives right now, I can handle that.

And if you’d like to read a story about the best public art project I’ve ever witnessed personally, check out this excerpt in article about Bud Snow’s project in my Learning to See series:

Bud Snow was someone I met during my studio years at South A Street in Santa Rosa. They do large-scale public art, colorful, vibrant murals, usually up high. The featured work on that page I linked was a mandala painted on a cemented area on the ground, in a park near my studio. It took them much longer to paint than usual, because passers-by could stand and watch them as they worked, asking questions and in total awe of the work.

Soon Bud Snow offered every visitor a chance to help paint the mandala! I did, and over a period of four days, I saw them interact in a beautiful, powerful way with every single visitor: Parents picking up their kids from the elementary school across the street. Local workers and business owners. Homeless people. Every single one of them was thrilled to take part. It was one of the finest, truest examples of ‘public art’ I’ve ever seen, involving members of the very community the art was meant to serve.

Yes, Bud Snow was paid for the mural. (Though the extra time spent with the public tripled the time it took, so they took a hit.) Yes, Bud Snow’s work is now a sort of very-public advertisement for their work. Each one enhances their reputation and their asking price.

And yet cities pay for public art because it’s considered a powerful force for good for their citizens. The premise is, art really is a gift that everyone deserves, not just wealthy collectors who will pay hundreds of millions of dollars for a single painting (of a long-dead artist)….”

I still remember the homeless guy who showed up as night fell, on Julia’s last day of painting the mural. He had a flashlight and held it for us as we helped Julia pack up her stuff in the dark.

It was obvious that he was happy to be part of a group, happy to help her, happy to be ‘of use’. He smiled the entire time. I can still see his face, gently revealed by the light he held in his hand.

I’m still learning, of course. But maybe some of my experiences can be a source of hope for others.

NextDoor, an online resource for individual neighborhoods, is often a place where people can complain at length about this issue. And sometimes, the lack of compassion, anger, resentment, and general angst about this population can get out of hand.

The latest outrage about homeless people is directed at a woman who helps herself to flowers in a neighbor’s yard. When told not to pick them anymore, she got angry. She now picks them and throws them in the street.

The discussion is almost evenly divided between “please be kind” and “get rid of these creeps!” Some of the responses were downright scary, scarier than most homeless people I’ve dealt with.

Here’s what I wrote today:

“FWIW, my partner of over 42 years brought me flowers on our first meet-up. They looked freshly picked, and he told me he’d picked them from a tree lawn on the way over. (He didn’t have a car at the time.) I told him most people do not want their flowers picked, and he said, I thought that’s why they put them near the sidewalk, so people could pick them. So there are plenty of people who think “public” flowers are for the public to pick. 😀

I want to say thanks and love to all the folks here who show some compassion for the homeless population. They are not all one population, not all live with addictions, not all have mental health issues, a lot of them age out of foster care, or have young children, or injuries that affect them deeply, and MOST of them do not want to be homeless.

But all of them want the power of their choices, as do we all. Even when they step up and transition towards a home, it can take months, if not years, to heal from the trauma of living on the streets. They can be annoying, they can be problematic, they can be downright scary, and some we SHOULD be scared of.

But they are all also unique human beings who cannot afford services on their own. If we really want to consider ourselves true human beings, we have to start by seeing them as human, too, as humans who have not had our own advantages of support, income, homes, health care, good choices (that worked out for US), and people who care.”

We have to understand that part of why we see them as “other” is a way to distance ourselves from their situation. We want to believe that this could NEVER happen to us.

And yet we all know we may be one accident, one paycheck, one disaster away from being in that same situation. It could happen to a loved one. It could happen to us.

We can choose to look away.

Or we can choose to find even the tiniest way of helping. With our donations, with our taxes, with our volunteer time, with our work, with our compassion.

Part of me desperately wants to volunteer again with schools, with animals, with hospice.

But something is telling me my next service might be right in front of me. It’s scary. I’m still afraid.

But it won’t hurt to find out.

 

NEWSLETTERS 101 #6: My Creation Story’s Creation

NEWSLETTERS 101 #6: My Creation Story’s Creation

How I Poke(d) People Into Telling Me Their WHY

Yet still she persisted….

(8 minute read)

I know I’ve told this story a million times. But I can’t find it to share with you, and so I’m telling it again.

Soon after I heeded the call of my art, I entered my work in a group exhibition. The group was the Women’s Caucus for Art (the New Hampshire Chapter) and this was my very first art exhibit. I was already on fire with my newfound life mission, and it showed.

The show organizer asked for volunteers to present gallery talks. I volunteered, but wasn’t chosen. Which I carried NO resentment for, and when I asked, courteously, telling them I just wanted to know for my own education, they said they picked people they knew would be up to the task. And they didn’t know me yet. (Which shows the power of gentle inquiry in finding out in a way we can LEARN from, instead of simply assuming the worst.) (TWO life lessons for you today!)

Having never heard a gallery talk, let alone actually giving one, I went with eager anticipation, hoping to hear the story behind these artists’ work.

It was a long drive, we only had one car at the time, and one of the other artists offered me a ride. We hit it off and had a lovely talk on the way up. (Keep note of this!) The exhibit was beautiful, the typical run-of-the-mill artist statements were displayed, and after an hour or so, the selected artists’ presentations began.

It was abysmal. THEY were abysmal (the talks, not the people.)

The first speaker shared a lot about their process, a much-maligned medium (digital art) at the time. Perhaps to compensate for the expected push-back (digital art was not considered “real art” at that time), the artist understandably spent a lot of time on the “how”. Their talk had a good reception, though. The work nowhere near “simple” to create. Their subject was inspired by a Greek island the artist had explored in their academic research, where a priesthood of women in ancient times had resided. Those recently-discovered images were the foundation of her work. Their presentation was quite academic in nature.

But then it was time for their question-and-answer session, and that’s where it almost fell apart.

The first questions were fairly mundane: What software had they used? Who did their framing? Etc., etc.

Then I posed my question.

WHY?

Okay, this was almost 30 years ago, and I can’t remember exactly how I phrased my question(s). It took about a dozen tries on my part. The more I persisted, the more defensive the artist became, again understandably. But my intent finally got through.

I simply wanted to know why this particular island was so important to this woman. And, to be blunt, why it should be important to us, too. (More on this at the end.)

I said, “There are thousands of islands in Greece.” (Just looked that up. There are around 6,000 Greek islands, though fewer than 300 are inhabited…) “Thousands. And people have lived on them for millennia. Why THIS ISLAND? And why THIS POINT IN TIME?”

Aha! The lightbulb visibly lit up in their head.

They unfolded their arms. They stood up, straight and proud. Their voice deepened, slowed down, became firmer:

“Because on this island, in this time all-too-brief moment in time, women were revered and respected. They could walk the streets, at night, in safety, alone and unafraid.”

Boom. Mike drop.

The entire room did that gasp thing, where everyone else suddenly gets it, too.

It was a powerful moment. Still is.

The rest of the talks went the same way. When everyone was done asking the run-of-the-mill questions, I would ask the “why”.

Now, this was hard for me. I do not welcome confrontation. I usually run from it as fast as I can. It was hard for the speakers, too. They had clearly never considered the “why”.  And no one had ever held their feet to the fire to do so.

Afterwards, every single speaker came up to me. I would start to apologize: I was new to art-making, I was on fire with my art. And I wanted to know what the fire was in my newly-found community of artists.

Every single artist said, “No. I want to THANK you!” (THAT took courage, too.)

My fellow artist/speaker/driver said the same thing. I was worried that after our intense, deep conversation on the way up, that I’d wrecked it. Their work was titled, “The Hidden Story”. And I was the only person who actually asked what the story was!

“No,” they said, “I know who you are. I’ve never told that story before today, and I’m glad you asked me about it. I looked at your face in the audience. I felt safe, and I felt SEEN. I told you my story, and I’m glad I did!”

An article about the exhibition ran in the state’s largest newspaper, and I was mentioned. Not by name. I was the “persistent person in the audience” who encouraged every speaker to tell their powerful story.

Persistent.

Yup, that’s me.

I don’t do that much anymore. I’ve done a similar process with anyone who takes me up on my offer to help them find their story. It’s easier, in some ways, to do it in person, or in a workshop. I have to show them my (persistent) intentions are honorable. Even so, there is always someone who simply can’t do this. They aren’t ready. Or the years of experience they already have keeps them from wrapping their heads around this. Obviously, this isn’t something that happens much in art school, I’m guessing, though maybe times have changed.

And even when it’s someone I know and love, it’s hard for ME. It DOES feel confrontational when I won’t let some lame response fill the bill. I keep going until I know that person is speaking their truth, because I see the same signs when it does: Posture changes, defenses come down, voices strengthen, and slows.

Truth is told.

And even when others see this, it can offend them, make them defensive. I gave an impromptu presentation when asked at a gallery exhibit a few years ago. I know my stories, and somehow I know which one will “rise to the occasion” when I talk. I’ve told them many times, there are always new ones in the work, and I rarely lack for something to say, when asked. (This from a newly self-identified introvert, remember!)

But the very next person asked said angrily, “My art isn’t verbal!” and clammed up. (Too bad, because their piece was one of my favorites in that show.)

So if you did the homework assignment from last week, with full attention and intent, and are still stuck, try this:

Is there someone in your life who you would trust with your tender, creative heart?

They don’t have to be an artist, nor a collector, nor even a fan. They simply have to be someone who you trust to act with integrity and kindness. Ideally, someone who is also willing to persist.

