A QUORA QUESTION ANSWERED: How to Write???

Why can’t I just start journaling??

My best guest: Because you are trying to do it perfectly.

Because despite being inspired by someone else’s words, loving them, wanting to be like them, when it comes to being yourself, you freeze.

Here’s what turned me around:

When I started out on a new journey in my life, I had some doubts and confusion in my heart. An online friend gave me a coaching session. The game-changing question she asked me was, “Are you a perfectionist?” Yep, I have that tendencey. Her reply?

“When we are a perfectionist, we are full of knowing, and nothing new can come in.”

WOW. That blew me away. It still amazes me, years later.

I decided to trust my heart. To move forward one step at a time, to ask “stupid questions”, to be open to something new.

It changed everything.

So back to your writing block:

Every writer on the planet has—or has had—a writing block at some point in their life. (Okay, PROBABLY every writer.) There are many reasons, but I’m guessing most are afraid of doing it wrong. Afraid it won’t matter. Afraid it won’t be good enough.

I’ll share what often stops me:

Not believing that what I have to say matters to anyone else except me.

Not believing I can sort out my thoughts, and tidy/tie them up into a pretty little package with a bow on top.

Not believing I can figure out where I’m going, let alone how to get there.

And right now, not having a paid work commitment with deadlines, which FORCES me to write SOMETHING, even when I’m having these thoughts.

But what I’ve learned over the years is, this is a time in history, when no one can stop us from having a voice in the world.

Your gender, your color, your religion, your views on life, cannot be used against you from writing, nor from publishing your words online: On Facebook, on Twitter, on Reddit, on your blog. (Unless, of course you use your words to incite violence, to slander/libel, to scam people.) (I’m assuming you don’t intend to do that?)

And then what helps me is to start writing. Even if it’s “I just don’t feel like writing today.”

Because then I go into, “WHY don’t I feel like writing today?” Oh yeah…because of that thing that happened, or what that person said to me, or how I’m feeling ‘less-than’ today.

I write that down. And I keep recording my thoughts, even when I get frustrated and simply write “blah blah blah” a dozen times.

Sometimes I have a point to make, and I get this all sorted out in my head before I even begin.

But sometimes, I have no idea where I’m going, and writing is how I get there.

My goal started from a writing support group that required I write three pages a day, even if it were only several hundred “blah blah blahs”. Now, I just make myself write one page.

In your case, aim for 100 words, maybe.

In my case, I realized I need to get it all out, then edit to get it more clear.

So stop reading “how to” stuff, just for now.

For now, just write down what’s in your head, and listen deeply to what’s in your heart.

If you really do freeze up, write down ONE SENTENCE that describes how your feeling.

Every day.

Be yourself.

Be the scared, uneasy, feeling less-than person you are right now, and be your authentic self.

Write about where you are right now, what you want to do differently, where you want to go, and where you want to be in a week, six months, a year, a decade.

Because YOU are the only YOU in the world.

It’s not about having an audience, it’s about having a voice.

MY WONKY CREATIVE CYCLE

There’s no single right or wrong way to be creative. It’s what works for YOU!

I beat myself all the time when I hit a slump in my creative cycle.

I think, “What’s the use, nothing’s selling, everyone’s telling me I’m doing it wrong, I’m out of ideas, NOW WHAT??!!”

When I’m in this part of my cycle, it feels pretty hopeless, and I feel pretty useless.

Today I had an ‘aha!’ moment.

This. Is. NORMAL.

I’ve written before about my amazing experience in Lyedie Geer‘s Theory U workshop. (Theory U represents a business model, but Lyedie’s presentation focused on this also applies to our creative work.) (Also synchronistic: As I looked for a link to her blog, I found another great article that helped me today!)

In any creative cycle, there are periods of intense productivity. And also periods of intense confusion, frustration, trial-and-error, and self-doubt.

It’s only when we define ourselves by that second half of the equation that we lose hope. Lose faith in our process. Lose respect for ourselves, as an ordinary, often brilliant, sometimes lost in confusion as a human being.

During the Covid-19 shut-down, I went into a major productive period during the Covid-19 shut-down (my latest shrine series). I always want to figure out how to make something in my head. Does. Not. Work. Instead, I took a deep breath and went with trial-and-error. It DID work!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then some exhibition deadlines came up. More inspiration! And I made two more Shaman necklaces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then the deadlines were met, the creative surge ebbed, and I was in a major period of lull.

I went into a major period of sifting and sorting through my supplies: Sorting my artifacts by size, use, and color. Moving on items that I will never use, and won’t need for classes. Organizing seed beads (yup. I KNOW.) was the biggie. And I’d berate myself for wasting valuable time when I could be doing something more productive.

The rewards of this period? I got a lot of sorting done! And it was very soothing indeed.

The downfall? Long periods of sitting and repetitive motor activity resulted in tendonitis, loss of muscle tone, and not much else getting done.

Finally, last week, I told myself, “ENOUGH!” My goal: Make one thing today. One horse. Or an owl. Or a blue bear.

And I did.

But it didn’t swerve me into full artifact-production-mode. I still felt “meh”.

And then, yesterday I had a huge insight/inspiration:

I want to make more Shaman necklaces. The really big ones, with big beads, big critters, statement pieces.

They don’t sell quickly, that’s for sure. And my goal has always been to make at least one a year. To remind myself that the MAKING is what’s important, not the selling. To encourage myself to “go BIG”, no matter what the outcome is.

But I made a big blue horse yesterday. And as I made it, intending it to be a small sculpture, I thought, “This would make a great Shaman necklace!”

There it was. There was my answer, my next step forward.

Today, I’m actually excited to get to my studio again.

Today, I can see that the “fallow” period was not a fluke. It was not useless. It was not a drain of my resources.

It was a period of rest, and restoration. A time to let the next inspiration find ME, instead of demanding it show up RIGHT NOW.

I’m feeling better today.

And I hope I’ve made YOU feel a little better today, too.

What is your creative cycle? Similar? Vastly different?

Do you recognize it when you’re in it? I’d love to hear what other creatives experience!

 

TODAY’S QUORA ANSWER:

Let me start by saying this phrase really annoys me.

Our readers and followers are not fish.

Just like strategies that claim to “drive people” to our websites, etc. or establishing our “brand”, which are both cowboy metaphors, this usage sounds like you are only interested in “snagging an audience”.

Your first reason to write a blog is to have a voice in the world. You have something to say, you have something to share, you have interests and opinions based on your experience and world view, and you want to get them out into the world.

Instead, some people want to have an audience. A big audience. A HUGE audience.

Which is understandable. Heck, I wish I had a huge audience!

But not at the expense of adapting MY VOICE IN THE WORLD to appease others.

There are plenty of experts out there who can advise you about SEO, ads, sites to promote yourself, etc. etc. etc. Know that most of these people may be sharing their own experience and knowledge, but they also hope to make money off YOU. After all, if there were a sure-fire way to grow a huge audience in a short amount of time, we would ALL be jillionaires.

There will be a fortunate few who can gain fame, likes, a huge audience, sponsors/sponsorship, etc. My favorites are the people who have gained great insights in how to live our best life, and how to be the best person we can be. The influencer crowd? Meh.

So follow your own path, but please consider what is really important to you in life.

Wealth? Influence? Adoration?

Or becoming your best, authentic, heart-driven self?

Your choice.

HOW TO SEE THE WORLD Part 1: What Made Me Put On My Rose-Colored Glasses This Week!

Can you tell I’ve been feeling saggy lately? Go figure (says the rest of the world who are also feeling saggy.)

Last week, something happened that made it worse.

I got my husband his dream Christmas gift this year, a little Sharing Library. (It’s like a Little Free Library. Ours is from the same family but a different company, hence “Sharing Library.) It’s been up for six months, and we restock it every week or so. It had just reached the point where people were adding as many books as were taken. Yay!!

Then one morning, my husband sent me this picture while I was at my studio:

No more books :-{Yup. Someone had taken ALL of our books. (Turns out the two remaining were actually left by a neighbor’s kiddo, who saw that they were all gone and generously added two of theirs. Love love love you Nova!)

My heart went to a sad place. Who would do such a thing?? And WHY???

