GROWING

How do you know when it’s time to move forward? When nothing else is possible.

If you follow my blog, you know I’m writing about a series of steps to create your own artist support group. It’s harder than I thought it would be, though I’ve done it many times. Even though I took the training not once, but twice.

I am obsessed with doing it right, hoping this “I’m not in the room to show you” approach will translate and transfer. I can’t stop thinking there’s someone out there who really needs to hear this today.

Today I finally realized that person is me.

I’ve been trapped in a whirlwind of my own emotions, my self-doubt, my inability to figure out what “the universe” is telling me. On top of the difficulties of melding with (relatively) new surroundings, trying to rebuild an audience for my art (and writing!), dealing with difficult family matters (I almost said family “members”, but have to remember they might describe me the same way!), I have been in a tsunami of allergy-related health issues. I am achey and ill-at-ease, exhausted, and I sleep round the clock. A friend said, “When allergies hit us, it feels like the universe is attacking our body.” True dat.

I’ve been reaching out to people who have had my back in the past. People who know me well. People who have seen me at my worst, and still love me. Unfortunately, when I look at how far back our conversations go, I can see that some started before we even left New Hampshire!

And slowly, slowly, I’ve realized, the universe isn’t trying to tell me something.

My heart is.

I’ve always struggled with “shaman”, just as I used to struggle with “artist”. The three aspects of a shaman are intriguing and feel right. Whether I am one or not, to go “in that general direction” just felt like the right path.

Artist. Teacher. Healer.

What about my training for those facets of who I am?

I claimed my story, and my art grew from there.

Teaching? It was one of my very first “aha!” moments, when I thought/realized I wanted to be a teacher. (Turns out I DO, and I AM, but not in our traditional idea of teaching. I share what I’ve learned in my writing, in workshops, and often in conversations with people who happen to cross my path. In a classroom, 8-4 every weekday?? For 8 months??? Not so much.)

Healing? My hospice training blew my heart up, in a good way. From sitting with clients, sitting with them, not “fixing” but simply being present. Then learning to sit with clients with Alzheimer’s, not “fixing” but simply being in THEIR moment, not mine. Then I moving on to creating and leading grief writing workshops: Helping people heal from deep and/or complicated grief and loss. (ALL under the guidance and supervision of trained professionals!) I learned, and I learned, and I learned.

But though people have urged me, I’ve always edged away from actual “coaching” coaching. It would seem like a natural “next step”, but it feels…wrong.

When I work with the wrong person, at the wrong time for them (and me!), before they are ready, before they are able, and when they are in my life for the wrong reasons, it ricochets badly.

And sometimes, I just get caught up in “I know better than you!” (I call it “triangulation”–“Let’s check in on these questionable people we both know, are they just goofy, or dangerous?” But some people call it, “Please mind your own business, I didn’t ask you!” OW!!)

I feel these efforts are always sketchy anyway–I don’t feel like a healer, though I believe my art heals me, and my art can sometimes heal others.

Lately, my “coaching” efforts have been a lot more than “less than”. They feel awful.

What it feels like: The minute I assume I know what I’m doing, it blows up in my face. And because I’m vulnerable in that role, it’s devastating.

It felt like the universe was saying, “Get over yourself!”

But today I realized there’s a gap in my training.

I need more training in healing/coaching.

I still reject the notion of this aspect of my life. It still feels wrong, it still feels uncomfortable.

I need more information on how to stay grounded. How to assess the situation. How to realize when to fold, the sooner the better! (I do have good instincts for self-protection, but sometimes they kick in too late.) How to tell when someone really is “ready”.

And to acknowledge that often, when it works at its best, there is reciprocity. Not money-wise. But every time it works beautifully, there is an exchange of energy. We both walk away better for the interaction.

Hard for me to describe. I’ll think about that.

So I share this with you today. It’s why I’ve been quieter than usual. Why I’ve made myself “smaller” instead of “bigger”.

I’m at another turning point in my life. I don’t know what it looks like, and I pretty sure I’m leaving art and writing behind. (How would I survive?!)

So today I start another trail of learning. My “next step”: Today I’m contacting someone I trust with my heart, to get a thought on how to move forward on this.

Today is another “life lesson”, just waiting to be learned.

 

 

 

 

Mercy Now

Need to just cry for a few moments?