You keep talking, and every time you pause, if the story hasn’t appeared yet, they keep asking you that question about your artwork: Why?

Why this medium? Why this subject? Why this composition? Why these colors? Why, why, why.

They need to pay very close attention to what comes too easily from you. What feels like a no-brainer for you:

“I just love color!”

“Why? Why do you love color? Why did you choose THESE colors? What do they represent to you? What mood are you striving to create with them? Why that mood? Where does that mood come from in this piece? Why?”

I don’t have any sure-fire tricks here. Every time I do this, I worry I’m doing it wrong, if that helps. When the person gets defensive, it REALLY worry: Have I just killed our relationship???

But that defensiveness is exactly the clue that we are on the right path.

Our closely-held assumptions, our protective coloration (sorry, couldn’t resist!), our cherished (yet often superficial) beliefs about our work are being challenged. That can feel like an attack. Hence, the defensiveness.

But if you truly want to get to your creation story, which you can choose to incorporate into your artist statement or not (your choice), this will be well worth your time and momentary discomfort. (It might help to have a bottle of wine ready when you’re done…?)

You can also try this in writing, by yourself. I did. When I locked myself in my studio, determined to get to the heart of what I do, I started with, “Why this cave?” And after I’d write my answer, I would write, “Why?”

Until I got to my true answer.

Last, here is why the “why” is so hard:

I’m really asking you why I should care.

And here’s why you need to find it, even though it’s hard:

Everyone has a creation story.

Every creation story is a hero’s journey.

No matter where you are on your journey, there’s a story.

You are not alone, with your story.

Everyone is struggling with something.

Everyone is healing from something.

Everyone wants to be “seen”.

Everyone wants to have a voice in the world.

Everyone wants to know that they matter.

And when we share our story, there are people who are going through something similar, or know that it’s something they WILL go through, someday.

Your story will not only resonate with someone, it will uplift someone, encourage someone, inspire someone. It may comfort someone, it may give someone hope. It make clarify their own intentions, wants, and desires.

Your story, at the heart of your art, your creative, is a powerful force for good in the world.

That alone is a pretty good reason to dig deep for it, don’t you think?

LEARNING TO SEE #8: Finding Our Way in the Dark

Still my go-to happy place. Where’s yours? (Okay, confession time: It’s not nearly as neat and clean now!)

 

All we need is a good flashlight and the courage to trust ourselves.

(5 minute read)

Just so you know, I really don’t have everything in life all figured out.

Oh, I’m good at finding a way out of the woods, as long as the woods aren’t too dark. ) And the wolves aren’t after us.* (Actually, wolves don’t really hunt people.)

Years ago, I came across a quote by Anne Lamott, about being lost in the dark. She said she prayed, asking God to simply shine a light at her feet, so she could take ‘just one little step…”

She wasn’t asking for His advice. She wasn’t asking for directions. She wasn’t asking for a plan.

All she asked for was the ability to take one small step forward in the dark.

Of course, now I can’t find that quote, but here is a similar one:

“E.L. Doctorow said once said that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”

–Anne Lamott

I won’t get into all the dark stuff surrounding all of us right now. I’m sure by the time this article is published, there will be even more, calling for our attention, and our action.

I do want to talk about the light.

We tend to think of ‘light’ as a quality that allows 2D artists to truly capture an image, especially landscapes, still lifes, and portraits. Light gives depth, color, texture to a painting.

But light is crucial is so many forms of creative work. Plays, cinema, musical performances, dance. In healing, x-rays and CT scans, a totally different form of ‘light’, are ways to reveal sources of pain in our bodies. I could go on with my usual strings of metaphors, but we can accept that light is most definitely a good thing. (For creatives who live with blindness or sight issues, they simple “see” the light in other ways, filling in with their imagination and inner vision. Deafness didn’t stop Beethoven from composing his powerful music.)

Sometimes all we need is that little flashlight at our feet.

Sometimes, of course, we need something bigger. A strategy called “The Lighthouse Method” encourages us to follow a distant signal, far ahead, with no knowledge of what we will find along the way. Sometimes, we can be more like E.L. Doctorow’s headlights metaphor, where we can drive 65mph and simply follow the road in front of us.

As creative people, we may often be alone in our thoughts, our vision, our work. We find many ways to make our work, often experimenting with different media, different palettes, different subject matter, different styles and techniques. We’re used to walking a path that can sometimes seem lonely.

And sometimes, it feels like nothing we do is very satisfying. This can be caused by big life changes (and lots of small ones), illness, death. Broken relationships, loss of income, galleries closing. We’ve added a lot to this list in 2020 already, and there’s probably more to come.

But even as I write this, I can almost feel that flashlight in my hand.

I know if I can get to my studio, I’ll feel better.

Maybe I’ll make some new artifacts. Maybe (oh, yes, please!) another order to fill, or an idea for a new series. Maybe it will be a clay day, or a fiber day, or maybe I’ll just end up on the floor picking up that bowl of seed beads I dropped. Maybe I’ll page through my inspiration file, noting a new ways of connecting this with that, or a new color combo. Maybe I’ll just clear my work surfaces. Maybe just one surface. Okay, maybe I’ll just clean a corner of my desk.

All I know is this:

I will come out of my studio much, much happier than when I went in.

I’m not saying my art is more important than anything else going on in our world today.

I’m saying I’m in a better place to do that work, if I do a bit of MY work first.

So if today is a hard day, take exquisite care of yourself.

It’s okay to be overwhelmed. It’s okay to be confused about who or what to believe. (Although I’d start with reputable news sources, not rumors.)

It’s okay to feel small in the world today. It’s okay to feel lost. It’s part of being human.

But remember we have been given a gift, a precious gift. The gift of yearning ‘to make’, ‘to create’, to bring something into the world that is the product of our unique upbringing, our unique path in life, our skillset, our winding path, our powerful artistic vision.

Know that there are many ways to help others with our creative work. Whether we inspire others with our work or words, or whether we donate a portion of our sales to a good cause, or whether we volunteer for those causes directly, whether we stay in or march, or help those who do, or simply wear a mask, etc. it’s all a way of healing the world.

If we’ve been in the dark ourselves, that teaches us to have compassion for those who are in it now, or who live in it all the time.

Find a way to use your creativity in service of the causes you believe in. Be a force for good in the world. Share your own way of doing this in the comments. I get great ideas from readers, and I’m sure other readers will, too.

Whether it’s headlights, a lighthouse, or a little flashlight, aimed at our feet, we have been here before. And we will be here again, in this dark place.

It is always darkest just before dawn, because that is why the dark is so important. In the dark is when we realize what we really care about. In the dark is where we sleep, and dream. It can be a place of fear and immobility.

But dawn will come again.

And we cannot recognize the light if we never know the dark. The dark teaches us to trust the angels of our better nature

It’s easier for us to really see that little beam of light, in the dark.

 

 

LEARNING TO SEE #5: This Is Us

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

LEARNING TO SEE #5: This Is Us

Sometimes dark times help us see the light within.

(7 minute read)

 

It’s a dreary day today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the gift of being an artist today:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Random Thoughts Make a Tiny Miracle During Shelter-in-Place

I’ve made more little critters than ever!I’m sharing a tiny gift I’ve found in this hot mess.

Bear with me, because it comes from a bunch of random issues, problems, frustrations, idle research on the internet, and resulted in my new-found work enhancer.

First: All my life, from the very first 45rpm record I bought (“Turn, Turn, Turn” by The Byrds), I love to play a favorite tune over and over and over. (I can hear some of you screaming already…)

Also, when I am writing, or even reading, I can’t listen to music with words. It just jangles the connections in my brain. Soon I’m singing along, not aware that I’ve also stopped reading/writing.

So I can’t listen to lyrics during those activities. Put a pin there.

More on music: I have a CD player in my studio. Old school, I know. I also have Pandora radio, and I tried to use that, especially because CDs only give 45 minutes to an hour of playtime. I got the internet radio because my husband has had one for years. How many years? Let’s just say it’s a century in “internet years.”

Because he’s used it so long, it now automatically plays even random music that suit his tastes. Mine, not so much. I tried searching for artists, songs, music genres, etc. But it never complied anything I could listen to for more than five minutes.

So I quit using it, and went back to my CD player. At least I can play discs of music I love and have collected over the years.

But there were problems there, too. First, as I said earlier, I’m one of those obnoxious people, the ones who fall in love with a song, and play it over and over and over and over and over until everyone around me wants to scream.  (Have you stopped yet?) (I have my reasons why, but I won’t bore you with them today.) (Unless you ask, of course.) 🙂

So I have to constantly hit “replay”, which means I have to push a button every 4 minutes and 30 seconds. Or constantly skip over the songs that annoy me.

I worry about driving my neighbors crazy, especially in my “one-song-repeat-a-thousand-times” mode. (Put a pin here, too.)

Also, I’m in a huge building with dozens of other artists. We all have our individual workspaces, and fortunately, we don’t share air systems or even heating ducts. (No heat.) But I can hear their conversations from time to time, off-key whistled accompaniments to their own music, etc.

I ended up wearing ear plugs, which work great. But now I can’t hear my music, right?

If I play my music loud enough so I can’t hear them, it’s actually TOO loud (because the ear buds don’t fit.) And if I play my music loud enough so I can hear it no matter where I sit in their studio, well, then I’m bugging THEM.

And after the shut-down orders came, I was a little stressed even in my happy creative space. It was harder than usual to focus and dig into my projects.

Put a pin there.

