by Luann Udell on 9/23/2017 4:34:27 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.
Nick has taught me to get better at asking for what I want…
Sometimes it’s hard to know what we really want.
Oh, we may think we know! But do we really? When we say, “I want to be a successful artist!” just what do we mean by that?
Successful like Thomas Kinkade successful? Yes, he is one of the best-known artists of our time. But his work was kitsch, (and he knew it) and he died of an overdose of alcohol and Valium. Successful like Vincent Van Gogh successful? He never actually sold a painting (okay, well, maybe one), but now his work is worth millions, millions of people know who he is, and his work is considered stellar. Unfortunately, he’s also been dead for over a hundred years, so he never knew what success felt like.
How about the Piss Christ artist? Everyone knows his work, too.
“Okay, so not that kind of successful. I just want to sell more work!”
How much more work? Enough to buy a house? Put food on the table? Or enough to break even with your expenses?
When I try to say, or write, exactly what I want for my art, it gets tricky. Am I being too vague? Too specific? What would really give me joy?
I’ve noticed it’s not just me who feels this way. I’ve asked other people. They have difficulty asking for what they want, let alone knowing what they want. And like me, they ask for the moon (“I want to make a jillion dollars!” or not much (“I just want to pay for my expenses!”)
I’m now thinking that in order to KNOW what we want, we have to get better at ASKING for it. Because this is what happened with my dog, Nick.
So, a little backstory here. Nick was one of our rescue pups, puppies from the Turks and Caicoes we fostered and placed in wonderful homes over five years in New Hampshire. (Long story for another time. Or maybe a new series…?? Hmmmm.) I would meet tourists returning from vacations to these beautiful islands, at the airport, where they had brought back a puppy or two, courtesy of the TCSPCA. The pups were in excellent health, with all their vaccinations, and allowed in the cabin in a carry-on bag. There are too many dogs in the Caribbean isles with no homes, while New England, thanks to successful spay-and-neuter programs, have a dearth of puppies.
Nick wasn’t one of our rescues. He was a ‘failed adoption’ from another volunteer in Boston who did the same work. The new owner said her older dog ‘had issues’ with the pup, and so the volunteer asked if I could help. I said I would, and picked him up.
Nick was 5 months when he came to us, and we quickly realized there were other issues with HIM. Of all our fosters, Nick had ALL of the difficult growing pains most puppies have: Not housebroken, a chewer, a barfy pup, nudgy (constantly poking for attention) and a submissive pee-er. We weren’t able to place him for several months. Then I had surgery, and was unable to look for another home for him.
Nick, 5 months, trying very, very hard to be good. Succeeding only intermittently.
By the time I’d recovered, he’d been with us five months, and was officially ‘our dog’.
Nick is seven years old now, and is still a little problematic. A year ago, I realized my husband and I were part of the problem. We were both constantly annoyed at his bad habits, and Jon still does not consider him ‘our’ dog. We didn’t choose him. We were left holding the bag.
That’s not a good attitude with any parenting/foster situation, kids or critters. How does a dog fare in such an atmosphere?? They certainly know our hearts—they’ve been with us since the dawn of time: https://luannudell.wordpress.com/tag/potcake/
I finally realized Nick knew he was not loved fully, and I vowed to change that. I looked for the good things about him, and opened my heart to him. He’s much better now!
The biggest change came with the new house we moved into last spring. We live on one floor now. It’s extremely easy to let the dogs in and out to the backyard.
Soon I realized NICK lets me know when he has to go outside. That’s what the wet nose nudging was about!
So whenever Nick started to nudge me, I would ask, “Do you want to go outside?” His entire body, from ears to tale, goes full attention mode. “Yes! Yes! I do ever so want to go outside!!”
Within a few weeks of this, this paying attention to his signals, I noticed something amazing: Nick would ‘ask’ to go outside when our other, older dog, Tuck, wanted to go outside! (Tuck never asks, he just suffers in silence until we remember to let him out.) Nick is asking on behalf of TUCK!
Nick continues to get better at asking. In the last few months, he’s evolved from a) asking to go outside; to b) asking if TUCK can go outside; to c) asking if he can have dinner early (sitting by the dog food container with wistful eyes; d) asking if he can lick the bacon grease from the frying pan (sitting by the stove with wistful glances at the pan); and now e) asking for an ear scratch.