I checked in with NextDoor, and with a Facebook group of fellow Little Free Library members in Santa Rosa.  At least two other people said this had happened to them, too. People shared their thoughts:

 

Was it someone with a mental health issue?

Was it someone who thought “free” meant “take ’em all!”??

Was it someone who realized they could resell them to a used bookstore???

Fortunately, I’d stockpiled some books to move on, and half-filled the library again. But it left me in a bit of a huff. As in, do something kind and look what happens! Ugh.

And then the light poured in.

Someone in the FB group offered to bring us more books. Someone else did, too. Soon we were swamped with offers of books.

One person brought theirs over immediately, and totally restocked the box. I met another person who meant to do the same, and gave me their box to store. More people did the same. Soon people from NextDoor chimed in, too.

Dozens of people offered books, brought books, left books on our porch, and left books on THEIR porch for me to pick up.

We now have enough extra books to fill up that library for months!

So one tiny act of greed/misunderstanding/poopiness resulted in hundreds of words and actions of kindness and generosity.

So what do I want to hold onto this week?

An empty giving library?

Or a little world of good deeds?

Yup. You guessed it!

If this lifts YOUR heart today, too, then I’ve done my work for the day….

When good people do good things.

 

THE MARSHMALLOW CONUNDRUM

Who knew marshmallows could be so scary??

My favorite marketer blogger let me down today.

They discussed why some people are wealthy. It’s because they made a decision to purchase stock in a new company 20 years ago, instead of spending the money on eating out at a restaurant. As in, wisdom and foresight vs. random self-indulgence. Long-term value over short-term amusement.

They compared to to getting a grilled cheese sandwich today, or being able to get two grilled cheese sandwiches next week. As if the people who invested in Google in 2004 are smarter/better than the people who chose to go out to dinner instead. Twenty years later, the dinner is forgotten, but the shares are worth thousands of dollars.

I get the point (I think.) It takes time for money to grow, and not much time at all to spend it on worthless/useless/petty things instead. The people who are willing to wait, gain more.

Or is it?

It sounds like the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment in the 1970’s, when 32 children were given a marshmallow, but told they would get TWO marshmallows if they didn’t eat the first one. The study declared that the children who could wait, were more successful in life, their SAT scores were higher, etc. Repeated studies seemed to support the power of delayed gratification.

This is the simplified version, of course, but the one we’re most familiar with: People who have self-discipline do better in life.

Until newer studies found the major flaw in these results:

Children of “lower” social class, who were more vulnerable to food insecurity, whose families were struggling, were the ones who “couldn’t” wait for that second marshmallow.

Not because they aren’t as smart, not because they had no self-discipline, or because they were less patient.

It was because they had already learned to grab what was available when it was offered. Because that second “reward” might NEVER come.

I never truly believed in the original findings. Something just felt wrong. It felt more like an issue of trust in the people running the experiment than the ability to “go without”. In fact, these kids that “failed” were probably already “going without”. Without the same support, advantages, opportunities that wealthier families offer.

And about stock options vs. a dinner out….

Yeah, we might forget the dinner out, twenty years later. It might be a better choice to invest in our future.

And yet….

What if that dinner is the first date with a person who became our partner? Or the one where our partner asked us to marry them?

What if that dinner was a celebration? A birthday, a milestone reached, a graduation?

What if it was the last time we were able to spend time with a loved one or a dear friend?

What if it was the dinner where you had a huge fight, and realized that was NOT the person you wanted to be with for the rest of your life? A decision you would never regret?

The article probably has a valid point, and maybe it just landed wrong for me today. We’ve all made poor financial decisions we wish we could do over.

And yet…

Investing money has always been a gamble. Some people make good investment decisions, yes. But a lot of those decisions aren’t. We never really know which ones will pay off, and anyone who says otherwise is either very very lucky in theirs, or they’re full of bullshit.

Sorry, I don’t know where I’m going here. Except even gentle criticism about people not making smart decisions about the future drives me crazy. I still remember a coworker 40 years ago. She and her parter had the perfect investment/retirement plan in place with her husband.

But her husband died suddenly way, way before they got there. And she had to keep working long past her retirement years to support herself.

Her greatest regret? That they had put off all their travels and good times, so they would have a rich, perfect retirement.

And then they never had the chance to enjoy it, together.

My own favorite “predicting the future” story is the year where the price of oil skyrocketed (our heating fuel in New Hampshire), and we had to decide whether to prebuy at the current prices, or hope that they would fall before winter. My husband said, “If only I knew what the price of oil was going to be in six months!” And I said, “You and ten billion other people.”

Yes, it’s good to be frugal, and set aside money. Yes, it’s good to have hope in our hearts that things will work out, that everything will be okay, that we will always be safe, that we have everything under control. It’s good to wait, and get that second marshmallow as a reward.

But it’s bad to blame people who have less, who strugle more, who battle discrimination, ridicule, distrust, disgust, and who are never seen for anything more than their gender, skin color, nationality, religion choices.

Only when ALL people have money to invest, when ALL people don’t have to worry about where the next paycheck will come from, when ALL people can have an income, health care, respect, love, when ALL people can feel safe and cared for….

Then, and only then, will I take that investment advice seriously.

Er….pass me that marshmallow, please?

 

 

 

 

A QUORA ANSWER ON PROCRASTINATION: What I’ve Learned

Profile photo for Luann Udell

Luann Udell
It took me years to figure this out, but I had to laugh when I did.

Three moments of insight have helped me with this:

The first, and simplest, is being accountable to something/someone. I wrote most regularly when I wrote for a monthly column for magazine (10 years!), and later, a weekly article for an online art marketing newsletter.

The embarassment of being late ONCE (and not getting paid) resulted in not missing a single article going forward (11 years!) (Er…I wasn’t LATE once, I only got reprimanded for it once. Changed everything.)

 

Second, I came across a book written by someone who HAD figured it out: They found they became extremely motivated to take on OTHER PROJECTS when they were procrastinating about another one.

It was really funny, their list of what they accomplished while putting off yet another ‘unmotivated’ project. I immediately recreated their strategy for myself. You can read it here: Procrastination: Love It or Leave It Til Tomorrow

Sometimes, meeting the expectations of others, works better than meeting our own.

Sometimes the motivation we need is how to avoid doing something else.

Sometimes, we need to clearly understand the “all steps by going backwards”’ in order to take that first step forward.

Finding whatever works for YOU is what matters most. Good luck!

ANOTHER QUORA QUESTION ANSWERED

Another slew of Quora requests in my inbox today. And as usual, most of them I can’t/won’t answer. Trust me, if I knew how to earn a living and how to get famous for blogging, I wouldn’t be answering Quora questions.

But the ones I can answer, I usually try.  Here’s today’s reply:

Profile photo for Luann Udell

Luann Udell , Blogger (2002-present)

If you are asking what you can make money blogging about, I can’t help you with that.

If you are asking because you want to have a voice, a presence online, then this is what I advise you to do:

You don’t have to have a particular niche in order to start a blog.

You don’t have to be an expert. You don’t have to find something popular. You don’t have to write about things you don’t care about.

A blog in our modern world means HAVING A VOICE.

You can focus on a topic, a pastime or hobby, a cause you care deeply about.

You can focus on your own skills and knowledge you excel at.

You can write about a topic you’re interested in, and want to know more about. You can write about the reasons why you’re interested, why you want to know more about it. You can share your journey as you research, learn, and grow.

I’m an artist and a writer. I often write about art marketing. But I’ve also written a freelance humor column about being an artist/craftsperson for a monthly craft magazine for almost a decade. (Until they told me I wasn’t funny anymore, but I found out later it’s because they realized it was cheaper to have their own staff write stuff instead of paying a freelancer.) I also write about why it’s important to do our creative work, no matter how much money we actually make at it, because it’s good for our soul.

I’m a parent (and now a grandparent!) and I’ve written about humorous events and life-learning moments to be found in parenting.

I have silly pets, and I write about their antics, set-backs, and the powerful life lessons I’ve learned from them.

I love a metaphor, and I’ve used a variety of them throughout my two decades of blogging: Lessons from the gym/physical therapy sessions, lessons I’ve learned from horse-riding, lessons from doing open studio events, insights from an airplane pilot, from martial arts, from my elderly rabbit in my art studio who died just after we moved to California. And lessons from the prep we went through to get ready for that huge life move.