Mary Gauthier’s heart-achingly simple and beautiful song “Mercy Now”. That violin! Tania Elizabeth nails it with sweetness and restraint.

It’s been a hard month so far. Family matters, hard and sad stuff with our kids, impossible to solve. “Nobody died”, has been our way of framing things for Jon and I over the past 30 years. Still hard. Health issues (I now have not one, but TWO inhalers). A runaway pet. (Of course, the one who panics once she gets outside, and figuratively goes crazy.) Listening to people blame those dealing with hardship on…guess what? The people going through those hardships.

Where is the kindness?

Many people confuse “nice” with “kind”. I’ve learned to tell the difference.

So I pulled up that video on YouTube and played it loud, three times in a row, this morning.

For the first time, I noticed its date: 09/09/10.

Nine years after 9/11. Two days before my birthday.

And yet, the lyrics could have been written today.

Today, I’m going to donate to three causes. One will be for immigrant children separated from their children at the border. (Of course, there should be mercy, too, for the immigrant woman who was denied entrance because even though her husband KILLED HER TWO CHILDREN, it’s been determined spousal abuse is not a valid reason for entrance.) And btw, I often sign up for very small monthly amounts. Even $5/month adds up.

Today, I’m going to mail presents to my kids. One will love them, one will resent my “pity”.

Today, I’m going to do some journaling, something I tend to forget now that I have a regular writing gig.

Today, I’m going to schedule horse therapy time. I thought the horse needed love and acceptance, & I’d being doing HIM a favor. Doesn’t work that way.

Today, I will look for every opportunity to be kind.

Today, I’m going to take exquisite care of myself. Because like so many others even less fortunate and privileged as I, I need some mercy now.

noddy and nick

Noddy, please come home!

 

 

 

 

 

Holding Onto “Facts” That Hold You Back

(Originally published on my old Radio Userland blog on Friday, November 29, 2002. You can read the original post here.)

Years ago, when I was getting my master’s degree in education, I met a young woman in one of my math methods course.  We paired up for several projects.  I found her bright and funny and easy to work with.

One day we were doing some measurements for a hands-on project, and she stumbled on an easy mental calculation: multiplying something by 9.

I said something jokingly about her multiplication tables needing work.  “Oh, I never learned my 9’s facts,” she explained.  “I was absent that day.”

I thought she was joking.  Surely someone as smart as she was, and as someone who was taking master’s level math methods coursework, knew that elementary school does not denote one day out of the entire fourth-grade curriculum to teach the nines multiplication table.

But she wasn’t kidding.  She told me an elaborate story about being sick the day the nines table was taught, and so more than 15 years later, she was still unable to multiply by nine.

I think of that young woman often.

Coincidentally, in that same math teaching course, we were learning how to teach kids their math facts–addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.  There are many easy facts.  Let’s take the multiplication tables.  Everyone knows what the ones facts are–1×1=1, 2×1=2, etc.  Next come the twos, and it turns out they’re pretty easy, too.   Most kids learn them quickly.   Next are the fives and the tens.  They’re easily mastered, too.  Also the “doubles”–3×3=9, 4×4=16, and so on.

Now if you were to map out a chart of all the multiplication facts, and mark off all the “easy” ones, including their reversals (2×3 and 3×2, for example) you’d find almost half of the facts accounted for.  And what are the strategies for learning those remaining facts?

The answer, it turns out, is not so much fun.  You have to memorize them.  Of course, there are some good tricks, like the nines tables.  (6×9, one less than 6 is 5, 5+? = 9?  4.  So 6×9=54.  Cute, huh?)

But the straight skinny is, ya gotta memorize them.  The math facts are one of the few academic skills that are ultimately only learned by memorization, and best reinforced by drill and practice.  (Acquisition of vocabulary, especially in learning foreign languages, also benefits greatly by this approach, by the way.)

So here we have two statements, or stories, about facts.  One is measurable, observable, concrete.  To learn the math facts, you gotta work at them.  You gotta memorize them.  You gotta be able to knock out the answers within a second or two of hearing the numbers.  But once you learn them, you never really forget them.  You might get rusty, or you might get stuck on one or two.  But the foundation, the habit, is still there.

The other story is harder to quantify.  Everyone will believe it, few will really examine it.  It goes like this:

“I have a special story about why I can’t do something.  It’s an odd story, but it makes me feel better about not being able to do that thing.  So I hold onto it fiercely….even when a calm, adult eye would see that it doesn’t even make sense anymore.”