Nick asking for bacon grease.
In fact, now when Nick nudges me, I stand up and say, “What do you want?” And then he shows me. Every. Single. Time.
What’s the difference? Nick has discovered he can ask—and get an answer. A response. A gasp of amazement—“You’re asking for Tuck’s sake?! Cool!” A chuckle—“Nope, no bacon grease for you.” And an ear scratch.
Within a few months, Nick has gotten very, very good at asking for what he wants. And in doing so, he’s reminded me that I can do the same.
When we are encouraged at asking for what we want, we get better at it. And we get better at knowing what we really want.
We get better at knowing if we get it, too.
I’m going to think deeply for the next few days: “What is it that I want?”
I’m going to write about it, too. Because for me, writing lets unexpected insights pop up out of nowhere. Let’s see what comes of that.
How do YOU figure out what YOU want? Let me know your process.
And if you’re vaguely unhappy, or disappointed, or even just temporarily at loose ends about your personal, professional, emotional, and spiritual goals right now, pretend there’s someone or something out there that cares, no matter what your spiritual beliefs or practices.
Go big. Get small. Be precise. It doesn’t matter.
Just practice, and see what happens. It worked for Nick!
Er…Would you like me to scratch your ears?
Recently I accompanied my mom to visit two of her good friends in a nursing home, one of whom I wrote about yesterday.
I could tell Mom felt a little awkward. One woman was napping in her chair. “Don’t wake her!” mom exclaimed. (Okay, whispered. Exclaiming would have awakened her fried.) She wanted to leave immediately. Unfortunately, Robin sat on her bed and set off an alarm. Erna awakened, and fortunately, was happy to see us.
At first, with both there was a lot of cheerful chatter. Mostly the old stories told and retold. When the stories ran out, Mom wanted to leave.
I have vivid memories of my dad doing the same, years and years ago. There was an older woman, who grew up in Scotland, who worked for my dad in our family restaurant. She retired; soon after, she was confined to a wheelchair and eventually moved into a nursing home. She had no family here in the U.S. except for her son, who rarely visited her. I remember “making the rounds” every Sunday after church–out to the nursing home in the country to visit Bessie, back to town to visit my grandparents, and then maybe back to the “store” for an ice cream cone.
Bessie adored my father, and was always happy to see us. Dad would chat about ordinary things–the restaurant, our doings and comings and goings. I remember him bringing her flowers from our garden.
But sometimes, especially near the end of our visit, she would cry and beg Dad to get her out of there. As time went on, and she became more frail, this happened more and more, until every parting drew tears.
I remember standing there, embarrassed, wordless, having no idea what to do. I would look at my Dad. What would he do? How would he handle this?
Well, my dad would get embarrassed, too. He would weakly try to reassure her that everything was alright, and we’d all make a fast dash for the door.
In my later years, I pretty much kept up the family tradition. I felt awkward visiting folks in such places, even hospitals. I would agonize over what to bring. Flowers? Candy? Can they have candy?? A book? Maybe they’ve already read it…. I would fill the room with cheerful chatting, clumsily reassure them when things go tearful, and beat a hasty retreat.
I’m still not the soul of compassion, but I try to do better now. Because I know better.
The old rules of how to behave are gone. The circumstances have changed, and so must our patterns.
I try to see what is needed, and what is wanted. I listen. I observe. I touch.
People who have been in such places a long time have different needs. No, I take that back–they have the same needs. But we have to fill them differently.
Relax and be present.
It’s okay to be with them as they sleep. Sleep is important, yes. Especially near the end of life, deep work takes place during sleep. And it’s still rude to awaken someone suddenly, especially with shaking and loud voices. But perhaps you can sit quietly by them, gently taking their hand. Many times they will sense your presence, and awaken gently. If not, be assured they still sense you on some deep level. Even 20 minutes simply sitting quietly, and holding their hand, can be deeply reassuring.
However, don’t stare at them. Waking up to someone watching you sleep can be icky. Sometimes I just take those moments to think, or daydream. But it’s okay to bring a book if it’s hard to sit quietly.