Around the same time, I was complaining to my husband how all my ear buds suck, because a) I can’t get them inserted adequately to get the best sound unless I hold them in place, which is not conducive to doing my art work because I NEED MY HANDS TO WORK; and b) they hurt my ears.

So he gave me his old headset, an inexpensive refurbished model he’d bought for his work’s online conferences, but never used because it didn’t have a microphone.

I love them. The sound is great, they are comfortable, and I can plug into my phone, tuck my phone in a pocket, and move about the studio easily. (Before, I would forget I was “plugged in”, jump up from one work station to move to another, and nearly destroy my phone and everything on my desk in the process.) (Pin!)

A couple months ago, I found a delightful little video by Ainslie Henderson online. I can’t for the life of me remember how.  I think someone posted it on Facebook?

I fell in love with it. He mentions how his little animated figures carry a bit of sadness, and when the little one pulls at the arm of a larger one who’s stilled already at 2:00 minutes into the video, I felt that.

I also fell in love with the music. When I looked up more of his film shorts, I saw how he has collaborated with various musicians over the years.

So I looked up Poppy Ackroyd, who did the music for that little video, and found more of her music. Her work sounds simple, but it’s also complex. How she makes it and puts it together is astonishing.

Then I realized I can “sample” Ackroyd’s album “Leaves”, which has three of my favorite songs on it: “Salt”, “Timeless”, and “Roads”.

They have NO WORDS.

They are hypnotic.

They repeat, in order, over and over and over.

No pushing buttons. No being tied to a three-foot leash. No noise to bother my neighbors. No noise to bother me.

And now I’m hooked.

I get to my studio, set up my phone for Acroyd’s playlist, put on my headphones, and get to work.

I work steadily for hours on end, happy, heart-lifted, and soothed.

All these elements and issues combined and resolved by a $14 headset, and….

A beautiful collaboration between visual artist and music artist.

I never would have found Henderson’s work without surfing on Facebook, which can be a huge time-waster and a hotspot for fake news, etc.

I never would have found Poppy Acroyd’s music without finding Ainslie Henderson’s video.

I never would have found Poppy’s music if they had not collaborated.

I never would have found such a powerful way for me to get deep into the ‘Zone’ without my husband’s suggestion of using a headset.

Today I’m going to send some money to Poppy Ackroyd. I figure I owe it to her.

And I am so grateful all these random little elements, missteps, personal quirks, etc., came together and gave me just what I need right now to reinforce my creative work time.

What have you found that helps you get into that deep creative space that’s so important for our work?

P.S.  Another earworm you might enjoy: Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) and Emmy Lou Harris collaborating on “Speedway at Nazareth“. (Headphones or whatever gives you the best sound quality. Worth it!)

P.S.S. I was going to apologize for dragging you through tons of “little bits” that all came together to tell a story. Until I realized this is the heart of all my creative work. Little bits that get sewn/knit together, all carrying something intriguiging to me, with lots of tiny details, braided into a story that lifts my heart.

I hope it lifted yours today, to

Lots of braided stories in this new series, too!

o.

The Gift of Color

This little work of art taught me so much about color.

Today I found a little mixed media art pin in my “treasure trove”, aka “Luann’s Big Pile O’Stuff”.

I can’t remember when or where I bought it, though I’m pretty sure it wasn’t an art/craft show. A gift shop or gallery, maybe?? It’s signed “Joan Considine” on the back, and “winter ’95/’96”.

At this time, I was on the cusp of stepping up to my art career. I was a) making doll quilts and fabric toys for my kids; b) knitting sweaters for my kids; c) making beaded jewelry; d) buying odd/broken bits of vintage jewelry from thrift shops and antique stores, and reworking them in new, refurbished pieces; 3) buying odd fabrics at thrift shops and antique stores and embroidering them into Victorian-style “crazy quilted” Christmas stockings; and f) beginning to work with polymer clay. I was beginning to rethink these “individual” craft categories, using polymer to make buttons for quilts, adding beads to the mix, and expanding my ideas about jewelry. A sea change was coming!

I have never liked some of the more popular color combinations. Pink and purple, for example, or magenta and teal together. They just seemed too…exuberant?…for my taste. I still shudder when I browse through the Sundance catalog at the jewelry pieces that combine lapis, coral, rose quartz, amethyst, and labradorite. It just feels like a riot of color to me.

When I started making art quilts with my little faux ivory horses, I actually stuck with the actual cave art palette, too. Rust, red and yellow ochre, black, brown, white. I wanted to be true to the real history of these cavees echoed in my work. And when I began to make jewelry with the same theme, I limited myself to this same palette, too.

But one day, as I was browsing my old college art history books, I remembered lapis was a pretty popular color with artists throughout history. I thought, “I bet if those artists had had access to blue, they would have used it!” That was my first step outside of the “rules” I’d followed. I realized my work, to be truly mine, had to have authenticity and a mystery of its own.

And yet, I still resisted using purple, even though its cultural heritage as a hue was almost as deep as those other “authentic” colors.

And then this little pin showed up.

What’s so special about it?

Hmmmm….the subtle beauty of the artist’s use of color.

This is a rectangle of good-quality matboard or cardboard (the deep muted gradient purple), a layer of heavy paper painted slate blue, and three smaller rectangles stacked, of olive green. The beads reflect these colors perfectly, with subtle jumps: Deep indigo, steel blue, olive, deep plum, taupe. And the beads are beautifully stacked, with subtle but balanced combinations in color and shape. Even the jump rings that attach the dangles to the pin are deep blue. And the two largest round beads are hung separately, a dangle on the dangles.

So. Color. Gradient. Complementary hues muted to work with each other in a way that doesn’t jar. Beaded structure. Movement. Subtle sheens in paint and bead coatings to play with light.

My studio supplies–fabric, beads (glass and gemstone), paints–now reflect almost every color of the rainbow, though similar to this pin. No neons, except to mix with other colors to get a little “pop”.) I’ve gotten past “matchy-matchy” and strive for “look how this color makes that one sing!” I still prefer a warm palette.

I still don’t like “color riots”, and I still prefer colors that play well together.

But now I do use blue.

The last few days have reminded me of that fateful day in 2001, the day I questioned why I even bothered with my art, making something as meaningless as “little plastic horses.”

And like that day, not only am I restored to myself by making my art, and hearing from others that my words and work have helped them, I can’t help thinking about this jewelry artist. I can’t find them online, and so have no way of knowing them or their work.

But their little paper pin has brought beauty and joy into my life for over 25 years. It helped me step outside my (color) box comfort zone. It broadened my horizons, and still I marvel at it today.

Know that what we do, whatever creative work that’s in us, is important. Not just to us, but to someone else out there in this wide, sometimes scary, often jaw-droppingly beautiful and kind world. Someone who will be inspired by what we do. Encouraged by what we do, or say. Someone who will find solace and/or joy in our music, our dance, our designs, our gardens, our words, our vision.

Whatever is in us that heals us, will heal someone else.

Do your work, and know that it is a gift to the entire world.

Do your work, and get it out into the world.

Do your work, because it is yours, and this is why this gift was given to you.

Some work still calls for those “old colors”.
My son loved the color orange when he was young, and I grew to love it, too!

 

Little Daily Miracles

Sometimes, teaching others actually educates ourselves.

I’ve been answering a lot of questions on Quora lately. (Quora is a place to ask questions, find answers, and write answers.) Mostly on blogging, for some reason.

Most of them are pretty annoying. “How do I make money from my blog?” “How can drive people to my blog posts?” Some are so vague, I don’t even know what they’re asking. So I skip most of these. I don’t try to make money from my blogging anymore, it gets to weird. (Of course, I would never refuse money!) (Seriously, go buy something from me on Etsy if you want to support my work.)

But sometimes, I see that someone really does need a tiny bit of encouragement to do the work they yearn to do. Those I’m a sucker for!

Only a couple of answers have gotten serious upvotes, but I’m still grateful for even one upvote. Just like I used to swoon over a single “like” in my blog’s comments section. (Actually, I still do!)

But here’s the upside:

It gives me a chance to encourage people to do the work of their heart.

It gives me a chance to actually write something.

And now I realize I can simply repost some of these answers as blog posts.

So, for today, here’s a Quora post answer I answered today, with a link to a poem I wrote years ago that actually made me tear up. I’d forgotten about it!

Enjoy!

Question: How do you gain inspiration to write in your blog each week?

Answer:

I pay attention to anything that catches my interest. Especially anything I realize I’m STILL thinking about.

There are a jillion things going on around us, every day, if only we paid attention to them. In fact, there’s so much going on, our brains have evolved to limit our attention. (One reason why LSD creates powerful “trips”. We are suddenly aware of everything which is amazing, overwhelming, and potentially scary.)

The trick is is make a note of these “interest catchers”, and think about why they caught our attention. (In fact, “why” is often the start of all my inspirations!)

This is why I have such odd series on my own blog. “Questions You Don’t Have to Answer” when I realized people ask odd questions when they are interested in my work at art fairs, and how to respond without getting angry and taking offense (which shuts down that connection.) “Lessons from the Gym”, where I overhear the physical therapy staff engaging with their clients. “Lessons from Hospice”, where I share the insights I gained in my five years as a hospice volunteer. “Life With Pet”, where I realized that accepting the foibles of silly pets teach me how to be a better human. The list goes on, but you get the idea.

The other big suggestion I have is, when you find these little, daily sources of inspiration, write them down. I keep a couple very small notebooks with me at all times, but sometimes I just use my phone to email myself. Maybe it would be even more efficient to keep them all in one notebook. (See that? I just inspired myself to do it better!)