What do you gain by holding onto a story like that?

Well…you don’t have to try anymore.  You can have a clear conscience about why you can’t do that thing.  Others might think you’re silly, but it’s possible no one would ever say that to your face.

In fact, probably other people, who have their own  “I can’t” story, nod their head in sympathetic agreement, relieved that someone else has such a story, too.  You may even get sympathy, or admiration.  “Wow, that’s quite a story!  How awful for you! No wonder you can’t do that!”

 

It also is a way to make sure you don’t have to do the real work of learning those new facts, those new ways of doing something.  It’s too hard,  it’s too time-consuming, it’s too late, it’s not possible, and so on.

But what do you lose with a story like that?  A lot.

You lose a lot of missed chances, missed opportunities, a whole world of missed possibilities.

I’m telling this story because I used to tell myself a story like that, too.

It was all about how I couldn’t do the things I really wanted to do–make art.  It was about how I couldn’t be what I really wanted to be–an artist.  It was about how I would never be able to sell my work, or find anyone who would want to buy it.

The biggest one? “There are no women in my art history books. My professors said there were no women in the Lascaux caves. So women can’t really be artists, right?” *

Surprisingly, once I realized my “stories” I told about myself were just that–stories–I found I could change the story to one I like better.  A huge paradigm shift occurred, and I began to see that all the things that “couldn’t happen”, could.

I now hear that same old story from people who ask me how I accomplished so much in the last five years.  When I tell them, they first tell me how lucky I am.  (I am, but not for the reasons they think!)

I soon hear their story.  They think it’s specific to them, a special story, an unusual story.   When I point out that I had the same story, they are quick to correct me that their story is different.

When I point out the inconsistencies of what they’re telling me, they tell me I don’t understand their story fully.

When I suggest ways they could tell another story, they are horrified.  They’ve put so much energy into holding onto this old story.  There’s just too much at stake.  It’s always a really, really good story why they simply cannot do the very thing they just told me is their true heart’s desire.

So my first question for you today is:  What is your story? The sad one, the one you were told, or learned to tell yourself, that keeps you stuck here?

What is the story you tell about yourself that is holding you back from doing the things you really want to do?

Fortunately, you can tell youself a different story. Tune in this Saturday for my Fine Art Views column about the power of affirmations.

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* No women in the Lascaux caves? Ha! Check out the link below!

Were the First Artists Mostly Women?

 

 

 

THE FOUR STAGES OF COMPETENCY: What do kickboxing and pursuing a career in art have in common?

(This article was originally published on my blog at Radio Userland back in January, 2004. Fourteen years later, I still find it a valuable, and timely, reminder.)
WHO KNEW EXERCISE COULD BE SO EDUCATIONAL??    

 

My kickboxing instructor had a cool handout for us a few weeks ago.  It was entitled : “Cycle of Performance/Formula for Success”.  It was a brief description of the learning process for, in this case, martial arts.  It had four little phrases on it:

INCEPTION:  Unconsciously incompetent

DECEPTION:  Consciously incompetent

TRANSFORMATION:  Consciously competent

IDENTITY:  Unconsciously competent

We talked about it during class. It provided “aha!” moments for many of us.  Turns out this little handout explains more than how to learn martial arts, it’s an insightful road map into any life endeavor we pursue. It goes something like this:

Inception, the first stage, is that wonderful, giddy stage of learning a new skill, the excitement of potential.  I remember the first time I sat down to a wheel with a lump of clay.  I was fearless!

I plopped down the clay, centered it, made a cylinder and pulled out my first pot.  It was great!  It was easy!  I thought so, anyway. ” I must be a natural!” I remember thinking.

I was “unconsciously incompetent“.  I was gloriously unaware of what I didn’t know yet, and how hard it would be to recreate my initial success.  Besides, it was so much fun!  I was so thrilled with with my “innate” abilities that I smashed that first pot down, confident I could throw another just as easily the next time.

You know what comes next.  The next class, I sat down confidently to throw my next ball of clay.  And nothing happened.  I mean, nothing right happened.

I couldn’t center the clay for the life of me.  I kept trying until I had a sloppy plop of drooly clay.  I threw it aside and tried another ball.  Same thing.

Slightly daunted, but still game, I tried to raise a cylinder from the wobbly mass.  What a disaster!  I tried all through class, and went home discouraged.