This sounds like it’s all over the map, right?

But it’s all about what I’ve learned—and am still learning—from this incredible school called “life”.

See what I’m saying here?

You can specialize, or you can expand your view to include everything. You can focus on something incredibly important to you, or something you’d like to know more about.

It’s not about the audience, nor what the audience wants. There are billions of people on this planet, and whatever you choose to write about, there will be plenty of people who will be attracted to it.

The most important thing is to write authentically. To write with integrity.

Chasing an audience rarely works. ATTRACTING an audience takes time and effort, and in the end, can still feel elusive.

But know that just having a voice is a powerful place to be in the world, and in your heart.

 

If the link above gets broken, you’ll find this Quora post here:  https://www.quora.com/How-can-I-choose-a-niche-to-start-a-new-blog/answer/Luann-Udell?prompt_topic_bio=1

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #12: How to Get People OUT of Your Booth

Yes, you read that right. Usually we’re trying to get people into our booth or open studio, so we can sell them our work. But sometimes it’s just as important to get them out of there, too.

There are many kinds of visitors who will come to our open studios. the person who has no intention of buying anything, but is distracting you from other customers.

And okay, I’ll admit it–the title is provocative. You don’t necessarily need to, nor should you, boot every non-customer out of your studio! Not every transaction is about money, and not every comment is meant as a slam, not by a long shot. Revisit “the stupid question”, for example.

But no one needs “bad transactions”, either. There are indeed times when someone is being a jerk, a downer, a whiner or simply an energy-vampire. (I wrote this before the TV series, “What We Do In The Shadows”!) If they aren’t driving other customers out of your studio, they are practically driving you out of your studio.

You must contain and deal with that negative energy. Not only your sales, but your peace of mind may depend on it.

To save myself some time this morning, I’ll just point you to a wealth of information on this topic that I’ve written about for years: How to get people OUT of your booth

Short story: Not everyone is your customer.

That’s okay, of course. Most open studios and other events are as much about creating connections as they are about sales. Our open studio events are the most powerful, as we are on our home turf, in our sacred creative space. They get to see who we are, and hopefully learn what our artwork is all about.

And for the same reasons, this is why we can’t let people s*** in our space, either.

But there will be people who may go beyond all boundaries, from slightly-aggressive to downright boring as all get-out. The people who know, deep down, that we are a captive audience.

I get as annoyed as anyone when this happens. And yet, when I take a moment or two (or a thousand), I can get back to my happy place. Maybe they are lonely. Or lost (figuratively.) Or desperate for attention. Or need to one-up me because they are envious. Maybe they are wistful, wishing they could have a studio, a creative outlet, work that they put aside, a decision they regret but can’t fix.

These fears, feelings of superiority (or inadequacy), anger, sadness, can manifest in so many ways, from the Design Diva who will micromanage their custom order to within an inch of (your) life, to realizing your good “friend” isn’t really your friend at all.

Here’s one big tips to help you get through:

Use your words. In almost every situation, from visitors who demand a lot of your time at the expense of other visitors, to well-meaning friends who want to catch up, these three words can be a lifesaver: “After the show…” 

“Yes, after the show I’ll be able to offer classes, so add your email address to my sign-up form so I can let you know.”

“I’d love to grab coffee and catch up with you after the show, when I’m not so busy!”

“Yes, I’m happy to share the info of where to learn more about polymer clay, email me after the show.”

You are setting boundaries while still remaining available emotionally for people you care about (and those you don’t), people you want to be available for (or not), when you can be available.

Why does this work? Reasons here: Why Distraction Works

All of these suggestions and strategies echo words of wisdom my best-ever boss made oh, about 45 years ago:

“If you don’t want someone to get your goat, don’t leave your goat out.”

And yet also understand that we can all be annoying sometimes, and not everyone is trying to be annoying. (Er…I’m beginning to wonder if I’m more annoying than I realize…)

Last, a very dirty trick, but it can work:

If someone is being a total poo, and nothing I’ve tried has moved them on, I will encourage them to check out another artist’s studio. And it’s often an artist I don’t like. (Okay, I’ve done this maybe three times in my entire art career of 20 years. But I have to admit, it was very satisfying.) (I mean, I also send wonderful visitors to another artist who I DO like, too, if I think they’ll enjoy that artist’s work.) For all you difficult artists, be warned! (JUST KIDDING!) (Not.)

I know I’ve linked to a slew of articles here today. But trust me, I can guarantee you have–or will–meet at least one of these people at any art event you host or attend. Knowing how to deal with it is  powerful protective armor.

And the better you manage it, the better your studio experience will be for everyone involved.

If you’d like most of those articles in one place, you can buy my ebook on Amazon. (Maybe I should do a book on open studios?)

I would love it if you asked questions or shared your own tips and suggestions along the way!

If you found this helpful, let me know! And if you know someone else who might find it useful, pass the link to this article to them. The best gift you can give a writer is to help them grow their audience.

 

 

DEALING WITH FAILURE: Let’s Just Call It Something Else, Okay?

One of my best works of art, one of my favorites, that got a lot of media coverage at the time. And yet it didn’t sell until the year before we left California! Failure? Success? Who can say??
(Reposting this, my fourth blog post, from December 5, 2002. )
Dealing with Failure

A reader saw my story on Meryl Streep (we have so much in common!) She commented she has overcome her inner critic from time to time, had some success—and then encounters failure. In one case, resulting in a large financial loss. It stopped her dead in her tracks. How, she asks, do you buffer failure? Is it a sign that we’re heading down the wrong path?

Buffer failure? Embrace it!

No, I’m not crazy. I hate failure as much as the next person. It doesn’t feel good, it doesn’t look good, and it usually doesn’t smell very good, either.

But I’ve learned to call it something else. It is now a “life learning experience.” Or “an experiment.” A “calculated risk.” Or “an opportunity/possibility that has been tried, and simply did not pan out.”

Whatever you called it, you met it, you got through it, and now you have a precious gift. You can decide what you learned from it. And what you learn from it is entirely up to you.

We hear all those stories about Edison trying and discarding 423 different materials before he found one that could successfully be used as a filament in his electric light bulbs. Supposedly, he would say, “I didn’t fail—I found 423 things that didn’t work!” In reality, I doubt he was that chipper at trial #218. I’m sure he had some choice words.

But the important thing to remember is, it wasn’t a failure. It was a process. He didn’t take each failure as a “sign” he should not continue. He took it as a challenge, an opportunity to explore new possibilities.

There’s a book I read awhile back, title escapes me. A collection of stories as told by assorted famous people, on their failures. Yep. Every single one of them had failed somewhere, along their road to success. You don’t take on risk without encountering failure at some point. Not one person achieved their dream by accepting failure. Every single one of them walked around it, climbed over it, punched through it, ignored it, learned from it or changed it into a victory.

Look, these people aren’t really smarter, more beautiful, more creative, more talented, more anything than you or me. They’re people. Real people. They’re just incredibly persistent. Their common denominator was once they knew what their heart’s desire was, they kept after it. Just like me and Meryl, talkin’ down that buzzy whiney voice and doin’ the work.

It’s not easy. And it doesn’t come naturally, at least not to me. I’ve had to work at not giving up. And I’ve had to work at growing a new attitude about “failure.”

I don’t put it in terms at “what did I do wrong?” I think “What did I do well? And how could I do better? What did I learn? And do I have to do that same thing again to learn that particular lesson? Or is it okay to move on to try something else?”

My first few small town craft shows were “failures.” It would have been so easy to get discouraged. Fortunately, I was committed to making what I loved, not making what would sell at a church craft fair. I realized my work was not the bargain gift item one expects to find at such a show. Although, oddly, after every show, someone would call me and buy one of my very expensive pieces (around $125 at the time.) The lesson I learned was to find a better venue for my work.

I’m still recovering from a more recent, bigger “failure.” I tried a new summer wholesale show, traditionally more of a gift market. I not only did the show, I redid my booth—new floors, new walls, new lighting. I even took a larger booth space. I did the work—did two pre-show, advertising, updated my catalog, sent out my newsletter to customers and hot prospects, created new products. I set up my booth, put on my professional artist clothes, and went to work.