There are great things to be found in tiny places, if we take the time to look.

20200320_134145
Gathering very small pebbles at Point Reyes is still one of my favorite, most soothing pastimes.

MY HANDS

This article originally appeared on my first blog site, Radio Userland, on October 27, 2004. Two things astonish me: 1) I don’t remember writing it, and I love it even more today. 2) I sound like Seth Godin

My Hands
I wrote a book on stamp carving for Lark Books a couple years ago. The oddest thing about the process was when it came time to do the photos for the how-to pages. The editor had me fly in to Asheville, NC to do the shots, and my hands would be in every photo.It was exciting, in a way, but stressful. I became very conscious of my hands and how they looked. They are very capable hands, but they certainly aren’t youthful-looking anymore!

For a full month before the shoot, I took extra good care of my hands. I tried not to chew on hangnails, I used hand lotion every day and beeswax every night. I scrupulously did cuticle care. I used tools instead of my fingers and avoided situations where a nail could be broken.

I remarked to my sister how important taking care of my hands had become. She told her husband later and he exclaimed, “Oh my God, it’s like that Seinfeld episode!” (Apparently George gets a chance to be a hand model and my obsession was mild compared to his.) Life, indeed, imitates art.

But my world got very small for that month. Every action and opportunity was considered for how it would affect my hands. It was a relief when the shoot was over and I could return to my normal, active, haphazard lifestyle again.

Why am I writing about hands today?

It occurs to me that we need to be careful of giving too much focus to anything that makes our world smaller.

Whether it’s our physical self, our emotional self, our spiritual self, our professional self, we need the focus that allows us to put our time and energy into our highest priority.

But in return, that investment should make our lives bigger somehow. It should enable us to connect more powerfully to the world, through our art, through our actions, through our relationships with other people.

After all, the book got published because of me taking advantage of an opportunity offered by a book editor. And because I created a relationship with her. And because I carve good stamps and make good work. And because she knew she could count on me to do a good job writing the book. And even more importantly, she knew she could count of me to finish it.

I wasn’t chosen because of what my hands looked like, but because of what they can do.

  

LEARNING TO SEE

LEARNING TO SEE: An Art-Making Class with Kristina Wentzell

paintclassimageprimo

This story originally appeared on artist Kristina Wentzel as a guest post on her blog in June, 2014, the year we moved to California. Kristina and I organized our first city-wide open studio tour in Keene, NH. Working with her (and her skill sets!) was terrific, and I knew I was going to miss her. She had created a series of wine-and-vineyard-painting classes, and offered me a free session as a going-away gift. I learned more than I had expected. It was a good thing!

Last night I sat down to an easel for the first time in 45 years.

And I created a painting that I LIKED for the first time in my life!

How did I get here?? It’s a miracle!

I was part of Kristina Wentzell’s painting party at the “Art, Wine & Fun Night at Walpole Mountain View Winery” in Walpole, NH.

Kristina started these painting workshops awhile back. Known for her own vibrantly colored, cheerful landscapes and still lifes, she works with groups to introduce them to the pleasures of painting.

Kristina showed us how to recreate one of her original paintings-in this class, a view of a vineyard. (The best part of this class? You could look out the window in the sunroom/tasting room where we worked, and see similar mountains and vineyards!)

Our workspace at the Walpole Mountain View Vineyard. As lovely as Kristina's painting!

Our workspace at the Walpole Mountain View Vineyard. As lovely as Kristina’s painting!

She broke it down into a step-by-step process, guiding us all the way. When we were ready to get to work, we sat ourselves in the sunporch/tasting room, with gorgeous views of the vineyards on three sides. Easels were already set up and ready to go with a primed canvas, along with brushes (two), paint palettes (a paper plate with the eight colors we’d need) and a waterproof tablecloth (which was useful almost immediately!)

Here's where it all starts: Orange!

Here’s where it all starts: Orange!

Kristina showed a finished sample of her painting-the one we would recreate– along with versions of each step. As she explained each technique, she demonstrated on each appropriate sample painting.

We started with a light charcoal sketch, which allowed us to play with our compositions until we got one we liked. Then we mixed our first wash of color and painted over our sketched lines. We continued to mix the colors Kristina introduced, adding layer after layer of hues, moving into different areas of the canvas.

I do like my mountains!

I do like my mountains!

As we worked, Kristina came by with encouragement and suggestions. When I got stuck, she was right there, guiding me gently along. When I ran out of green (about three times!), her assistant Kat, a Keene State College art student, was right there with the paint tube.

Kristina 6

âKristina worked with everyone, to make sure no one felt left behind!â

The hardest part? I was surprised by what I thought would be the easiest step: Mixing colors. Kristina showed us how to work the pigments together, creating a little “mound” of color. It’s actually harder than I thought to mix pigments into such a small, neat “pile”. I tend to mush it all over, which not only takes up a lot of “real estate” on my plate, as Kristina put it, but also makes the paint dry faster. I believe I’m the only person who had to ask for an extra plate. The result was, I had to constantly stop to mix more color, which meant a subtly-different color mix each time. Hmmmmm⦠I’m gonna have to practice that! (See my n.b. at the end of this article for why that was kind of a bad thing….)

Still need to master the "little mound" method of mixing paint. I used up all my "real estate" on the plate, as Kristina put it

Still need to master the “little mound” method of mixing paint. I used up all my “real estate” on the plate, as Kristina put it

âI was graciously given a second plate. â

âI was graciously given a second plate.

The second hardest part? Like any work of creativity, what we make doesn’t look like much until we’re completely finishedIt’s important to keep that in mind at all times. It takes patience and confidence to accept each step as “what it is”, moving on to the next step, and the next. Until finally, we’re ready to tweak here and thereâ¦.and voila! A miracle! (Defined by my good friend Melinda LaBarge as a “change in perpective”.) Instead of cartoonish drawings and blobs of color, a lovely landscape emerges. And there is our finished painting. I carefully signed “LU” to the bottom corner, not trusting my skill at painting my whole name.

The beauty of this process is that I never felt I’d “screwed up”-at least, not irreparably so. Sometimes I made course corrections. Other times I shrugged and said, “No, it doesn’t look exactly like Kristina’s.”

Because it shouldn’t look exactly like Kristina’s! As each person bravely held up her piece, (and the admiring “ooohs” and “ahhhhs” started) it was so obvious to all of usâ¦.

We had all painted “the same thing” in a style that was uniquely ours.

All of our color choices were similar-but also very different. Some of us had limned gently rolling hills. Others had mountains that seemed to dance. Some of us had painted a soft sky, while others had skies that rolled and glowed.

We had all created a version of Kristina’s painting. And we had all created something very different and unique.

I like my trees....

I like my trees….

My grapevines looked a little like lettuce, so I went rogue and added some squiggly details to them. They still look like lettuce. But like artistic lettuce.

My grapevines looked a little like lettuce, so I went rogue and added some squiggly details to them. They still look like lettuce. But like artistic lettuce.

I’ve learned the power of good framing. Tomorrow I’ll mosey on down to Creative Encounters in downtown Keene. I know Karen Lyle and her staff will help me choose the perfect frame for this piece, at a price that’s affordable for me. It will join the other works in my collection of new and vintage landscapes, painted by talented professionals and eager neophytes. (Of which I’m firmly the latter.)

I had a wonderful evening out with delightful people. I sipped local wines, munched on incredibly delicious cheese and met up with old friends. I now own an original painting by Luann Udell for the price of a few good bottles of wine.

Ta-dah!

Ta-dah!

And I came home with an incredible sense of accomplishment and joy. I have lost my own fear of painting. I’m not giving up my day job to become a painter. But I now see the attraction of the process. And I’m delighted with my modest results.

Thank you, Kristina!

(n.b. Later I wondered why my painting looked slightly garish, very vivid colors. That was another learning moment. The room we worked in had dim lighting, suitable for wine-tasting, perhaps, but not for painting. As the sun set, the room became darker and darker. So I unconsciously over-compensated for what I “saw”, and that’s what happened.

A small lesson in realizing what we “see” is not always “true”, nor the whole story. We have to consider the light. The circumstances. And our assumptions.

Later, I gave the painting to a sweet next-door neighbor on the Old West Side when we moved to our new rental home on the east side of Santa Rosa. She loved it!

WHAT WE LOST: Lessons Learned from the Fires, My Aging Brain, and My Notebooks

Lessons Learned from the Fires, My Aging Brain, and My Notebooks
Lessons Learned from the Fires, My Aging Brain, and My Notebooks

What We Lost

Lessons Learned from the Fires, My Aging Brain, and My Notebooks

(8 minute read) 

I had a great idea for this week’s column. “Had”, not have. Because….where do I start??

Six months ago, I tried to clear my computer of old emails, because Google said I was “out of storage space.” My husband said it’s mostly photos that take up most of the space, so at first I only deleted emails with images already stored on my computer.

But the numbers didn’t go down much, so I began to delete more and more. At one point, my actions were moving so slowly, I thought I was doing it wrong, so I would hit “delete” several times before I’d see messages disappear. Which resulted in me accidentally deleting EVERY SINGLE EMAIL before 2018.

I didn’t think it would matter, until I realized a) that meant every single article I’ve sent to various magazines and online venues by email was also deleted; b) important conversations I wanted to refer back to were deleted; c) orders to companies for critical goods and services I only use every few years, were deleted.

Every week, there’s something I think of, and go, “Oh, I’ll search my email for that!” And then realize it’s gone, gone, gone.