All my throwing efforts in the next few classes ended up the same way, and I turned to slab work, making a few simple tiles and such.  But I was totally discouraged.

I had (unknowingly) entered the dreaded second stage: “Consciously incompetent“.  I recognized how much I didn’t know, and how much I still had to learn.  The ratio looked something like 1:1,000,000, if you what I mean.

If you’ve ever taught, you know how difficult it is to even observe this stage in others, let alone go through it yourself.  Frustration bubbles to the surface, masking everything else. You are totally aware of how bad you really are at this.  No matter how many times you practice, you don’t seem to get any better.  You can’t seem to do anything right.  Pots plop, your kicks flick harmlessly, the souffle falls, the watercolors don’t blend right.  It seems like everyone else is “getting it” except you.

Here was the gamechanger/aha moment/blast of insight for me:

Most people quit at this stage. 

They become convinced they are never going to get it. They just aren’t cut out for this, they just aren’t good at that.  They get angry–at their instructor, at the other people in the class who seem to be doing just fine, but most of all at themselves.  (That’s me, anyway.)

They may complain, or clam up.  They quit trying, or even quit coming to class, convinced that this just isn’t for them.  I believe most people who are afraid of making change in their life have let this stage totally defeat them, incorporating it into their very image of themselves.  “I’m just not good at math.”  “I’m just not very graceful.”  “I’ll never be able to (insert your dream activity here.)”

But if you perservere, you will come to the next stage:  Consciously competent.  It may take a long time, but you will get there.  You eventually begin to find yourself able to perform that skill.

You can do it, but you have to think about it.  You begin to see what needs improving and what needs strengthening.  You may begin experimenting with minor changes, trying what works best for you and what doesn’t.  You become more willing to plug away at it, perhaps even enjoying the process of learning for its own sake.  (Think of the perpetual graduate student….)

And as anyone who has ever mastered a skill knows, eventually you reach the fourth stage: Unconsciously competent.  The skill or knowledge has become a part of you.  You don’t even think about what you’re doing anymore, it’s just….YOU.  

You are a pianist, or a painter, or a doctor, or whatever.  In fact, you may not even remember NOT knowing that skill.  Do you really remember how hard it was to learn to ride a bike?  Or does it feel like you’ve always known?  Do you really remember looking at a page in a book, and having no idea what those mysterious squiggles meant?  Surely we thought at one point, “I’ll never be able to ride a bike!” Or, “What if I can’t learn to read??!!”

I’ve been thinking about this little handout a lot for the last few weeks, especially that deadly little second stage.

It occurs to me that as adults, we’ve mostly forgotten the process of learning, and how truly awful it can feel.  In fact, it’s so awful, most people probably quit when they hit that stage, feeling they are never really “meant” to learn how to paint, how to knit, how to learn a new language, or whatever.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what people need to see them through that second stage, and safely into that third stage…because this is what life changes and pursuing your dreams is all about.

Sometimes, of course, we are forced to make changes.  That becomes our determination.

But what about when we choose to make those changes?

I’ve been thinking about how important it is to either have a wonderful support system (a terrific teacher, encouraging friends or family, a great book that serves as a guide) or a tremendous sense of purpose, drive and determination.  Or both.

How many of us have started out to change something in our lives, to pursue a new interest or tread a new path? Then we hit that second stage and bagged out?

What if we simply made a conscious decision to believe in our selves one more day, one more hour, maybe another five minutes–what could we achieve?  How far could we really go?

When I started back in martial arts last spring (after sustaining a devastating injury by one of my previous instructors seven years ago) all I hoped for was to gain back some strength and stamina.  I could barely do one push-up anymore.  But I’m determined to stick with it, and now I can do thirty.  (well….on a good day.)

When I started back with a dream of pursing art seven years ago, I was determined to stick with it. My turning point? It no longer matter if didn’t turn out to be a particularly good artist.

“Good” didn’t matter anymore.  I knew that being an artist was so important to me, I simply had to try.  And keep trying.  When I look back at what I accomplished in seven years, I am amazed.

Type out this little handout, and post it somewhere where you can see it every day.  The next time you feel discouraged about achieving your goals, look and see where you are in the process.

Realize it isn’t something about YOU, but about the process.

And stick with it, if just for a little bit longer.  You may surprise yourself…..!