I bombed.

I wrote enough new orders to cover some of my expenses, but not the major improvements I’d made. And many of those new accounts, because the economy still sagged, ended up modifying their orders downwards as the months went by.

Did I fail? To be honest, it sure felt like it at the time!

A fellow exhibitor at the show asked me how I did, and I started to list all the pluses from the show. He cut me short and said, “Why don’t you just be honest and admit it sucked?!” I didn’t know what to say. Was I being a Pollyanna?

To help me put it in perspective, another friend in the biz said, “Is money the only measure of your success?”

Wow. I had to think about that. Yes, I eventually want to be financially successful with my art and business, and I consistently act and plan accordingly. But I also evaluate my progress by other standards. Money is an important measure, but not the only one.

I took a reasonable risk—to introduce my work to a new audience and to try a new booth design/layout.

What did I do well? The pre-show preparations were excellent, the booth was great. The improvements were pricey but they are a long-term investment in my business.

Everyone loved the work, so I know it’s viable. Most of my press kits were taken from the media room—always a good sign! I picked up a dozen new accounts. I made valuable connections, including an editor at a highly respected trade magazine who was fascinated by my work. The new director of an arts foundation, referred to me by a mutual friend, found me, lined me up for a show and has proven to be a source of valuable experience and information about my targeted market. My booth neighbor was curating her first show at the museum where she works, and invited me to exhibit in their first high-end craft show. A favor for a friend at the show with equipment problems netted me his lovely glasswork in return. My daughter, assisting me for the first time, bought a faux-leopard skin cowboy hat from another exhibitor—oh my!), met the charming teenage sons of another exhibitor, and was in seventh heaven.

We had a great time.

And how could I do better? I honestly can’t think of a single thing I could have done better.

What was under my control, and what was not?

Sad to say, the economy is not under my control.

In hindsight, would I have skipped the show? Well, I’m not sure. I think I would have done it, and perhaps triaged the booth improvements. But maybe not. Doing the show forced me to make those improvements, and though it would have been nice to recoup their expense with that show, I know I eventually will.

What did I learn? I learned that something awful can happen, and it was okay. I survived. No one got hurt, no one died.

I’ve weathered my first truly bad show, and lived to tell the tale. I didn’t accept it as a sign my dream was unattainable. I kept the good stuff, I examined the bad stuff, then tossed it. Dug in and got back to work. In August, I did another show, made some slight adjustments to my business model (took more custom orders, learned a new technique for closing high-end sales) and did my best retail show ever.

Buffer failure? No. You don’t get anywhere with that approach. Sometimes the manure life deals you is fertilizer for your garden to come.

*Update for today: I am so glad I found this article today! I’ve been feeling like a failure lately, in so many ways. Which just goes to show you, it will always, always be with us.

But we get to decide, whether we give in, give up, go away…

Or can we choose to simply keep trying.

Because I still love what I do, even though I make even less money at it than I did all those years ago.

Because I can still do it.

Because I want to keep making art. Because I have to do the work of my heart.

It’s who I am. And who I want to be in the world.

NOT ALL HOMELESS PEOPLE

A little segue into a PSA today….(and updated to include links to some resource here in Sonoma County/California. Pretty sure ALL states have something similar!)

NOT ALL HOMELESS PEOPLE

There are homeless people all around us, and around the world.

We all have strong opinions about this population, mostly negative, sometimes justified, of course. And yet…

If only we could change our viewpoint. If only we could see this population having ONLY one thing in common: No place to live.

Because my premise is, “Not all homeless people…”

First, I believe our biggest anger against homeless people is our way of protecting ourselves. Blaming the victim(s) is a way of distancing ourself from what happened to them. “I would NEVER do xyz!” “That would NEVER happen to me!” We blame them for their situation,  because none of us want to believe it could happen to us. Or because, deep down, we know it COULD happen to us. Many women (including myself!) fear becoming a “bag lady”. If we lose our partner, or our job, or don’t have enough money saved, well, we could be one step away losing our home, too. And then we’ll be “one of those people.”

We are all one step away from a cancer diagnosis, one step away from losing a loved one, one step away from being scammed out of savings, of relapsing into addiction, a car accident, a tornado, hurricane, or wildfire, or any other major life tragedies. If it hasn’t happened yet, welp, yeah, maybe we’ve been careful, cautious, prudent.

But maybe we’ve just been lucky.

So first….Not All Homeless people.

Not all homeless people are drug addicts or alcoholics, although drugs and alcohol might well be how some of them mitigate the pain of sleeping on sidewalks, in the rain and cold. Not all homeless people live with mental illness, though for sure it’s harder to get help when your resources are so limited. Not all homeless people are thieves. Not all homeless people are violent. Not all homeless people are alike.

In fact, this population is widely diverse.

Out of curiosity, I checked out some statistics about homeless people. Turns out that, before Covid-19, homeless numbers had dropped by a third between 2015-2020. But Covid reversed all those gains due to illness/death, job losses, evictions, etc. Only 20% of homeless people are “chronically homeless”.  The other subgroups are significantly tied to race, gender, and income. Homeless people are disproportionately Black, brown, and LGBTQ.

Statistics also show that most health issues (mental health, addiction) cannot be addressed successfully without getting people off the streets and into homes, FIRST.

We may still disagree about who deserves our help. But here are some ideas through that barrier:

Are you an alcoholic, hopefully in recovery? Or do you have a friend or family member who struggles with this? Consider helping programs with support groups this population could benefit from.  (Lots of resources out there, dig a little and find one that resonates with you.)

Are you a veteran, or have a friend/family member in the military? Consider donating or volunteering with vet services to assist this population. (These people already get the most support, but there still big holes in the net.)

Are you a person of color, or do you have a friend/family member whose struggles are harder because of that? Consider contributing to organizations who offer support for this population.

Do you identify as LGBTQ? Or have family members/friends who do, who you care about? You may be very familiar with the difficulties they’ve faced in life. Consider working with organizations that offer outreach these people.

Do you have teens? We were all teens once! Did you struggle as a teen? Consider donating or volunteering your skills with SAY/Social Advocates for Youth, which offers services and some housing for young adults, especially those who aged out of foster care, or (as above) were kicked out of their homes for being gay, trans, etc.

Do you have small children? Were you, or do you know, a parent who is single/divorced who struggles with child care, etc.? Consider donating or volunteering for The Living Room which offers day services for homeless moms with kids.

Do you love dogs? The Samuel Jones Hall, the largest homeless shelter in Northern California, accepts clients with dogs. This is critical, because accepting services often means having to give up your beloved dog. You can donate dog food, grooming stuff, etc. to this shelter.

Do you have compassion for any homeless person who wants to do better, get better, have better? I just found an article in our local paper about two women, formerly homeless themselves, who took over three thrift shops that went out of business due to Covid-19 protocols. ((I won’t go into that story because there’s still a lot of dust settling… from the previous owners.) Intrepid Stores not only hire homeless people, they help them move forward in all kinds of ways.   The work they do is amazing. (We forget, for example, that most employers require a HOME ADDRESS when hiring new people. Guess who doesn’t even HAS a home? Yup. Homeless people.)

In fact, this is the biggest reason why homeless people resist shelter services:

They lose the power of their choices. (This is also why some senior citizens resist being placed in nursing homes. You are SAFE. But you cede control of your life, from what you eat to when you pee, for that safety.) Some shelters only serve men, some only serve women, which means partners have to separate, for example.

Even many homeless people who do enter a shelter may still have to vacate during the day. So shelters are a first step, but still a difficult one.

I believe that the harder we work to see the at-risk groups, to see the individuals in this population, the more compassion we can hold for people who did not choose to be homeless, the more we can focus on helping them move forward in life.

Because when we chose love and engagement instead of hatred and fear, we are all better for it. When we choose to see individuals, we can truly help make the world a better place.

If learning to see the actual groups, the real individuals, who need our help, and if our stepping up to the plate could rehome up to 80% of this group, that would be amazing progress, right?

Let’s try it. Use one of your skills, a little money, maybe just your time and compassion, to pick a group you can identify with. And help them take one little…GIANT…step forward.