Six weeks ago, I also got clarity on how to move forward with a project I’ve long carried in my heart. I needed to create my own “mounts” for displaying artifacts. I actually took an online class on mount-making for museum mounts just before we moved to California. I still have the book, I’m sure I saw it around that time, and went to look for it last week.

I can’t find it anywhere. I looked at home. Nope. I thought maybe I took it to the studio, but can’t find it there, either. I searched all my storage space at home. Nada. So I looked for it online, but it’s out of print. And Bookfinder.com, which usually comes to the rescue, only showed the folks that sell out-of-print books for thousands of dollars. I thought, “Oooh, I could search my emails for the rich conversations I had with my online teacher!” Then remembered….Oh, poo.

About that great idea for this column. I wrote it down, as is my habit, in my notebook, where I write down everything I need to remember: chores, appointments, commitments, insights, and yes, ideas for columns. I typically get 2-4 months of entries in each one, so that’s how much time is represented in each one.

Last Friday, I lost that notebook. I’ve searched high and low for it, even home, studio, storage. I’ve looked under furniture, car seats, inside backpacks packed for the fire evacuation, etc. I even called places I visited that day, asking if anyone has seen it or turned it in.

I feel like my brain is breaking!

And my biggest fear: This is a metaphor for the biggest fear for many of us, as we age, the loss of our memory. Scary stuff!

But is that the best metaphor?

Are we living computers, with memory that prevails for ages until injuries or conditions take them away? Is everything we “remember” even true? Are all our judgments and decisions that important over time?

Even as I wrote that, I looked once more on Bookfinder.com for the book, and found a copy that was affordable.

I visited a great hardware store that sold the brass rods I need to make those mounts, bringing samples and images of what I needed them for. A customer service rep assured me that making my own L hooks would be time-consuming, and there was an easier way to make those mounts with glue.

Yes, I miss the emails, still. But the articles aren’t actually “gone”, because they are somewhere in my documents file, even though it’s increasingly hard to find them. I will always regret some of the wonderful email conversations I’ve enjoyed over the years, but the healing, wisdom, and care I received from those are still with me.

And of course our most recent experience with our California wildfires helps put this all into perspective…..

The Kinkade fire was similar to the Tubbs fire in 2017 that destroyed 5% of the homes in Santa Rosa, except it wasn’t. Winds were less sustained, fire crews had more support, and they learned from the Tubbs fire. Almost 3,000 homes (over 5,000 buildings) burned in the Tubbs fire. Only 150 homes were lost in the Kinkade fire. There was more information available, because the lessons learned from 2017. Still not perfect, but a lot better. And most important? 22 people died in the Tubbs fire. The Kinkade fire? Zero.

This time, we had more time to think about what to take and what to leave behind, should we have to evacuate. I found it harder to leave my studio than our home!

These losses, real and imagined, concrete and anticipated, all sit in my heart today. Here are the gifts I’ve found there:

It’s hard for us to think about our unsold work, especially if it tends to outnumber our SOLD work. But at least it will go somewhere. It might sell after we pass, it may be gifted, it may be found in antique galleries and thrift shops, or heck, a yard sale! But that’s still better than having it all destroyed, for all time.

I’m frustrated at all the information I lost in that notebook. But I can find some of the more vital information (for taxes, etc.) I usually have a separate notebook for my more emotional/spiritual/blorting writing, and I still have all those! In fact, as I came across them while searching for my last journal, I’ve been pulling them out of storage and rereading them. My favorite so far is the year I recorded every funny thing my kids said. So many things I did not remember, until I read them again! So many setbacks and recoveries. So many problematic people for me to complain about, and so much insight gained on some, from good people.

The self-doubt I thought was new? Turns out I’ve had it since I took up my art! Yes, I was fearless in practice. But I still had to write my way to that place of power, over and over and over.

It was poignant to reread all my “biggest visions” and dreams I had for my art, that seem pretty small compared to the ones I’ve made in the last few months. Maybe I’ll surprise myself again, with even bigger ones!

It was empowering to read of the “dream galleries” I yearned to be accepted by, and so I get to contemplate the ones that worked out, and the ones that didn’t –and why.

We tend to think our lives, and our art career, as constantly moving forward, building and growing, or, if we’ve lost hope, stalled and pointless, when in reality there are peaks and valleys, profits and loss, insights and changes-of-heart, every step of the way.

Some of the things that felt like enormous roadblocks at the time, I usually referred to as “that incident”, or initials (if a person), and I can’t even remember who or what those were! They felt monumental at the time (and were!) And that stuff still happens, and will continue to happen. Hopefully, I will continue to move past them, and maybe even forget these, too.

And in the last year, several dear friends from my artistic path have popped up on my radar. No need to have those email conversations from decades ago! We now have new ones to savor and cherish.

That great idea I had for a column? It will either pop again, or it will be lost forever. No matter. Losing it inspired me to write this one instead.

I have a lot of unsold work in my studio. No matter! If it’s still around after I die, somebody will enjoy it, somehow. (I tell my kids how to manage my art and supplies when I’m gone: Give everybody a big bag to fill and charge them $250. They’ll make a mint!)

Even trying to jot down every idea, inspiration, question, isn’t proof against forgetting something, even something important.

Every day we will overlook an opportunity to get better, do better, find better, help better.

 And every day, we will find a new one.

As you make the work of your art, know that we can never be completely in control of our hopes, our thoughts, our intentions, our efforts.

We can only do our best. Because we are only human. Imperfect, inefficient, bad memories, displaced anger, trying to see our path in a firestorm of life events. 

It’s our greatest flaw, and our greatest super power.  Especially because we are artists, makers, creatives, constantly striving to use our work to have our say in the world, to tell our story, in ways that are good for the world. 

Embrace it! Go to the studio today, and make something that brings you joy.

And hold on to your dreams. Even one small step today will bring you closer to their fruition. You won’t know until you try.

If you enjoyed this today, please share it with someone you think would enjoy it, too!

If someone sent you this, and you’d like more of the same, subscribe to Fine Art Views for more insights from different artists.  And if you want to read more of my writing, subscribe to my blog at at LuannUdell.wordpress/com.

TAKE ME TO THE RIVER: Slow Down When Things Get Hard

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.

"...it’s okay to simply lay back in our little boat, and drift."
“…it’s okay to simply lay back in our little boat, and drift.”

Sometimes, it’s about NOT doing….

 (6 minute read) 

 In last week’s post, I shared my thoughts on how “waiting”, though it can feel like “doing”, can end up with us “doing nothing.” Many readers shared their own stories about moving forward. Others shared theirs about the realization they were indeed, just “waiting”. They were inspired to be more proactive with their art, and their art marketing.

But the first commenter broke my heart, with their story of dealing with loss, and grief for the last few years. Having gone through that myself the last two years, I know what it feels like to feel like our heart has no room, no desire for art-making.

It’s true our present culture can put a timer on grieving. People may expect us to “get over it” within six months. (There are ways to protect ourselves from that.) Others do “go long” with their grieving, and struggle to find a way forward. (There are ways to deal with that, too.)

What I wanted to tell that person is, it’s okay to be stuck.*

Yes, it’s important to work consistently and with intention to a) make our creative work, and b) get it out into the world.

But sometimes we just can’t. And that’s okay.

The first time I ever heard this concept—the idea that sometimes life just gets too hard to “soldier on”, that it’s okay to step back and breathe—was in Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. She described our creative efforts as paddling that boat swiftly down the river. But there may be times when we just can’t paddle.

And then, she writes, it’s okay to simply lay back in our little boat, and drift.

The current will still carry us downstream. Just not as fast.

“slow down when things get hard…”

Life has a way of getting in the way of our goals and dreams, our hopes and aspirations. It may be a good thing: Our first child, perhaps, (or the fourth!!!), or a new home. Maybe our spouse got a great job opportunity….on the other side of the country, far from friends, family, and supporters of our work.

More often, it’s that dreaded phone call in the middle of the night, the one none of us wants to get, ever. Or the call that a loved one is definitely nearing the end of their journey, perhaps expected, but just as difficult.

Maybe it happens to us. I know several potters who had to leave their beloved medium, and find another way to express themselves that doesn’t involve repetitive stress injuries. We may experience illness or debilitation. Or, even harder, we may take on the caretaking for a loved one, for years, in what feels like a grinding, thankless, sleepless exercise that will never end. Until it does, and then it feels even worse, focusing only on what we did wrong, and what we could have done better.

For those of you here, in these hard places, I’m here to tell you: It’s okay.

It’s okay to step back if life is overwhelming. It’s okay to put down the oars, to lay back in your little boat, and let the current carry you for awhile.

It’s okay to walk away from a creative career that doesn’t feed your soul anymore….until you hear the call of this one, or another one, again.

It’s okay to put down our creative work, when it becomes just another burden we’ve been asked to carry….until we’re ready to take it up again.

This is when it’s okay to wait.

This happened to me, in 2018 and well into 2019. Things just got hard. Yeah, it could have been worse, but that’s not much comfort when the suffering and sadness never seems to end.

The trick is knowing when it’s time to pick up your paddle again.

And who you can ask for help, to get you moving again.

 One tip is to still go to your creative-making space from time to time. Check in: Is there a little sketch you can do? A small surface you can clear? No? That’s okay.

But still check in from time to time. At some point, you’ll see something that you want to finish. Or start. Some little task that will help you remember what it felt like to simply want to make something new. (Remember the generous commenter who shared how they carved out a tiny bit of time during their days of full-time care of their parent? Brilliant!)