(I kept progressing, even returning to Taekwondo, for several more years. But the injuries I incurred in the process eventually forced me out. You can’t kick a bag with a knee replacement. But this lesson has stayed with me for over 14 years, and counting.)

(T’ai Chi, anyone?)

Perspective

When a tiny shift in your point-of-view makes a world of difference….

(4 min. read)

So yesterday was one of those days where nothing really went well.

First, I realized I’d missed going to the gym. I didn’t want to feel guilty, but I did. I’m really trying for three days a week, and I hated to miss a day my third week in. Dang!

I’m working on a commission order, a jewelry item that might appeal to a niche audience. Another artist suggested. It was not a hugely out-of-the-box thing, but the composition, the findings, how it works, all are new to me. I’d start down one path, check in with Mike, and regroup.  Everything I assumed, was wrong. Argh!

Special orders and commissions make me nervous. It’s fine when someone sees something in my studio and loves it. Trying to make something and HOPING they’ll love it is a whole nother thing.

I’m participating in a wonderful show (with a tiny preview this Friday at Suzanne Edminster’s Saltworks Studio at Backstreet Gallery).

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We were supposed to deliver a wall piece on Wednesday for this mini-preview. (As you can see, the show doesn’t “officially” open until the First Friday in May.)

I picked a piece that wasn’t really my best work, but it filled the definition of “wall piece”, a framed fiber fragment. I need to tweak it, though, and I really should reframe it. But I didn’t have time, and thought it would be okay.

I walked down to the studio at the agreed-upon hour and NOBODY WAS THERE. I knocked, I called two people, I snarked and barked, and grumbled all the way back to my studio.

And here’s the kicker, in case you hadn’t already guessed…..

It wasn’t Wednesday, gym day, delivery day.

It was Tuesday.

I called and emailed everyone to apologize re: the delivery issue.  (I didn’t snark AT them, thank goodness, but I’d been THINKING snark. Gotta own that.)

So here I am, the REAL Wednesday.

I went to the gym.

I set aside the wall piece that was “good enough” and selected another piece, a wall-hung shrine, that I’m happier with. I made a few tweaks  that made it even more powerful, and took them both for Suzanne to choose from. She agreed the shrine is the stronger piece, and she’s happy to have it.

Special orders? Yeah, they’re crazy-making. Still, I realize I need a challenge from time to time, to step outside my comfort zone. And half the time, something wonderfully new comes from that. I looked at my two “perfect” prototypes and realized there were some other options I could try. I ended up with five. I’m still not sure I’ve got it “right”, but at least he’ll have enough options to try, and give me good feedback on the prototypes….I hope!

I had a spare 40 minutes, and realized that was just enough time to sort, price, and photo a box of leather scraps I want to sell on my Etsy site. (I just add a destash section.) One more box removed from my cramped storage shed, and a slight load off my mind, too.

So today, Wednesday, was a good day. And that’s when I realized….

Only one thing had changed….

MY PERSPECTIVE.

Everything that was “wrong” about Tuesday was because I thought it was Wednesday.

Everything I was miffed about on Tuesday was no one’s fault but my own, for thinking it was Wednesday. And probably my own guilty conscience about submitting a piece I knew could be better.

The guilt I felt about not working out was totally pointless, because…well, it was Tuesday, not Wednesday.

That special order will be a good thing, no matter what the outcome. I stepped out of my comfort zone, did the experiment, and figured it out. (Now for the hard part: NOT ORDERING findings until I know for sure which ones will work best.)

Nothing really changed on the “real” Wednesday. I just made better choices–because I paid attention to how I felt about Tuesday. (Er…the “faux” Wednesday.)

Sometimes, all we need is a chance to choose a different window to look through.

And what a blessing it is when we realize that, and choose differently.

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For some reason, I’m also really into making big horses and bears again. They’re harder, they take a lot longer, and they use up a lot more material. But I’m loving it, and that’s a gift, too.

 

 

 

THIN SECRETS FOR BEING SUCCESSFUL: A Series of Small Strategies to Help You Get Big(ger)(ish)

My latest article on Fine Art Views, a daily email newsletter on growing your art career.

(Spoiler alert: The choices are small, but many. And you have to keep at it!)

Years ago, I sat on a panel of artists and crafts industry professionals, speaking on various issues and answering questions from the audience.

Near the end, an artist badgered me unmercifully, repeatedly asking me to reveal my marketing “secrets” for the entire audience to hear.