If you thought this article was helpful, there’s even more in this post on my blog:

Hearing the Call

MIXED FEELINGS AND BETTER CHOICES

Maybe more lights would help??

 

The holidays are always a minor struggle for me.

When I was a kid, all I wanted for Christmas (and my birthday) was a pony. My parents promised to get me one when I was 13, but when I turned 13 and didn’t get one, it was obvious they were hoping I’d forgotten about it. (DARN YOU, MOM AND DAD!) (They’re gone now, so I have to get over it.) (JOKING!! I’ll never get over it.) (Er…that was a joke, too, btw. I just hope Mom and Dad are laughing up in heaven.)

I put my biggest holiday efforts into play when we had kids of our own. Not big on the outdoor lights thing, but our Christmas tree was always a delight. (Except, of course, when our cat Gus decided it was her perfect play toy and climbing pole.) (Gus lived to be 18, so that’s a lotta years of broken ornaments and branches.) I wanted our Christmas to be a time of joy for our kids.

Back in Keene NH, we enjoyed a Yankee Swap in addition to our regular celebration. Each guest brought a wrapped gift. (It could be used/regifted/a white elephant kinda thing, but not half-eaten or broken. You could not believe the people who didn’t get that….) Everyone draws a number, the number one goes first, picks a gift, and opens it. Number two the same, except they can choose to swap gifts with Number one. It continues, until the very last person gets to swap with ANYONE. (Um…it did invoke some pissed-off guests, but almost everyone eventually enjoyed it as the wacko experience it was meant to be.)

Here in California, we’ve lived in much smaller houses, and far fewer friends. Also with three cats, all of whom sometimes appear to be Gus reincarnated when it comes to obnoxious/destructive behavior. Our expectations are reduced, too, simply because we feel we already have so much: A good marriage, grown kids finding their own way in the world, CALIFORNIA!!!, and in our latest neighborhood, good people for neighbors.

And since I achieved adulthood (not an easy path!), I learned that very few people know what I want and don’t want (not their fault, I am very unpredictable in my wants and needs.)  I simply buy what I fall in love with, and give it to my hubby to wrap for Christmas. This year? An electric-heated vest I can wear in my 52 degree studio. (OTOH, my sis Sue always sends me a tin of homemade Heath Bar-like Christmas candy, so yeah, she nailed it!)

And the more confusing, overwhelming, and sad the world gets, the smaller even these issues get. It doesn’t help that my partner suffers horribly from SAD (seasonal affective disorder), and that can’t be easily fixed. (No suggestions, please, he’s tried everything except actually moving to Arabia or Africa.)

But here’s the thing: Christmas isn’t about US being happy.

It’s about how we want to make OTHER people happy.

No matter what religion/non-religion we practice, it’s about embracing the dark time of the year, and turning it into light. And love. And hope.

I’ve been in a bit of a funk since I left my last writing gig. It’s hard to write when I’m not sure if anyone even cares enough to read what I’ve written.

And yet, I’m the person who encouraged my partner to restart his own blog, telling him it doesn’t matter how many likes or followers he has. It’s about having a voice in the world. (And amazingly, he finally took my advice, someone who used to read his blog back in the day found it, and got in contact with him, and now Jon has a wonderful new job doing work he loves, with a company that appreciates who he is, and working with a team of people who value his insights and work.

And just recently, someone let me know that my writing has been a tremendous force for good in their life. (I always get a little embarassed when someone tells me that, but it meant the world to me.)

And I can’t stop thinking about what they wrote. It was powerful. It helped.

Today, I realize once again, we have the power of our choices.

We can chase the money, and fame, believing that the more of both we have, the better our lives will be.

Or we can choose to pursue our passions in the world, to share our unique gifts with others, in hopes we can help them find the courage to pursue theirs.

We can mourn the family we were born to, that seem believe we don’t really belong there. Or we can celebrate the family we choose.

We can fear the backlash, the anger, the lies that seem to break down all social norms, that separate us from each other.

Or we can strive to find our own path, our own way of being of service for a good cause, our own way of helping others who are in a hard place.

We can submit to anger and resentment. Or we can celebrate every tiny miracle, every beautiful online post, every effort others are making to make the world a better, happier, more supportive place for all of us.

We get to choose.

I wish you all a wonderful holiday, no matter which one you’re celebrating (or not), no matter how long the dark lasts.

Because today, the light begins to grow again.

And so can our hearts, and spirit.

 

CREATION STORIES and A Blast (or Two) From the Past

I’ve been thinking about creation stories lately. At a recent artists talk at a local gallery who carries my work, I mentioned it in my presentation.

We’ve known about “hero stories” for years. They’re a common theme many books, plays, and movies, all kinds of media, actually. A guy undertakes a task, has to overcome all kinds of obstacles (slaying dragons, fighting other knights, rescuing a princess, etc.) and finally earns the keys to the kingdom. Happy ending for all concerned! (Well, at least for the hero….)

Most of us have found a similar path to find the work of our heart. For some folks, they knew early on what that was, and pursued it all the way.

For others (like me), we knew…but then we believed it was out of reach, that we didn’t have the talent/perseverence/personality/etc. to find our way through. We walked away, thinking we simply aren’t good enough.

But then there’s the ‘”creation story”. It’s that powerful moment in our life, often after we get through something really, really hard, something emotionally painful, or frightening, or even life-threatening.

And suddenly, we realize what really matters to us in life.

That’s the hidden “beauty” of terrible times. The clarity we get, a new sense of purpose, knowing what’s worth pursuing, and what is merely what other people think we should do.

I’m not saying “Everything happens for a reason!” or “God will provide, trust in Him”, or “Things will get better, just wait!” or any of that shit.

When we hit a rock-and-a-hard-place, a deep pit of despair, a near-death experience, that approach simply sucks. There’s no making light of the terrible thing we’re going through. Staying positive is powerful, but exhausting, and others telling us what THEY think WE should do can be patronizing. (Especially if they have no personal experience with what we’re dealing with.)

But afterwards, when we’ve had time to recover, hopefully to heal, or adapt, to take a calm breath and pick up our life again…. When we can pause, and look back, and contemplate what the impact on us was….

THAT’S when we can find that turning point in our life.

I’ve always focused on the WHY in my own work. I love encouraging others to dig deep and find what really matters to them. I’ve written about that a lot. A LOT. (Here’s a list of articles about the power of “Why?”)

But I forgot to connect what gets us to that powerful place.

In my case, it happened after I gave up on following my dreams. It was too hard, I didn’t have the time, the energy, the space, no hope of making a living from it. It was time to “get real” and “grow up” and let it all go. Maybe things would change down the road, but not right now.

My breakthrough moment was the realization that what I wanted for my kids, the thing that could make them resilient, and joyful, and fierce with passion, I could want for myself. And the best way to encourage them to do the same, was to show them what that looked like.

The courage, determination, and persistence I gained in that moment, has carried me for decades.

Oh, I still get just as frustrated, set back, and sad about my lack of “fame and fortune” for my work. But I always circle back and realize that was never the inspiration to make it from the get-go.

Creation stories are the moments when we realize how powerful that decision is. That moment when we realize we have a story, a story only WE can tell. A story that not only fuels our life, but, when shared, might inspire and give hope to someone else, too.

One year, I taught workshops for the traveling Arts Business Institute years ago. My favorite one was working with people to find the “why” in their work. My fastest, clearest example was when one young woman in the workshop started with, “I had a baby, I nearly died, and everything changed….” I stopped and said, “THAT is your creation story!”

Something happened. Something that changed everything. We nearly die/fall/give up hope/surrender. If we’re lucky, we get through it. And if we’re really lucky…

We realize we can choose something different.  We recognize that we have the power of our choices.

We can own our desire to make/teach/write/sing/heal/travel/nurture/repair/etc. and be a force for good in the world. Because it’s so good for US.

Suddenly, all the wrong turns, the mistakes, the missed opportunities, (for me, for example, traveling across the country in the recession of the 1980’s desperately looking for a teaching job for years, to no avail) is no longer a sad story.

Because I finally found the right story, the powerful story that belongs to me.