Taking their hand can seem awkward and forward. When have we ever held hands with our friends, or our family, after we’re five? But people need the touch of human hands, now more than ever. It may be years since someone has hugged them, or stroked their hair, or simply held their hand.
No need to envelop them in a bear hug! I start by nonchalantly taking up their hand and cupping it gently. If someone does not want to be touched, then they will withdraw their hand. But if they welcome it, they will not. They may even clasp your hand tighter.
My friend Bonnie Blandford taught me the “hospice hug“. Instead of our quick little social hugs, it’s simply a longer hug where you let the other person choose when to stop. In fact, if they pull back after a few seconds out of habit, try holding gently for another few seconds. You’ll be surprised how many people will relax and hang on for dear life. I did this with a friend recently who had suffered a dreadful loss. When she realized she could have a long hug, she melted into my arms, and began to sob. Yep, some guys in the group got nervous, and began to make jokes about lesbians. I ignored them all. My friend had lost a new grandchild. She needed a deep hug.
Sometimes people want to be entertained with light chatter and news of the outside world. But sometimes they are scared, or anxious, or lonely. They yearn for richer connection. If they are scared, don’t pooh-pooh their fears. What are they afraid of? What’s making them anxious? You don’t need to fix their problems. But we all appreciate someone who listens to them!
By the way, Erna had trouble speaking and forming words. My mom assumed she was “out of it.” By sitting closer and listening carefully, it became obvious that Erna was actually quite aware and responding appropriately to everything we said. She just needed more time to respond.
I’m not so nervous about people crying now. I just keep the Kleenix coming until they’re done.
As they talk with you, listen deeply. Watch “the light”. Note where they are making light of something that actually pains them. Observe the topics that make them light up with joy. For one of Mom’s friends, it was a passing comment about our dogs. She asked, “What kind of dog?” We told her. I asked her if she’d ever had a dog. Her face lit up. “Oh, yes!” She told us several stories, and then got to the one that was painful–the family dog hit by a car, and how terrible it was. The pain, the suffering, the family’s anguish. All these years later, and it was still hard. On impulse, I told her a quick version of the delightful movie, Dean Spanley*. A dog who is killed suddenly, describes it as something he didn’t understand. His former master asks if he suffered. No…no…. There was no pain. It was time to go home. How did he get there? He simply turned towards home, and went there. When asked how he knew where home was, he said, “One just knows. So you turn that way, and go there.” Erna smiled sweetly and sighed.
BE A WITNESS
Tell them about the gifts they’ve given you–the gift of their friendship, their kindnesses, their thoughtfulness. If they were feisty friends, tell them how much you admire their courage to be themselves. Though I didn’t know either woman, I knew my mother treasured their friendships, and said so. To Frannie, who changed her dress on her daughter’s wedding day, I said, “That was such a gift you gave your daughter!”
Ask questions, especially if you don’t know them well. Don’t interrogate–it’s not a fact-finding mission. Just show interest in what they have to say, how they lived their lives, what gives them joy. When they tell you hard things, say, “That must have been hard” and let them tell you more. When they tell you beautiful things, ask them what their favorite part was. Let them tell their stories.
When I do hospice visits, I take books. I take one for me to read to myself and one to read aloud–a book of poetry, or short stories, or novels where individual chapters can stand alone. If the person is religious or spiritual, I’ll bring a book of prayers or blessings. I’ve found that we never lose the desire to be read to, provided the person is up for it. It’s a way to take a break from conversation, a way for them to simply listen, even a way to ease them into sleep. My daughter loves the scene in the movie WIT, where the main character (who is dying) accepts her old teacher’s offer to read to her. John Donne gets voted down, but it turns out the children’s book The Runaway Bunny is beautifully appropriate.
It’s okay to be thankful it’s not you lying there in the nursing home. They know you feel that way. And it’s okay. You’re not a bad person. Just human. And they know that, too.
There’s more, but I forgot.
This is just quick overview of how to make such visits easier, deeper and fun. I would LOVE to hear your suggestions, too.
How did I get so smart? Listening to my daughter speak of her experiences working in such institutions–nursing homes, assisted living units, rehab wards. And my hospice training, which was rich with insights and practical advice.