Another, bigger trick is to find your creative supporters, friends or family who know who you are—an artist!—and who hold that memory for you, until you’re ready to pick up the pencil/brush/clay tool/needle again. (I hope some of the stories people shared will help!)

The artist support group workshop I took from Deborah Kruger lo-these-many-years-ago, stressed this, too. You can, and should, keep going to the meet-ups, even if you haven’t made anything in months, or years. Their job isn’t to nag you, or tell you you’re doing it wrong. Their job is to listen, to be a witness to what you’re going through. And down the road, to gently remind you it’s time to get back in the saddle.

There’s a reason for the saddle simile. If/when we fall from a horse, we’re told we need to get back on, and ride. Otherwise, the fear and anxiety can grow until we tell ourselves we don’t even want to ride anymore.

Getting back in the saddle can remind us why we ride in the first place: For the joy of being outside, in tune with a complex animal that enjoys the work as much as we do, for the simple pleasure of riding, in sync with our companion, along a wide river, under the trees, on a crisp autumn morning.

And so it is with our art.

When we’re ready, it will be there, waiting for us. All the reasons we’ve said, “I can’t….” will be waved gently away. “It’s time” our work will whisper to us, gently, and urgently. “Come on back! The road is waiting! The river is still flowing!”

Wherever you are on your path, or on the river, know that sometimes the way gets hard. Remember, even when it feels like we are getting nowhere, we are still moving forward quietly, gently. Life goes on as we work through our grief, process our new situation, and find ways around our setbacks.

Because our creative work is just to big, too beautiful to set aside. It is powerful stuff, as we will remember when we take it up again. It will always be waiting for us.

Ironically, these setbacks that are real, the ones we survive, will help us understand better the ones we manufacture for ourselves: “I’m not good enough.” “I don’t know how to do that.” “Nobody wants my work.” It’s easier to see these for the silly (though crippling) stories they are. Shoo!

Going through the real hard stuff, helps us move forward through the imaginary stuff we put on ourselves. We know better, and when we know better, we can choose to do better.

Are you waiting, now? What helps you keep hope in your heart? Are you ready to get back to your art? What will your first step be? If you’re comfortable, share this part of your journey. Someone else may need to hear it today!

If you liked this article, share it with someone who needs it.

If someone sent you this article, and you found it helpful, let them know!

And if you want to read more like this, sign up for the Fine Art Views newsletter, or subscribe to my blog, where I republish them after they run on FAV.

* That person said they were already starting up their creative work again, exploring new media, new venues, etc. Patricia, you are doing it right!

LIFE IS LIKE A CROSSWORD PUZZLE

One of my strongest memories growing up was seeing my parents work on the crossword puzzle in the newspaper.

My dad did the writing. He would go as far as he could. When he got stuck, he’d say to my mom, “What’s a six letter word for “high hat” that goes s-blank-blank-blank-t-y?” and she’d think a moment and say, “Snooty”.

I’d always wonder why they did something that seemed so boring. Now that we’ve been married over forty years, I know that even such simple things as this, these moments shared, are a blessing in a marriage.

I don’t remember when I took up crosswords, myself. But in time, I would do the daily crosswords in our local newspaper, too. The Detroit Free Press, The Baltimore Sun, The Boston Globe, The Keene Sentinel, and now, The Press Democrat.

But I steered clear of the New York Times crossword puzzle.

They were monsters.

I could read every single clue, and maybe…maybe…have an idea for one or two. I had no idea how the mind of the puzzle-maker worked. Literal meanings behind the clue? A play on words? Or just a word I’d never heard of before?? Add in the underlying theme just added to the misery, such as the theme, “You Are Here” meant adding “ur” to a common adage to twist the meaning.

One of our most brilliant friends regularly tackled the Sunday NYT puzzle, even harder than the daily ones. I knew I would never be in his league. (Pun intended. He also knew every single baseball trivia question known to man.)

So I decided I would never be clever enough to ever finish one.

Except, one day, while browsing a thrift shop, I found a daily calendar pad of, you guessed it, a year’s worth of NYT crossword puzzles. For a dollar!

I’m guessing because they were small, I thought I could try them. (They are the “dailies”, not the monster Sunday versions.) And hey, the answers were right there, in the back! I could cheat! (Put a pin here.)

Yes, in the strictest sense of the word, peeking = cheating…..

IF we assign solving a crossword puzzle the ultimate measure of our integrity and our ability.

Let’s walk “cheating” back to the fence, and start over.

I don’t know how to play the piano.

Nobody is born knowing how to play the piano. (PLEASE do not bring up Mozart.)

If I want to learn how to play the piano, do I sit down in front of it and try to blast my way through it? (Perhaps starting with a Mozart concerto….??)

No.

I’d tinker with it. Play. Maybe pretend I can play.

I’d seek out a teacher. They would start me with simple exercises, practices, teaching my fingers the right places to go.

They might play along with me, as I master one sequence of notes. (Is that “cheating”?)

I would eventually master a song, a simple one. I would continue to challenge myself. When I make a mistake, my teacher would show me the right way to do it, and encourage me to copy their motions. (Is that “cheating”?)

Now, if I make my life ambition to perform as a concert pianist, I obviously have to learn to perfect my skills on my own, challenging myself to do better, faster, with energy, until my hands almost move on their own, without conscious thought.

But what if I just want to ease my mind by the actual practice of playing? Badly, slowly, leaving a piece of music that doesn’t speak to me. Perhaps coming around again to pick it up, after learning a few more moves…. Playing just because playing is enjoyable?

And so I continued to do those (a little simpler) daily puzzles, getting used to that crossword “culture”. Checking my initial answers to see if I’m on the right track.

If I find that the theme is just majorly too confusing, I can set it aside for another time. Or forever.

I began to recognize the patterns, the lines of thinking. For example, a clue for “bed” could be a place to sleep, or plant flowers. An “intro” could be a speech, or a word prefix. (For example, “musical ending” could be “phonic”, (from stereophonic”.)

Sports stats? Sports figures? No way. I can now recognize a clue for “RBI”, and a “home authority” can now mean “umpire”, but that’s about it. Though my time in Boston helped me solve “Bobby Orr”. And repetition helped me memorize “Ott.” Otherwise, I either fill in around that entry as much as I can, until I can’t go any further. Or I just “cheat” and look up the entry I will never otherwise know (unless I become a sports fanatic, and that’s just not ever gonna happen, okay?)

Now for the most important reason I do crosswords:

I do them so I can help my buzzy brain relax.

This had led to even more insights on life and crosswords.

Sometimes, I just “cheat”, to keep moving. I’m not doing this as an “ethical exercise”. There are no “grades” at the end. Sometimes I do imagine showing up at the pearly gates, and being asked, “So about all the crossword puzzles where you looked up the answers…..”  Ruh roh.

OTOH, if that’s how I’ll be judged, not sure I belong in that place anyway.

So if a puzzle is just too hard or complicated, I can “cheat” or ditch it. That’s not a failure, in my mind. This is supposed to be fun and challenging, not frustrating and impossible to deal with. One of the greatest pleasures in my life right now is to recognize I don’t have to go to every fight I’m invited to. If a crossword puzzle is “putting up a fight”, I can just turn the page and try the next one. (I now buy books of ’em, to take on long trips, airplane flights, and waiting rooms.)

Other insights? Sometimes I get stuck, and cannot figure out any of the remaining clues. Of course, being human, my initial reaction is, “I’ll never be good at this!” I put it down when I’m stumped, and leave it for another day.

The insight is, sometimes I come back the next day, and all of a sudden, there’s clarity. Oooohhh, I see it now! And scribble in five or six more words. My brain needed a break, that’s all.

Another insight: Sometimes, “cheating” with one word helps dozens of others fall into place around it. That one clue was a roadblock I couldn’t get over. But going around it helped me go forward.

Sometimes, I “cheat” but only allow myself to enter the word if I guessed right and my “cheating” confirms my guess. If I guessed wrong, I can’t “forget it”, of course. But I won’t let myself enter it until I solve for more clues around it.

Is it cheating if we ask someone for help?

Is it cheating if we learn by absorbing someone else’s style? Learning to anticipate what they’re asking for, rather than what we think it should be? (Isn’t that called “learning from the experts?” Or “thinking outside the box?”)

Is it cheating if we’re simply stuck, and somewhere else is the answer? Is using the internet for sports clues any worse than the way we used to use encyclopedias to find facts?

Is it cheating if the entire overall process is what is helpful for me? (Giving me a break from buzzy brain by doing a somewhat meaningless task that is relaxing, letting me disengage in a good way.) And not necessarily relying on how “someone else does it”…?

To me, I would be cheating if I did all the above, and then lied about it to you. If I said, “Oh, yeah, I do those all the time. I’m really good at it!”

But I don’t. I do it for myself, I enjoy it, and it helps me relax, while feeling like I’m “doing something useful.” (Which is what our brain needs to relax, sometimes.)

Did I pack too much meaning into a word game? Maybe.

But sometimes, I know exactly what I need to get through a boring period, a stressful place, a stuck place in my life.*

Thank heavens for the New York Times crossword puzzle!**

*I try to keep track of how much help/”cheating” I did on a puzzle, to see if I’m getting better at it. I estimate how much I did without any help. At this point, I consider 75% a passing score!

**(Thanks and a hat tip to Wil Shortz!)

 

 

LESSONS FROM THE GYM: Challenge vs. Injury

There’s a big difference between perseverance and suffering.

I overheard another intriguing comment at the physical therapy practice I go to. Out of nowhere, one of the therapists told a client, “We want to see perseverance, not suffering.”