All those “failures” simply added to my experience, shining a light on what I was NOT “meant to be”, but merging the skills I acquired to achieve those old goals into powerful new assets on my new journey:

Making the work of my heart, using the materials and techniques that felt “right” for me, and telling my story. Letting go of being “good enough”, because I simply wanted to do it.

Another insight? Once we know our creation story, we won’t be as likely to fall for this story about why we simply can’t do that thing: about holding onto the “facts” that hold us back.

And one last story about our conception of “luck” that can slow us down on our creative journey: What’s Luck Got To Do With It?

A lot to ponder, especially with holidays, new variants, uncertainty, great changes in the world.

But that’s life, right? Finding our own way home.

P.S. FORGOT, here’s a link to the Story Center’s website (a non-profit), which now offers free and in-depth paid workshops for helping us find our powerful stories: The Story Center

TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG: I Stand For My Evil Reading Habit

I’ve been a Connie Willis fan for years, and thought I’d read all her books. I was so wrong. She continues to write even when I’m not paying attention. (Blerpy face emoji here.) I just found her website and visited her blog, which made me giggle about 30 words in. And while searching for more books, I found about a dozen more in the last 10 years that I’d not even known about.

Her genre is science fiction, but honestly, they all read like a really great story-telling novel that has unusual elements added to get the conversation going.

When I traveled last week to the East Coast to visit my darlin’ daughter, her hubby, and their adorable wee new baby, I picked up a copy of her book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, to occupy my flight time. (You can use Bookfinder.com to find new or used copies.)

It’s about time travel, but in a way that focuses on love, relationships, and history. Not just “what happened” in history, but why things happened (or didn’t happen.) Tiny moments, mistakes, miscommunications, and big events like bad weather, war, bombing raids, invasions, etc. The history alone is so absorbing!

I thought I’d read it already, but I must have gone fast, or my ability to remember stuff accurately after 22 years is failing) because it was like I was reading it for the first time. First, because back in the day, I DID read stuff (e.g., ‘books’) fast. I wanted to find out how it ended, what happened, and see the mystery solved.

But that meant I skipped over important stuff that were actual clues to the ending. And so I started doing something soooooooo many people hate:

I either a) read spoilers, or b) read the ending as soon as I’ve read enough to know I’ll want to stay with the story.

I know, I know. I can hear the screams of rage from way over here.

But here’s why I do it:

I read the story more slowly. I pay attention to all the hints and clues about what is going to be very, very important at the end. I have a better understanding about what the author cares about, how they create a path to their ‘truth’, I’m more willing to ‘go deep’.

And I enjoy the book more.

In this case, I did both.

Remember when The Sixth Sense came out? How shattering the ending was, when we finally realize the main character is dead? (I’d put a “spoiler alert” in there, but I’m assuming that, over 20 years later, we all know how the movie turns out.)

Did you know that M. Night Shyamalan put so many clues and hints into the movie, he was afraid NO ONE would be surprised by the ending?

Did you, as I did, enjoy the movie even more when viewing it the second time, and finally seeing all the clues?

‘Nuff said. I don’t know if I’ve ever changed peoples’ opinions about spoilers, and don’t care. It’s simply how *I* roll.

What I love about all her books is, there is so much amazing information and insights in each one. In this book about time travel, history achieves a new depth of interest for me. All kinds of related stories are shared: How Germany tried to bribe Mexico into siding with it agains the United States in World War I. How small incidents have created major changes in history. Even the history of mystery-writing has a place in this novel, lending even more tangible clues to the ending. (I also found at least six actual phrases of “to say nothing of the dog”. Woot!)

And any book that is so good, I actually wish that 6-hour plane trip were longer, is a keeper. (Fortunately, I had a half-hour wait for the airporter bus, and a two-hour ride home. So I did finish it!)

So no world-changing thoughts today, except hoping you aren’t angry at me for my spoiler addiction. And that you are intrigued enough to read the book and deepen your understanding of world events for the past two or three thousand years. I was!

P.S. It also inspired me to order a lot more of her books. (Why are the newest ones so effin’ expensive????)

P.P.S. And I ordered a copy of the book Three Men In A Boat (To Say Nothing Of The Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome, published in 1889. (Time aligns with the time traveler’s travel.)

P.P.P.S And while getting the link to that book, I came across the movie Three Men In A Boat ! Guess what I want for Christmas?!

 

GETTING MORE SPACE: In My Head, and In My Heart

Another solution for my final arrangements….

Part of my tagline, “Eternal student of life”, is something I don’t take lightly. It’s true.

Years ago, I asked a friend, an EMT, what the heart of their work was. Without hesitation, they replied, “People call us on the worst day of their lives.” Those words broke–and lifted!–my heart. (Thank you, Ann!!)

When I became a hospice volunteer in 2009, I dreaded when people asked what I was up to. I’d share that news. The response was usually along the lines of, “Oh, I could never do that, you are amazing” or “Oh, you must be wonderful at that!” I felt embarrassed. I shared that with my daughter (an old soul, and already working in eldercare). Why was I embarrassed, she asked.  I said, I’m intrigued with this work because I am constantly learning, gaining insights, and finding the power being present instead of focusing on “fixing”. And I enjoy that.

My daughter replied, “So….you should volunteer to do something you hate?)

Um. OH! Got it! (Thank you, Robin!)

The past few days I’ve been moving stuff from my storage unit to an add-on room in my studio. It isn’t much more $$, I’ll have 24/7 access to my supplies, and it will be literally two feet away, instead of across town.

And every carload I bring to the new space makes me realize how much stuff I have, and how much I ‘should’ move on.

I ran into a fellow artist/creative in my building, who used to work there until Covid-19. I expressed dismay they’d lost their job, and they said no, it’s wonderful because two BIG creative income streams filled the gap. I told them I was happy for them, and said, “At least you don’t have to deal with all of us folks who have way too much stuff!”

Their response was another terrific one-liner. I can’t remember the exact words they used but, it was something like, “People come to us when their lives are up-ended in some way.”

Boom! Mic drop.

I could feel my thoughts, and my heart, shift to a better place. I thanked them for their powerful words, went on my way. (Thank you, Polly!)

Sometimes, all it takes is a handful of words to get to our better selves.

And in my defense, it’s not just me who has a lot of stuff. See this vintage article I wrote for The Crafts Report (now Handmade Business) magazine back in the day:  Approaching Normal (But Never Quite Getting There

 

HOW TO BE A HERO

Yet another creative person who works at Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Ronnie Smart, who designed this signage for me when I couldn’t be in my studio for all the Art Trails hours!

And so many ways to be a creative!

Although I’m not able to be fully open both weekends of our county-wide open studio tour this month, I was able to fulfill my volunteer commitments at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, the organization that hosts it.

Volunteering is so rewarding! We can help fill in the gaps for non-profit organizations. We get to assist the very people who help us get our art out into the world. And my favorite? We get to peek behind the curtain, just like Wizard-of-Oz Dorothy did. (Er…in a good way.)

I got to meet a member of the staff I hadn’t even met before, due to the pandemic precautions.  One of them triggered a powerful memory for me.

When we lived in New Hampshire, I became a juried member of one of the oldest fine craft organizations in the country (some contend the oldest), the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. Among other events, they hosted a highly-popular nine-day fair called the LNHC Annual Craftsmen’s Fair. I served on the Fair’s steering committee for awhile, and that deepened my relationships with the League’s staff.

And one conversation simply blew my mind. Here’s that memory:

I was talking to the woman who was in charge of accounting and finances. (I don’t remember her name, but I’ll share it if I find out!(Found her! Joan Hubbard!!! And thank you to Melinda LaBarge for her detective work!) She was always patient and kind in all our interactions, and at some point, we talked about her work history.

Her income came up, and somehow, it was clear she could have chosen to do the same work at our non-profit craft org,  at a much higher salary from a corporation or for-profit company. I was curious, and asked her why she’d chosen that.

She said, “I’m not creative, but I’m in awe of people who are! So I consider my work here a way of supporting the artists and arts I love.”

Take a minute to let that sink in.

In a culture where money is the measure of our “success”, often the only measure, and where someone who is good with managing money can make a lot of money doing that…. this person gave up fortune because of her ideals. For her love of creativity. Her respect for creative people.