*Dean Spanley is my new favorite movie. It starts slow and quiet, fueled by odd and cantankerous British humor, with the most incredibly beautiful and poignant ending. WATCH IT TO THE END!! I fell asleep halfway through the first time I watched it. Fortunately, I made myself watch it again. STAY AWAKE, or watch it twice, and I think you’ll find yourself deeply touched by its message. If you love dogs, you’ll find it triply delightful. But you don’t have to be an animal lover to appreciate its message.
If I had to choose one word that describes the last year of my life, it would be “change”.
At first I thought it was “transition”. My daughter transitioning from “single” to “engaged” and then “endangered” and now “safe.” Even “happy”. My marriage transitioning from “good” to “awful” to “problematic” to….well, “transitioning”. With glimmers of “hope” and “even better”. (I hate picking just one word.) My son from “independent” to “nearly died” and now “healing”. Oh, and even better, “OMG, has a girlfriend”. (See? I needed four words to say that.) My health transitioned from “pain” to “painfree”. My art/business from “stalled” to “energized”, my cash flow from “steady” to “nada”, but now “increasing”.
But then I realized transition is just another word for “change”. And frankly, change sucks.
Change is hard. Even when good things come of it, it’s still hard. You just get things figured out, you just find a way to get through life smoothly, everything is in its place and that’s that. And then the applecart gets upset. And you have to start all over again.
A reader posted this comment on my blog a few days ago:
I have always been fascinated by loss and “the breakdown before the breakthrough.” as it is called in certain circles.
The breakdown before the breakthrough…. That just about sums it up.
It seems I still have to learn these same lessons over and over again. So many times, the things that seem awful, or stupid, or thoughtless, are still based on good intentions. We have to learn not to assume, but to check out our assumptions.
Sometimes the things that seem problematic, turn out to be the best possible solution after all.
Sometimes, that solution is right under your nose. You just can’t see it til you’ve run through all the other possibilities. And you run through all those possibilities, considering this one, objecting to that one, despairing and lost, until your brain finally goes, “Oh. OH! Yeah, that’ll work!” And sometimes it takes a second person (oddly, who’s also the person you’re arguing with) to see the simple solution.
Sometimes you have to clear the deck (or it gets cleared FOR you) in order for something else, something better, something wonderful to get through.
Changes in marriage suck. But marriages aren’t static. They evolve. They grow. they change. Sometimes things get hard. But sometimes, they get easier, too.
Changing how many dogs are in the house is hard. The idea of managing four dogs for a few weeks seemed insurmountable. And now we find four dogs are actually easier to deal with than just one bored dog. (He’s way too busy to chew our furniture this week!)
Sometimes we lose something we think we can’t live without. And if we’re lucky, we find something even better to replace it.
So I’m sitting here writing this on a Friday morning. Today looked so awful from yesterday’s viewpoint.
And it looks so different now.
Yep. Someday I’ll be able to handle change a little bit better (I hope.) And life will truly be just a dream.
But in the meantime, I’m so grateful I have a way to think these things through–by writing in my journal. By writing a blog post. By arguing with a man who loves me better than anyone has ever loved me. Even if he does suck at negotiating sometimes.
Because he’s learning to deal with change, too, right along with me.
Change. It sucks. But then, the really good things in life are always worth a little extra effort. Or even a lot.
So often, the breakdown is never something we would willingly choose.
But the breakthrough is the blessedly shiny reward that makes it all bearable in the end.
When your life is full of poop, it’s time to stop and smell the roses.
We had a rough week. Nothing serious, nothing even very exciting. Just one of those times where you feel out of it and out of synch. You feel your battery draining instead of charging, and your feet drag for no good reason.
We also picked up two more Potcake puppies from Logan Airport in Boston. And for the next two days, I was frantically thinking, “What have I done??!!”
The pups seemed overly shy and anxious. To make it worse, they’re BIG. Much bigger than any pups we’ve fostered. And heavy. It’s hard to keep up with two puppies to begin with, let alone two you have to chase, and hoist with a big ‘oof!’ and even then, I could only hold one at a time. Twice as hard to manage.