I felt extremely uncomfortable, even resentful, about the demands for several reasons.

First, I wasn’t even sure what was being asked. A list of all my marketing efforts for the past 18 months to promote my artwork? For the last 8 years? The efforts before or after 9/11, the dot com crash and the recession? Did they want to hear all my mistakes, too? Or just my successes? Did they want to hear what I learned? Or what I’m learning now?

How much time do you have?!

I was also frustrated because I had no context for the person asking the questions. I had no idea what their work is like, where they are now in their business plan (or if they even HAVE a business plan) and what they are willing to do to succeed. I had no idea what their personal, financial and professional goals are for their art/business. I had no idea who their market is and what they’ve done to target it or even identify it. How do I know what will be of use to someone else unless I understand where they’ve been, where they are now, and where they want to go?

Finally, I was confused by the assumption that I’ve figured it all out and can neatly box it up and simply give it to someone else. I’m still learning, changing, growing as an artist. I have no idea if I’m even thinking the right way about MY marketing plan. How on earth do I put all this in context for THEM?

But I also felt vaguely guilty. After all, wasn’t the panel discussion a culmination of an entire weekend doing just that?–helping others take their next step by sharing my own experiences and learning? Hadn’t I already mentored a number of people here, and at previous conferences, offering insights and advice freely? Don’t I do that daily with my blog, in my magazine articles, and in other professional development classes I teach?

So why was I feeling intense resistance to this artist’s demands?

I’m been thinking about why these scenarios seemed so vastly different, why I would respond wholeheartedly in one instance and clam up in another.

The next day, as I ate breakfast, I read an article about long-term weight loss in the April 2006 issue of REAL SIMPLE magazine. The article was called “Secrets of Thin People” by Lorie Parch. And I had my “aha” moment.

The demanding person was asking me for my “secret diet” for losing weight.

And I don’t HAVE a secret diet for losing weight.

What I DO have is results from deciding from time to time that I needed to change the daily choices I make in my diet, my activities and my attitude–to achieve a different outcome in my life.

What I feel comfortable sharing is how I got from a person who constantly made unhealthy choices, to a person who (periodically) will make consistent, healthier choices–which, as a consequence, RESULTS in me being thinner. (Er….now and then.)

I still don’t actually diet nor are all my choices perfect even now. But I’ve been successful in MODIFYING many of my choices slightly over a long period of time. And when I make those modifications, the side effects are, I lose weight, I get more fit, I lower my blood sugar and cholesterol to within healthy limits, and I walk/talk/carry myself, and care for myself, differently.

(The ONLY physical “shortcut” I’ve taken through the years is, brilliant red hair. Better living through chemicals and all that.)

I’ll share some of the professional, artistic and emotional changes I made years ago that got me where I am today professionally (with apologies to Ms. Parch for using her article for the structure.)

But for today, rest assured there are no “secrets”, no insider information that is being systematically withheld from you.

I know it feels like that sometimes…. It feels like other people KNOW what to do and when to do it.

But that’s not the case.

Success in the arts, like any other success in life, means staying the course. Staying with one course of action until it has a chance to provide results.

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One thing that helps you achieve success is getting better at what you do. â

But also recognizing when to switch because it isn’t working for YOU.It means making daily choices, often small choices, that eventually… EVENTUALLY lead to big results.

Because, just like losing weight is an END RESULT of making many different, healthier life choices, being successful is an END RESULT of making many different, “healthier” artistic, professional and personal choices.

 

 

FIRE SEASON

UPDATE: I originally wrote this on Monday, October 9. The most damage to Santa Rosa took place earlier that morning. Five days later, the situation is beginning to look better. More people, more resources, and better weather have resulted in 45% containment of the Tubbs Fire. There are new fires further east and south, and we’re not out of the wood yet. But things are looking brighter!

You can read this article at today’s today’s Fine Art Views, or read it here:

by Luann Udell on 10/14/2017 5:01:35 AM
This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

All you need is a good emergency to put everything in perspective.

My husband woke me this morning with words I hope you never need to hear:

“Luann, you have to get up. There’s a major wildfire in Santa Rosa, and we may have to evacuate.” 

I’m strangely calm, even as I write this. (Six hours later and it looks like the fire, though it’s already burned thousands of homes and buildings, and 30,000 acres, may bypass our neighborhood. Maybe.)