I thanked her, of course, and shared that story with others whenever the opportunity came up.

But I wish I could have that conversation again, today. I would take the conversation a little deeper, and perhaps have honored her life decision even more by lifting her heart.

I know now that almost every human being is creative, in their own unique way. Creativity, innovation, the desire to be part of a tribe, and to be seen as a unique individual, are all powerful human traits. If you’ve followed my blog or my email newsletter, or my past articles on Fine Art Views, you know this is a common theme for me!

My heart has opened wide to respect many, many ways people are creative:

Whatever you love to do, (whether it’s hard or challenging or easy and relaxing, earns you a living or not), if it lifts your heart, and helps you make better decisions and be a better person…

And you share it with others, with the world (whether is selling, donating for a good cause, lending, or simply sharing it on social media, etc.)…

And it lifts the hearts of others (because they love it, or makes their life better, easier, richer, or helps them physically/mentally/emotionally/spiritually)…

And makes the world a better place…

That…is creative work. 

So “art” isn’t the only form of creativity. It can be any form of making. It can be healing, teaching, creating community, mending, restoration, repair, building, care-taking, gardening, feeding, etc.

I now know this is all creative work. Even badly-done, with good intentions and a loving heart, has its place in the world. (Here’s my blog post on Regretsy and the power of awful art.)

Today, I would tell this woman this:

“The work you do for us is creative. It makes you happy that you can support our work, and it helps us soooooo much. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you do!”

But I would also go deeper. I would ask her what her creative work is. If she protested she wasn’t creative, I would dig a little deeper: What is the hobby/pastime/activity that lifts her heart? I would gently walk her through my new “rules” of creativity.

And I hope it would give her more support, more confidence, in her own superpowers.

Unfortunately, she died far too early, even before we left New Hampshire. I’ve shared her story with her daughter, and she loved it.

But I deeply regret I could not share my deeper insights at that time.

And the person I briefly met at SebArts fills the same role as this wonderful woman at the LNHC. I hope to talk with her again, soon.

In her honor, I ask you one small favor today.

If you are a “traditional creative”, you know, a “real artist”, take a step back.

Let’s not fight anymore about whether pastels are “just chalk” ( that’s what cave art is made with), or argue about whether pottery is art or craft.

Let’s look deeper at all the organizations, the small businesses, the companies, the people, who support the work of our heart, in so many ways. By sponsoring it, displaying it, promoting it, buying it, or simply letting us know how much they enjoy it.

Let’s be grateful for all the reasons we can even do our work, and all the ways we can get it out into the world.

Let’s work hard to be a force for good in the world, and honor the work so many do, so we can do our work.

ANCIENT STORIES FOR MODERN TIMES

 

Yep, it’s my birthday! And remember: Terrible things and wonderful things, always fall on SOMEONE’S birthday.

9/11 hit us hard. I received a phone call on the morning of my 49th birthday, from my father-in-law (who has since passed on.) I thought it was a “happy birthday” call, but it was a “you might want to turn on your tv and see what’s happening call.”

We spent the rest of the day in despair, without hope that things could be better. Trying to explain to our children what was happening, and why. (Didn’t do well with that.)

We went for a walk in downtown Keene. We could tell who had heard the news, and who had not. Happy, normal people had not heard. Quiet, sad people had.

Today, we are a few days’ past the conclusion of the first major response to that day, for better or worse. We can look back and point fingers. But I remember not knowing what where the right choices even were. So I can’t judge too harshly.

Here is the story I wrote on that very day. It still brings me to tears. Because it is my truth, my deepest truth. I hope it encourages you to follow the power of your choices, too.

AN ANCIENT STORY FOR MODERN TIMES

BIG MAGIC AND ME: What Elizabeth Gilbert and I Have in Common

In my last blog post, Maybe Languishing Isn’t So Bad? I shared how downtime/slow times may actually be a gift for me right now. I got many wonderful comments which will inspire some new posts. Yippee!

I was gonna get right on them. But then something happened that took priority.

Of course, I can’t find it now (!!!!) but someone mentioned Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic. (I highly recommend using Bookfinder.com to find the book at the price and in the condition you’re willing to pay for.)

Then an email newsletter featuring an interview with the author appeared in my inbox, with some quotes from the book. (If you prefer podcasts over a read, here’s an NPR radio interview with the author instead, to get a sense of what the book’s about.) Signs from the universe! I ordered a copy, and boy, am I glad I did.

First, Gilbert and I are on the same page about creativity. Her definition is wide and deep (like mine), she encourages us to make room for it somewhere in our life, whether we can earn a living at it (like I do), and whether or not we’re good at it (my creation story!) My copy of BIG MAGIC already has dozens of bookmarks with lots of exclamation points. I’m only four chapters in, and I have pages of notes.

Second, she has some unusual thoughts about where/why/how ideas find us, and her story about that is amazing. (For a short version, try this review: Ann Pratchett and Elizabeth Gilbert’s unknown collaboration. But trust me, the detailed version is jaw-dropping when it comes to its synchronicity!)

Third, we also agree that when it comes to the most important thing about our creative work, whatever it is, however it manifests itself: It’s not about having an audience, it’s atbout having a voice.

The weirdest insight? This one:

To put the story in perspective, consider this fact: The earliest evidence of recognizable human art is 40,000 years old. The earliest evidence of human agriculture, by contrast, is only 10,000 years old. Which means that somewhere in our collective evolutionary story, we decided it was way more important to make attractive, superfluous items than it was to learn how to regularly feed ourselves.

–Elizabeth Gilbert

And if we consider the fact that the world’s oldest-known human-made artifact (a shell drilled so it could be worn as a bead) is estimated at 100,000 years old, well, we have a lot of history/prehistory riding on human creativity.

And that ancient cave art, and even that shell bead, what do they signify?

A deeply-rooted desire to be part of a tribe, a community. AND to be seen as an individual in that community.

I’ll keep this one short today (NO CHEERING FROM THE BLEACHERS) because I want to address many of the other insights I got from the comments.

Yes, it’s a little bit woo-woo, and usually, I’m not into that. But I also have to admit, the synchronicity of my creative life, the little miracles that cross my path, have allowed me to at least say, “There’s a lot we just don’t know about our creative selves, and I’m okay with whatever encourages me to stay with it.” Because that’s what Gilbert does: Shares her insights, experiences, and observations that encourage us all to keep making the work that heals us.

Short story:

All humans are creatives, if we simply expand our definition and expectations of ‘creativity’.

Don’t measure it. Don’t question it. Don’t demean it. Don’t judge it.

Embrace it. Respect it. Honor it. Make room for it. Feed it.

Now git to your sacred creative space today, whether it’s a studio, a closet, a garden, a hospital, an office, or your computer.

And do/make/create/heal/edit/curate/fix/restore/grow/nourish/teach something.

Coming soon: The more practical insights into all the questions y’all asked last week!

I hope this helps you find your balance again today. If you’ve already found that place, share it in the comments. Someone else may find your experience enlightening!

If you found this helpful, and know someone else who might find it useful, share it!

And if someone shared this with you, and you found it useful, you can either follow my blog (upper right corner), or sign up for my email newsletter (at the top of my website home page) for more random (but free!) advice.

USE YOUR TURN SIGNAL! Another Life Metaphor for Drivers and Artists

My “New England Autumn” art wall.

USE YOUR TURN SIGNAL!

Keep your audience and collectors in touch with your art/life changes!

 On my kitchen wall, the wall that shows up in my Zoom meetings, is a bright red maple leaf. Not a real leaf. It’s hand-carved and painted, in wood. It joins a collection of fall landscape paintings, and like them, holds many memories of living in the Northeast/New England.  (A friend in New Hampshire told me that only three countries in the world host these amazing, colorful trees: The United States, Canada, and Japan.)

There’s a story behind this leaf. (Of course!)

It took place many, many years ago, at a huge 9-day show in New Hampshire, The League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair.

I was still pretty new to the show. Across the aisle from me was a longtime craftsman, who worked in glass. In between the previous year’s show and this one, he switched his medium-of-choice. He now made marvelous nature objects, carved from wood, and painted.

