Category Archives: life lessons

BEING NICE vs. BEING KIND

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being nice hasn’t served me.

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve spent a lifetime being nice.

Now I want to focus on being kind.

 

 

 

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DO THE RIGHT THING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–William Shakespeare (The Merchant of Venice)

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

ETERNAL STUDENT

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

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

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

It was awful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My next book….

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

There will be more.

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

This is how we learn.

This is how we move forward.

This is how we grow.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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HOW TO MAKE WATER

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

I didn’t intend to write today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet….

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

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

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

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

“This is water.”

I instantly realized, this is what artists are for.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art and creative work helps us see water.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He helped us see water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE POK POV AND GROUP DYNAMICS

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

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

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about mood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I realized I’m stuck in the middle.

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

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

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

“Not fair!” I cry.

This solves nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

Er…booze and chocolate for breakfast, anyone?

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I found a gray sheep! Does that count?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

WHY ARE PEOPLE RUDE??

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

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Still making little bears….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, the trolls are getting bigger, and hungrier.

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

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

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

What do these trolls gain from their behavior?

Unfortunately, a lot.

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

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

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

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

But I’m learning to recognize them faster. 

And I hope you do, too.

 

 

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WHAT ARE YOUR VALUES?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growth. The by-product of all the above.

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

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

What are some of your values?

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

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