Oh, the memories…..

Years ago, (seems like an eternity) I was really into martial arts. (No, I never got a black belt, though all my instructors along the way said I was well on my way.)

I never got there because…..injuries.

I pursued martial arts over a spread of 15-20 years in my middle age, sometimes with massive breaks in between practices and schools (Tae Kwon Do, Thai Kickboxing, then back to Thai Kwon Do.)

Typically, I was the oldest person in the class. I always did my best, but I’ve always been “heavy” on my feet as opposed to “light”. Ironically, this quality is not due to weight. Jackie Gleason was always heavy, but he was also “light on his feet”. I’ve talked with my husband (a former gymnast), physical therapists and athletes about this quality. They recognize what I’m saying, but can’t identify what it “is”, whether it is innate or can be learned, and why some people have it and some don’t. It is not an indication of ability, but is a recognizable style.

And so, encouraged by my instructors to push myself, I always, eventually, ended up injuring myself pretty badly. (Although, come to think of it, my most major injuries were inflicted by a) an instructor who should have known better, according to other instructors in the class, and b) another student who was even more inept than I was, tried to kick me below the belt, and when I blocked him, his shoe broke my finger. (He had to wear shoes as he was diabetic.)

The story typically goes like this:

One evening, I went to Tae Kwo Do. We did a kicking work-out. The instructor yelled, “Faster!” and I didn’t want to be the one everyone was waiting on.

So I picked up the pace a wee bit, landed wrong on my foot, and injured my Achilles tendon.

I instantly had a cap on almost all my other activities for many months.

I felt pretty stupid. The instructor wasn’t urging me to go past my limits–he was yelling at the green belts. I was the one who felt I had to prove something–that I may be older, but I was still a competent student.

Well, I went over that delicate balance between challenge and injury, and landed hard on the injury side.

It wasn’t even my own challenge. I was worried what other people would think if I didn’t try harder. Even though I should know by now that is NOT the way to get what I need. The only thing I get with that attitude is more injuries.

I told myself I would not give in to self-pity, nor get angry with myself.

I went swimming instead. And with each stroke, I chanted to myself, “I…..can…..handle…..this.”

I realize I walk a delicate balance in everything I do. Working out. Friendships. Relationships. In my business. And with my art.

I need to push myself enough to challenge myself, to make myself grow stronger, physically, emotionally, artistically.

And yet hold just enough back so as not to injure myself, or others.

As in martial arts, so in my art. There’s that same balance between taking the professional risks that challenge me, without injuring my bottom line (and my ego) irreparably.

That particular injury (and there were many along that path) happened just before my (very full) fine craft wholesale/retail show was scheduled. I realized I was in the same place with my art biz. Although I had no idea what to expect, I knew I had to try.

Sometimes I get freaked out thinking it out–“What am I doing??!!” Other times, I feel it is a reasonable venture.

Hopefully, I would find buyers who were looking for work that had a more western/southwestern/northwestern feel.

If not, I knew I would come home feeling like I need to crawl into a barrel and mosey on over Niagra Falls…..

But not for long. I knew if this show proved not a good fit for my work, I would just have to get over it and try a whole ‘nother strategy.

Like my tendon, my ego eventually healed. And like my injury didn’t keep me away from martial arts very long, guessing wrong will not discourage me from making my art. Not for very long, at least.

In the end, the injuries accumulated to the point where I did have to walk away from that passion. And those shows? Well, that was just before the recession in 2007-2008. They turned out to be a gamble, one I finally decided was not worth it.

After creating new strategies over the years, I finally found what worked for me: One major show with a deep history and very loyal following, open studios, and online sales.

Moving to California meant rebooting in may ways. I’m still working out my best plan to persevere in my art-making.

What worked for me then doesn’t work for me now. What works for me now is still in process. There continue to be obstacles and injuries along the way.

But here are two big truths I hope inspire you on your own journey in making the work that lifts your heart:

As I said, I was not a “natural” when it came to Tae Kwon Do. But every instructor always reminded me: We are competing with ourselves. (One class was “Olympic” but there were plenty of folks who obviously weren’t going down that path.)

Because I was “bad” at it, I had to practice more than others did. I showed up, every class. My last instructor said, after the last big injury that meant I could never practice again, that my perseverance had gained me excellent technique, and indomitable spirit. He said he felt guilty they had started me at the beginning all over again (they doubted my credential from an instructor who had moved away.)

He said I deserved a black belt.

So, wait, four big truths:

I did what I loved.

Perseverance almost got me there. 

Practice makes perfect.

I’ve gotten very good at not giving up.

Whatever you need to do to make your place in the world, never give up what you love until it takes away from you. Even then, there are ways to keep moving forward. (T’ai Chi!)

Find the balance (life/work/art) that works for you.

And keep doing it ’til you get better.

ABNORMAL: It Can Be a GOOD Thing!

I subscribe to Seth Godin’s blog. He may be an expert on marketing, but a lot of his posts also offer incredible insights into how to have a life well-lived.

Yesterday’s post was no exception. I was gonna skip  it, because the title was  odd. “Abnormal” did not sound like a good fit for my day.

And yet, it was exactly what I needed to read:

“Are you hesitant about this new idea because it’s a risky, problematic, defective idea…

or because it’s simply different than you’re used to?

If your current normal is exactly what you need, then different isn’t worth exploring. For the rest of us, it’s worth figuring out where our discomfort with the new idea is coming from.”

I’ve been writing for the online art marketing newsletter, Fine Art Views for many years now. At first, I focused more on marketing, salesmenship, display and lighting at fine craft shows, etc.

But more and more, as I struggled with my own role as an artist in this modern world, I shared deeper thoughts and musings: What it’s like to be a woman in the art world. (Kinda scary, sometimes!) What it’s like when you realize your sales aren’t great, and it’s really hard to figure out how to change that. (Do you quit? Or do you keep on? What’s the point??) What do you say when someone insults your work? (Snappy comeback at their expense? Or something so deep and embracing, it challenges them to look again?)

I write mostly what I’ve learned along the way, the powerful things others have taught me, and how to be a force for good in the universe.

I try to tread carefully on posts I know may trigger critical comments, and use humor often. Most of the comments complain my articles are too long.  (To be fair, they complain all the FAV articles are too long, but especially mine. I started finding the word count and adding “7 minute read”, so that people who don’t have seven minutes could pass.)

But nothing stops a truly negative person. I actually did a series called “Haters Gonna Hate”, about how we cannot possible please everyone with our work and how to move on to focus on the people who do…..

And almost every article drew a comment (or three) complaining about me using the word “hate”. Because….I kid you not….they hated it.

I am always happy to engage in a discussion, because that benefits everyone in the end.

But over the last few years, I’ve gotten some toxic comments that were so out-of-line, they took my breath away. And although every writer on the site gets slammed from time to time, I seemed to get more. (I seriously think it’s because for a few years, I was the sole female writer in a historically male-dominated art world.)

I’ve learned not to slam back. (Not my usual style anyway.) I’ve tried to explain why my reality may not be theirs, and that’s okay. (Though the commenter usually thinks THEIR reality is the “real one”.) I always wait until the pain and frustration softens, so I can respond with my highest, best self.

And now, my editor has agreed to move the weekday my articles are published, so they can monitor those toxic posts better. (I chose Saturdays, but because the editorial staff is not available on weekends, I had to sit with that poison for two more days before they could be deleted.)

So back to Seth’s blog post yesterday.

I think this is why I get such blowback from some of my columns.

I’m sharing something so different from the traditional definition of “artist”, the way an artist measures their success, and including those who don’t even consider themselves a “real artist”, it is

People accuse me of misreading the term “triggering”.

But I think that’s exactly what happens. What I’m writing about is a different thing from what they believe is “true.” So they find it problematic, defective, instulting….instead of just “different.”

I love it when people sit with the “different”, and reconsider their assumptions and definitions about “real art” and “real artists”.

It means I did it right.

I’m comfortable exploring the “different”. I don’t need to change because they aren’t.

I’ve always said, from the very beginning of my art career, “My art isn’t for everyone.” I can sit with that.

And I also know my writing is not for everyone, and I can sit with that, too.

No one is forced to buy my art, nor read my writing. (In fact, even now, if you hate reading this, you can…..delete it! (Takes a second, and poof, it’s gone!)

But here’s who I write for.

People who struggle constantly with, “Am I good enough?”

People who work hard on their art, their art skills, their marketing, their social media, and still can’t rely on good sales.

People who wonder what the point of making art is, if no one wants to buy it.

People who think they’re doing it wrong.

People who think everyone else is doing it right.

People who don’t see other artists like them in the world.

People whose social circle constantly diminish or demean their choice of subject, medium, color palette, style, etc.

And of course, people who want advice on selling, marketing, customer service, display, etc. etc. etc.

I always preface or end with the statement, “If what you’re doing works for you, don’t change it!!”

And yet, although, of course, I always think I’m right (I’m human!!!) I also recognize the power of emotional and social growth. The power of changing my mind. Seeing the life lessons and tiny gifts in the hard times. Crossing the path of people who DO know better than I, and who share their hard-earned insights with people like me.

And so, although sometimes my words hit the wrong places in the wrong people, I will keep on writing until I can’t.

A big thank you to those who like what I write (at least most of the time) and who share your own comments and insights. You are proof that we all have something that can lift someone’s heart and encourage them to pursue their own creative work. You also show that you are a true, open spirit in the world, embracing every step of the journey. You make my heart sing!