I loved his work, he loved mine, and we had several lovely chats during the show. He had a huge audience, having participated in the show for a long time, and always did well with sales.

Not this year!

His collectors and followers came to his booth. They were stunned to find a completely new body of work. And most of them left fairly quickly, without purchasing anything.

He was stunned to the point of having a panic attack near the end of the first day. (We were told at first he’d had a heart attack, which can mimic the same symptoms, but fortunately a panic attack is non-lethal!) A friend came to cover his booth, (he’s the one who filled me in on the backstory) and a few days later, the artist returned.

He was devastated, of course, and we had another lovely talk.

I told him his new work was beautiful, and in time, he would either regain his audience, or grow a new one. It wasn’t the quality of his work that was failing him. It was catching his long-time audience off-guard. He needed to give them time to adjust.

I know this phenomenon all too well! My work has never fit into anyone else’s “box”, and new work takes time to sell. (Okay, ALL my work takes time. That can get discouraging in hard times, but it has never stopped me.)

He was grateful for my encouragement and insight. The next day, he brought me my carved red maple leaf! And sure enough, even by the end of the fair, his sales were inching up. (Many were new people who were unfamiliar with his former body of work.)

How does this relate to a turn signal while driving? (You know I’ll find a way!)

One of my biggest pet peeves while driving is, when people don’t signal a turn, or a lane change, until they’re actually acting on it. Which isn’t helpful or useful for those of us trying to pass them, or when we’re approaching an intersection. We need to know what you’re going to do.

Turn signals are for letting others know our intentions. 

We need to activate that turn signal to let others know we’re going to get into their lane, or slow down to turn soon. (Yes, some people leave them on, which is also confusing. But it’s better to slow down when we don’t have to, rather than maintain our speed, not knowing what they plan to do.)

If this artist had prepared his audience, alerted them of his intentions…

If he had send out a postcard, or an email newsletter, letting them know he was switching gears/directions/media…

They would not have been so surprised when he showed up with a totally new body of work.

Instead, he caught them off-guard, unsure what to say, being disappointed the work they’d grown to love was no longer available.

In fact, he could have even staged a sell-off of his other work from his studio. (This was before the days of online shopping and artist websites.) It would have given his faithful collectors a last chance to purchase his work, and generated some excitement and interest in his new work.

Of course, in these days of social media and our intense use of email newsletters, more people can be aware of our own life lane-changes. We can use these powerful tools to keep our audience informed: New work. New media. New techniques. New studio location.

That little red wood leaf is a powerful reminder for me:

Stay in touch!

PROBLEM-SOLVING FOR CREATIVES #3: Who’s On Your Team?

20201208_131746.jpg

My next step? More artifacts!

This article was published on Fine Art Views.

PROBLEM-SOLVING FOR CREATIVES #3: Who’s On Your Team?

Don’t sell yourself short when facing new challenges!

 (5 minute read)

In last week’s Fine Art Views column, What’s the Hard Part?, I shared how trying to figure out a new project in advance has its disadvantages.  I talked about how simply starting with my best guesses helped me move forward steadily, one little step at a time.

I got inspiration from a blog post by Seth Godin, who posed this issue as a team project. But many creatives, especially artists of all kinds, don’t have a “team”. Yep, it can get lonely over here!

But even as I was thinking that, I realize we all DO have a team. It’s just not what we normally think of as a “team”.

We have skills. Creative work is just that: Creative. Making something that wasn’t in the world before we made it. It doesn’t come out of nowhere, of course. But it does come from US. Wherever we got our skills, whether or not we went to art school, or took workshops, or are self-taught, we didn’t show up in the world with those skills. We acquired them. Yes, we may be quick learners (or not), we may have innate talent (or not), but know this: Nobody is born knowing how to play the piano. We had to put ourselves out there and practice, practice, practice to get where we are today.

 We have an attitude. We found something that called to us, whether it’s painting on a canvas, writing a story, playing an instrument, etc. We may have been told we weren’t good enough, or that we couldn’t make a living at it, or a ton of other discouraging words. But we wanted it. And so we took up our creative work, pursued it with all our heart, and got those above-mentioned skills.

We make time for it. We can have tons of talent and oodles of practice. But if we don’t make time in our lives to actually do the work, well, it simply won’t be in the world. In fact, time is something that can give us our best excuse for NOT doing something that matters to us. (See “challenges” below.) In order for us to have a ‘body of work’, we had to make room for actually making it in our lives.

We chose our medium(s). This may seem like a no-brainer, but it isn’t. Some people choose their art medium because of the automatic respect they believe they’ll get from it (like oil paints over acrylic, for example.) That’s okay. But in fact, most of us choose our medium because of how it meshes with our own personal habits, quirks, and preferences. Each medium has its costs, drawbacks, and benefits, each forces us to interact differently with it. I quickly grew frustrated in my one acrylic painting class, because the paint dried too fast. I couldn’t play around with it, blend it, etc. I can’t even imagine working with watercolor! Knowing our work preferences and process helps us see our works-in-progress more clearly.

We know our materials. We know what substrates (canvas, paper, wood panels, for example) will work best with which media, and how to prepare them. We know which glue to use with what (and if we don’t, we know how to find out!) We’ve learned what color blending techniques to use, how to construct an effective color palette, what kind of clay to use in our potter, what glazes to use, how long to fire polymer clay, what our preferred method of book-binding is, etc. etc. etc.

We know our process. In my own box art path, I’ve learned that epoxy and silicon construction glues can be very useful in putting several boxes together. But they have their drawbacks, too. I used them until they didn’t work for me (e.g. in some cases, the glue bond is stronger than the old wood I’m attaching it too. Ask me how I know.) Then I had to try something else.

We have experience with solving problems. So many of us (ME!!) forget this. We’ve gotten used to success with what we’ve learned. We forget how hard it was when we started out. We forget how long it took us to master our craft. And yet (see note about playing the piano above) we got to where we are today because we persevered. Because…

We have experience with ‘challenge’. I see them on social media every day! Painting of the day. 100 Days projects. They’ve been popular work-inspirations for years, but are even more popular now. Joining them takes commitment, and a little courage, too. And it helps that we make time for them, because we’ve gotten good at that, too. (See “time” above.) And I’m amazed at the already-talented people who then share how much they learned through these challenges. They were forced out of their comfort zone, and into new territory.

We have goals and dreams. We all had dreams as children. Some of us wanted to be a fireman, some of us wanted to play sports, or music, some of us wanted to be an artist. Not all of us followed our hearts, of course, and our goals and dreams can change along the way. But even people who “fall into” their calling, have to persevere to make it happen. In my article about graduates of The Juilliard School, we can see that we only lose our dreams when we walk away from them. And most people do that because they believe they aren’t good enough, or it’s not worth all of our effort. Those who persist, have to get over that hurdle, too. Because…

We know how to believe in ourselves, and we know the power of that. Oh, sure, I know I am not “the best” polymer clay artist in the world. Every day, I see people with ten times the talent I have. That can slow me down. But it will never stop me. I have a vision in my head, I have big dreams in my heart, I have projects that are begging to be in the world. Because they are my voice in the world.

And once I got back to my place of power, finding the key that helped me to just try, I made progress. Slowly, but surely, I used what knowledge I had until I found a better solution. And I kept that up until I got something satisfying, something that I knew was going to work. (Let me show you my enormous bracket-and-screws collection….!!)

So the next time you feel like you’ve hit a wall, like you’ve got a creative problem you just can’t figure out, think about what’s worked for you along the way.

 Social media marketing is a biggie and will be as long as our “new normal” is in place. Some of the most talented creatives I know are in a frantic limbo with Facebook, Instagram, newsletters, etc. They are overwhelmed, feel under-prepared, and are freaking out.

My advice for you today: You didn’t get to where you are today by chance, by accident, or through lack of skills.

You got to where you are by not giving up, by moving forward, one small step at a time.

 And because your ‘team’ has been with you, every step of the way.

Next week, I’ll share another powerful member of your team. Stay tuned! Until then, know that your comments are always welcome, often insightful, and sometimes inspirational, too! Shares, the same. Questions, I’ll do my best! You can find more of my articles at Fine Art Views, and/or visit/subscribe to them at my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

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.

Your 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.

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