I complained loudly to anyone who would listen. The woman at the rescue operation on the islands they came from; the shelter contact we’ll be delivering the pups to soon; my husband. And myself, in a running chattering dialog of “What-was-I-thinking-I-can’t-do-this-these-pups-are-awful-who-knew-such-a-small-critter-could-hold-so-much-poop-dammit-get-back-here-oh-my-back-OMG-he’s-peeing-AGAIN-help-help-HELP!!!!”
Having kids was like this. And starting my art career. And doing my first show. Come to think of it, doing all my shows. Learning how to shoot my own photos for my online shop. Teaching my first workshop for artists. Teaching my first grief writing workshop.
Everything that’s worth doing comes with some dog doo.
Two days later, the pups have calmed down. They’re on a schedule of eating/outside to eliminate/play/sleep. Rinse and repeat.
My sanity returned. Time for damage control!
I wrote a contrite letter of apology to my island contact and another to my local shelter contact for my overreaction. I eased up with the pups. I made peace with my husband.
I realized the gift these puppies are to me.
They’ve traveled a long way from home, through scary airports with complete strangers, without food, in tiny carry-on bags. They arrive to a place with snow (yes, we had snow on Easter Sunday!) and a suspicious older dog and a houseful of grumpy teens and adults.
If that were me I’m not sure I would have been on my best behavior, either.
Marriage, kids, puppies, and yes, art, come into our lives with much romance and excitement. Eventually this is overshadowed by the sheer drudgery and weight of custodial care. You and your spouse have to agree on who’s turn it is to do dishes, and who gets to go into their office and shut the door for a few hours. Kids need custodial care the first few years, and emotional care forever. Pups and kittens sometimes seem to be a conduit of poop from another dimension. (Well. Human infants, too.) With art and career and writing come days of discouragement, missed deadlines, disgruntled gallery owners, difficult customers, sagging sales.
When everything goes wrong, we’re very quick to complain. We want to bail. We wonder if we made the right choices. And is a quickie Mexican divorce really that simple and inexpensive?
When I feel this way, I know it’s time to stop. Breathe. And think about what has to change.
Sometimes we really have barked up the wrong tree. (Dog pun. Sorry!) If everything about what we’re doing is draining our battery and never recharges, then maybe it’s time to consider a new direction.
Maybe we need to change our way of doing things. What’s worked for us in the past may need to be tweaked now. With teens, we learn to choose our battles. At shows, we find ways to streamline our set-up. With big puppies, more structure and containment is necessary.
Sometimes we just need to see beyond the poop for a moment. We need to stop and smell the roses. We must remember that the most fragrant and beautiful roses–antique roses–come with plenty of thorns. When the thorns prick us, that’s the time to slow down. And sniff.
Caring for these puppies transports me to the days when my children were young. It was a lot of work, but there was even more joy. Like children, these pups come into this world with a powerful need to be loved, and the desire to love in return. Both of these young ones will do almost anything to get that love. They learn to control their bowels and bladders (though it can feel like an eternity, as my teacher sister says, “They’re always potty trained by kindergarten.”) They learn not to chew on your favorite shoes, or use them for a Barbie bathtub.
In return, they teach you that it’s never a waste of time to sit quietly in the sun on a warm spring day, watching young things gambol and cavort in the new green grass.
They teach you that there is nothing quite so wonderful as a good belly laugh–from them, or from you. (And I swear those pups are laughing.)
They teach you that when you hold them in your arms, and they gaze at your with perfect knowledge they are safe and sound, and profoundly loved, there is no better balm in the world for a troubled heart.
So I’m grateful for the gift of these puppies today. They’re beautiful dogs, full of joy and hope, ready for their forever homes. They’ve given me peace in my heart. They’ve reminded me of what it means to be alive, to be in the world, with all its joy and beauty.
And all the poo that comes with it, of course.
Aren’t you glad I didn’t say you had to learn to love the smell of poo?
P.S. Jack and Gillie will soon be on their way to the Monadnock Humane Society in Swanzey, NH soon. Help spread the word!
When I published the PUPPIES article, people asked me what “torch wipes” were.
I had no idea. Googling didn’t turn much up at the time.