 

On the east coast, a sky like this means a bad storm. On the west coast, it means a wildfire.

 It’s not because I’m brave, or don’t think it could happen to me. We’ve had our share of terrifying phone calls. Some come in the dark of night. Some come in the bright noonday sun, and yet feel just as horrifying. The one where a hospital calls to tell you there was a car crash… The one from a loved one, telling you they can’t go on….and you are a thousand miles away.

 Why is it that this fire does not rock my soul to its core?

Because evacuation means you’ll have time to get away. You can’t outrun a hurricane, you have no notice with an earthquake. But with luck, we’ll have 30 minutes to get out, and a place to go when we do.  (Afternote: OTOH, once an earthquake or hurrican is over, it’s over. A wildfire just goes on and on and on….!!)

We’re the lucky ones. No knock at the door in the night, with a police officer informing us we have three minutes. Three minutes. Three minutes to pack up your life, and GO. I know of at least one fellow artist on the open studio tour who has lost their home, and their studio. But they are also safe.

No, we’re watching the fire’s progress online, receiving tweets and Facebook posts with emergency updates. We have time to act.

 That means the only thing we’ll lose is the house we live in, my studio, my art, our possessions.

It means we ourselves will be okay, and so will all the critters in our care.

I scrambled awake, and dragged out our cat carriers. Packed up medications, passwords, snagging our “carry case” with important vital documents. I try to keep the car full of gas, so no worries there. I pack a bag with a change of clothes, pet food, a jacket. My wedding ring and one or two pieces of my handmade jewelry.

My current favorite horse, and my wedding ring.​

We’re ready to go. Now all we can do is wait.

There is a simplicity that settles in times like these. There is no way you can take much of anything, no matter how big your car is. It’s impossible to assign “value” to anything in sight. Most people say they mourn lost photographs. Others take precious family heirlooms. Not me. I know it can all be replaced.

I know from selling almost ¾ of our possessions, and leaving our beautiful house in New Hampshire to come west, that most of it will be forgotten, frighteningly quick. Only the photos of what we had bring sadness, and so I try not to look at them anymore.

In the end, all we have is love. The love for those people we cherish. The animal companions who give us unconditional love, and yet depend on us for their well-being and safety. These are the only “possessions” that cannot be replaced.

And so my preparations for the single biggest income-producing art event are shuffled aside, my desire to clean the house, or even my studio, set on a shelf. Oh, I may go down to my studio to WORK today. I can’t think of anything more calming, and satisfying, than to make the work of my heart.

I can’t help thinking how lucky we are.

If we were to lose “everything” (and of course, by now you know there are various definitions for that word), we would have had three beautiful, amazing, wondrous years here in California.

Last night, we took an evening drive through the very neighborhoods that are now burned right to the ground. We were looking for deer, something we simply enjoy, and find restful and restorative.

As we drove by the multi-million dollar homes, beautifully landscaped, up and down the steep, heavily-wooded hills, gazing first to the next valley beyond on the left, and the city lights of Santa Rosa on the right, my husband said, “I love riding my bike up here! So beautiful, and such an interesting ride…” As I gazed at the extremely narrow, winding roads, the steep driveways, the lack of sidewalks, I thought to myself, “But not much fun in an emergency, I bet.” So sadly true.

I’m thinking as artists, we carry our possessions, our wealth, inside us. We carry the eye that sees what so many don’t—the unexpected beauty that’s often overlooked. We carry the skill to capture it, and share it with the world.

We carry the desire to come back to our practice, again and again, no matter how “successful” we are. We keep on making the work of our heart. We never put down the brush, the clay, the carving tool, the sewing needle. We never stop wanting to make stuff.

Today, I’m not worried about where my next sale will come from. I’m not worried about how many people read my article today.

I’m not even worried about what I might lose today: The work of decades, the collections of a lifetime.

 Today I am glad to be alive, to be with someone I love, who loves me. With a table full of cats asking gently, “Are you SURE it’s not dinnertime yet??” and dogs who faithfully challenge every passing bicycle and pedestrian, sure they are “helping” to keep us safe.

And tomorrow?

Whatever tomorrow brings, I will be there to enjoy the gifts that come with it. And then share it, with you. Because that’s my job.

Now you’ll have to excuse me. One of the cats (Noddy!) just discovered the bag of cat food I’ve packed up, and she’s sure it’s all for her.