Because the world needs our art, no matter what form it takes. Creativity of any kind is a force for light in the universe. (My Star Wars mantra!)

In this vein, if you are reading this today and like it, pass it on to someone else who might enjoy it, too.

And if someone who has your back, forwarded this to you, and you like it, you can sign up for more at my blog here.

 

 

 

 

ANOTHER EXERCISE IN FORGIVENESS

Geez, I’m starting to feel like I’m preaching about this! For the record, I am not the wise woman you think I am. I’ve just gotten good at observing the journey, and sharing what I’ve learned along the way.

Yesterday’s post shared my latest insight on forgiveness, and anger, thanks to an article I read a few days ago. Today, I’m sharing an exercise that helped me–and a lot of people in our grief writing class–get over a major bump in life. (Like, a big rock in the middle of the road kind of bump.)

In hospice, there were certain deaths that were especially hard to deal with, and they weren’t the ones you’d expect. Yes, losing someone we’ve had a beautiful relationship is hard, hard, hard, no matter how gentle or peaceful their leaving.

But there are other deaths we call “complicated”. Perhaps it was a terrible bit of fate: An accident that yanked them out of lives suddently, horribly. Perhaps a suicide, where we are nearly destroyed by our helplessness to change anything. Maybe they were murdered. (This was my first person to write about, because their murder haunted me for decades.) Perhaps the person was struggling with addiction, with all the incumbent behaviors associated with that. Perhaps the person had mental health issues. Or perhaps they were abusive, or narcissistic, or simply toxic, or a sociopath, which feels more like a choice and hurts even more.

They have moved on. But sometimes we can’t.

In our grief writing workshop created through the agency I volunteered with, we dealt with people who were suffering from grief long past the “normal” length of time. (Although in our society, our “normal” is extremely short by any standard.) For many reasons, people could not feel the pain soften enough to take up their “normal” lives again. And because I’m a writer, I geared the class towards people who process life’s puzzles and muddy places through writing themselves.

I put together together various writing activities to use throughout the six-week sessions. But the most powerful one, originally my idea but modified to an even more powerful excercise by my supervisor, we saved for the next-to-last session.

It broke me very single time.

The premise:

Imagine the person whose death is haunting you, crushing you. Imagine them now, whatever your own religious/spiritual beliefs (or non-belief) are. Imagine them in a different place in the universe, one where they are fully healed and restored to the best possible version of themselves they could be. 

Now write a letter, from them, to you.

Every single class struggled with this concept.

“We write a letter to them.”

“No, imagine the letter they would write to YOU.”

“But…they would never do that!” (or “Wha……??!!)

Again, imagine. Imagine they are now a whole, healed, healthy, redeemed entity, somewhere. They are aware of their actions, they are everything you could have wanted them to be, here.

What would they say to you?

Now write that down!

Everyone would struggle with this concept. They hesitated to write. They would write a few words, frown, heave a sigh, look out the window. “Just write,” I’d say. “Just keep writing.”

So they did.

And then the words, and the tears, poured out.

People sat and scribbled for a long, long time. They cried. We cried. I still cry, just thinking about it.

I’d wait until everyone was done. No timer on this one!

And then, we offered them the chance to share, or not share, what they’d written.

Everyone wanted to share.

It was heart-breakingly beautiful. And it worked.

What they’d written was exactly what they wanted, and desperately needed to hear.

It was a tangible exercise in forgiveness. No excuses, no false apologies, probably something that would never ever happen in “real time”, in “real life.” It helped us understand that the person either could not choose, or chose not to be this “whole, healed person” in real life.

Like I learned and shared in yesterday’s post, we cannot change other people. We cannot change the past. We cannot control the future. We cannot control our feelings, only our actions.

This action broke our hearts wide open, knowing, feeling this, deeply.

It let us finally disengage from the pain, accept what it is, and let go.

It helped us imagine what that release, that act of forgiveness, could have looked like, and put it into action, now.

When I ran this class, I ran out of people to write about. Some co-workers (co-volunteers??) had the same problem. And one session, we realized we had all chosen pets to write about! One person imagined so deeply, her beloved dog had “written” “Dear Mom”. I magined my beautiful cat Gomez addressed me as “Kind Lady”, because he knew I wasn’t his mom, but he knew I loved him.

Even as I write this, I realize it’s time to do this again. It’s time to write those letters. There’s been a lot of loss in our little family lately.  Time to take my own advice, and take that next healing step.

P.S. If you would like to try this writing exercise, but are a little unsure about it, do it with a good friend or two. Someone who loves you in all the right ways, all the best ways. Maybe you can both do it, together, and share your stories. For some reason, a witness is powerful magic.

And I promise to write about something cheerful next time!

 

ANGRY GIRL

Forgiveness is an act of commitment.

Forgiveness is psychological, not moral.

I’ve just discovered this incredible blog by Nick Wignall. It has already given me clarity on some of my “life issues”, good lessons in this confusing yet beautiful school of life.

The most recent one I’ve read is about anger, and consequently, forgiveness, both tricky issues to deal with even as an adult. This article wrapped up a lot of confusing emotions and tied ’em up with a beautiful bow. The following is a summary of what struck me hard, but be sure to check out the article as written, too. Because something different might resonate for YOU.

Last year, both of my parents died about 7 months apart, and I made four separate flights back home. One each to say goodbye, and one for their respective memorial services.

I had already done a lot of work surrounding forgiveness. Long story short, there were many times where I was not protected as a young person, and I suffered from not only the damage done to me, but also suffered from the lack of compassion from those who could have done better. There were also times where I was kicked out of the family because I was so vile and despicable. I had to come crawling back, not sure what I had done nor why it had been met with such an extreme response.  And, like so many families, we were never–NEVER–supposed to talk about it, ever.

When a number of years ago, I realized my mother was now living with dementia, I knew I would never hear the words I was so desperate to hear. My work as a hospice volunteer taught me so much.  How to sit with a client who is nearing the end of their journey. To understand the difference between “fixing/curing” and healing.

I realized she could no longer be my mother. But I could still be her daughter. I saw her as a person who deserved my kindness, and compassion, and that helped me deal with both losses without losing my mind.

It also planted the seeds of forgiveness. It took time for me to really understand what true forgiveness is, but it started there.

I was still living with anger, though. Many members of our family had different experiences, due to our ages and…er…experiences. It felt like a contest for ages: Whose version was “right”, and whose was “wrong”.  How do we forgive people who are so sure we are doing it wrong? Especially when they never inquire what our own experience was like? Especially when we DID share those experiences, but remember them differently? Where is the truth when all we have is our own perception to rely on?

Nick covers forgiveness in the same way I finally reached it. Forgiveness does not mean “forgetting what happened” (because it is impossible to forget the pain). And it doesn’t mean the perpetrators are “off the hook”, and you have welcome them wholeheartedly back into your life. It doesn’t mean there has to be reconciliation–we are free to choose to protect ourselves, and we don’t have to accept “excuses” that are often at our expense. (For the record, “I’m sorry you got so upset” is not an apology.)

It’s about recognizing that other people are not under our control. We can only control ourselves, and there’s even a limit to that.

That’s where the anger issue came into play, and I love how he framed it.

Again, lots of quote and part paraphrasing:

Anger is a “positive” emotional feeling–we feel that we’re right and they are wrong. But it’s really an anti-depressant with potentially nasty side effects, and the consequences are often negative. LOVE THIS!

Anger helps eliminate sadness, boredom, feeling helpless, etc. It’s a crutch that makes us passive. It creates “opportunity cost”: Sucking up time and energy we could devote to learning better behaviors. It also reinforces our deep memories of the wrongs done to us. (Yup!)

The right approach, according to Nick, is to validate that anger. But don’t feed it. 

The way there is acceptance–not for that person’s actions/inaction, but to acknowledge and accept we cannot change the past.

Thinking we can change the past helps us feel more in control, but it’s an illusion.

As I read this, I began to understand where my own residual anger comes from:

I hate it when other people diminish my pain. “Oh, that’s not what they meant, get over it!” “I don’t remember it that way, so that means you’re remembering it wrong.” When compatriots agree with me “in theory” but still defend “the group”.

And the reason I ghost them, I now realize, is because it feels like the only thing I can control. I can avoid any further interactions, and avoid the snark, the disbelief, the snide comments, or subtle “betrayal” of not standing with you even though they know exactly what it was like for you

So I’m still learning about forgiveness, and I’m beginning to distrust my anger, especially as it often serves only to feed the flame, or grow the sadness.

The last take-away from this article is, forgiveness is not ONE decision. We have to get there over and over again until the process gets “learned”. And it won’t “feel good” in and of itself. Because not only can we not control other people, we can’t control how we feel. Feelings are part of us, forever.

We may be able to soften the feeling. (The common phrase in a grief support group I attended was about how grief never disappears, but it does “gets softer” as time passed.) But it will always be there. Feelings are us. (Apologies to Toys R Us….)

All we can control is our actions.

This was exactly what I needed to hear.

For years now, I’ve written about the power of our choices. 

We all have a lizard brain (aka “monkey mind”, “reptilian brain”, etc.) But when we learned to recognize those instinctive responses (anger?) to perceived danger (a rude customer, a snide family member), we can choose how we respond. We can choose “better”.

I am grateful that I found the way to continue the work of true forgiveness. I am grateful to find a better understanding of how my anger does not serve me, but I can never make it go away. I can choose to truly understand that in the short run, righteous indignation feels really good, but does not serve me in the long run.

And whether I have decades yet to live, or only a few hours, this is who I want to be.

This is who I can choose to be in the world.