But I kept thinking about it. Gentle readers, I am nothing if not concerned about you getting answers to all your questions.
Well, I just found out what torch wipes are.
I found this wonderful article by Elizabeth Dodd, director of the creative writing program at Kansas State University.
Ms. Dodd was fortunate enough to be invited to actually visit the cave of Chauvet in France. I envy her with all my heart. In a good way.
…At some point in time, other visitors to the cave marked their way with torch wipes, rubbing the burning surface to knock off ash and renew the flame—and perhaps if the way was unknown to them, to leave signs of the route back up and out….
So there you have it, folks. Torch wipes. Who knew??!!
And what will I do with that envy?
I will put it to good use.
I’m thinking it’s time for another trip to France, to visit the caves I can. I found other sites in Germany, sites that were the home of wonderful artifacts (including the oldest horse artifact ever discovered) that might be open to the public.
If anyone knows someone in the “cave art biz” (is there such a thing??) or someone who can pull strings in the French or German government, start pulling for me now!
I just realized I never republished my article “Puppies” that I wrote for The Crafts Report. And I already have a P.S. to add to the article! So….here it is.
It’s been a typical wild and crazy month, craft biz-wise. Someone filmed a video of me and my work; I was artist of the month at a local gallery; I had my first trunk show, I had some great sales off my web site.
All exciting stuff. But not funny.
“Write about the puppies,” my husband said.
The last few weeks we were foster parents for two rescue puppies—street dogs, or “Potcakes” from the Turks and Caicos islands in the Caribbean, where we got our own puppy, our first dog, last year. Tuck adored the wee visitors and played with them constantly.
Yesterday we found the puppies’ forever home, a little family that is the perfect fit. We said goodbye to our little wards last evening. We woke up today to our first morning sans puppies. We all feel a little sad. Tuck sits with his head in my lap, gazing woefully at me. A line from the song “Puppies” by the Incredible String Band wanders through my head….”Hey, hey, the puppies, they are gone. Left me here, holding this song….”
“I can’t write about puppies!” I exclaimed. “They have nothing to do with my craft biz.
Jon just smiled and said again, “Write about the puppies.”
I’ve always resisted doing “any old animal” in my art, despite many customer requests. And I get requests all the time. “Do you do dolphins?” “Can you make a turtle?” Resulting in my favorite cheerful yet gentle response to one inquiry, “Sorry, there were no kitties in the Lascaux cave.” (Interestingly, this remark also appeared in the video, as a shot of a page from one of my countless journals…)
But having a dog has changed my life, no doubt about it. And the presence of this intelligent, highly intuitive, mischievous creature in our home has me wondering…. What is the “Ancient Contract”? And just how long have dogs been with us humans??
The old answer, 10,000 to 11,000 years, was based on actual dog remains in burial mounds. So, after Lascaux. But DNA studies now suggest the break of dogs from wolves started earlier, up to 100,000 years ago, perhaps the result of changes in behavior and diet. Marks of a human hand? Perhaps. And new evidence found in older European caves indicate the dog domestication process surely began as long ago as 30,000 years.
And to clinch it, here are the words that grabbed my heart today:
“…ancient, 26,000-year-old footprints made by a child and a dog (discovered) at Chauvet Cave, France…(Evidence from) torch wipes accompanying the prints indicate the child held a torch while navigating the dark corridors accompanied by a dog.”
The words of my own artist statement echoing back to me: “Born by the flickering light of torches….”
So I’m writing about the puppies today.
After all, just as I can’t live my life without making room for my art, I cannot make my art without my life spilling into it, either. Just as my art informs my life, my life—with children, with silly pets, with the lessons I’ve learned from climbing, and martial arts, with chickens and yes, puppies, informs my art.
I suspect there is a dog artifact wending its way in the days ahead into my art. I know I will use my art in some way to support the Potcake rescue foundation: A fundraiser with my jewelry, perhaps some artwork to sell in their shop.
And here I am, writing about the puppies.
How did Jon get so smart?
And if he’s so smart, how come he can’t remember to wash the outside of the coffee mugs?
I know something of the puppies will remain with me, always. I know because I just found a last memento of our time with these little creatures….
A big pile of puppy poop in my studio.