STORMY WEATHER (A Wayback Friday)

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

Enjoy!

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

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

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

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

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

The Artist

I came to this country

in a year with no real numbers.

I wore my fur hat with pride.

I may have lost my teeth,

but never my dignity.

I have visitors here sometimes,

but they don’t come by

as often as they used to.

So I sit here, sketching

kaleidoscopic Russian princesses

with noble features and

holy backgrounds.

I paint red, for the Revolution.

And I use dead glass

to represent my own mind.

I walk in the cemetery,

feeding to squirrels the nuts

I can’t chew.

I write on the walls, and

they have threatened to paint over them,

but I know they won’t.

Everything I am, and ever have been

is on those walls.

Especially the shards of

glass.

By Robin Udell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above all, indomitable spirit.

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

A Tale of Two Shadowboxes

More thoughts on “perfection”….

I created this shadowbox a year or so after we moved to California:

This is the original version. Shrine Series: Bear Clan

Then last year, I made some changes, adding another ‘base’, removing the lower bear and adding fish.

Yesterday, I decided it would be the work I bring to Corrick’s Stationery, Gallery, and Gifts on 4th Street in Santa Rosa CA for their upcoming preview exhibit for Sebastopol Center for the Arts‘ combined Virtual Open Studio events in October.

But it needed something. So I spent the day adding tiny bits of sanded and plished driftwood, and…an otter!

And this is the version after two updates, the last of which was YESTERDAY.  Now it’s called Shrine Series: Bear Clan   Shaman’s Song of the River

It’s not that the first version wasn’t good enough. Nor the second. I liked them both!

But sometimes, one of my pieces just keeps ‘growing.”

It’s also part of my story.

I started with a big quilt, then moved to baby quilts. Then quilts for my kids’ dolls and toy animals. Then they became wall pieces, then wall hangings, and now including framed fiber collages.

My aesthetic was always ‘time-worn’, influenced by Amish quilts (reusing/repurposing pieces of worn-out clothing for the quilt squares) and Japanest scroll paintings (which, when damaged by time, were carefully remounted on new silk backgrounds.) Then wabi sabi, the acceptance–and new beauty–to be found in the worn and broken. The knowledge that, in ancient times, every effort was made to repair, emake, reuse, repurpose whatever took a lot of effort to create.

So every time I remake/repair/add on something to an older piece, it’s actually part of my process and aesthetic.

It only stops when it goes to YOUR home.

Unless, of course, your rabbit nibbles the edges, or your dog breaks your necklace, or your cat knocks my sculpture off your piano. (All of these are true!)

And then I come to the rescue, again. Grateful that these re-do’s and repairs are inherent in all the work I do.

Happy to be able to restore your broken and damaged work, so they can continue to give you years of joy.

Also curious… Which one do YOU like better?

 

 

LEARNING TO SEE #5: This Is Us

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

LEARNING TO SEE #5: This Is Us

Sometimes dark times help us see the light within.

(7 minute read)

 

It’s a dreary day today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the gift of being an artist today:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE NEW NORMAL And the Power of Our Choices

When things change, we get a chance to consider what's really important.
When things change, we get a chance to consider what’s really important.

THE NEW NORMAL And the Power of Our Choices

When things change, we get a chance to consider what’s really important.

Part of me doesn’t want to write about our “new normal”.

My email inbox has about three items that aren’t about COVID-19, and not much is useful or helpful. Part of me doesn’t even want to use that new word in a sentence.

Part of me wishes we could go back a month and start over. Part of me wishes the next six months were over, and we get back to the “old normal”.

Part of me also thinks I’m the only one who’s thinking this. Ha!

And yet, so much of my daily life is pretty much the same. My partner and I have worked out of our home for decades. Video conferences are a staple for him. Friendships have grown by phone calls. We’ve always been “loners” out of necessity, partly because we moved so much when we were younger, and partly because of our last major move across the country five years ago.

So what’s hard about that now?

Because someone said we had to.

It feels childish, and that’s because it is. On one hand, it can feel positive because now we know what the right thing to do is. OTOH, not many of us are comfortable feeling we have no choice.

And that can make us feel powerless.

What is the source of “power” for me?

Changing a mental attitude. Embracing a new “normal”. Choosing. Acceptance.

Finding new ways to do things.

Here are some choices that I’ve found helpful:

Stepping away from the “news” firehose.

From the remark, “trying to sip from a firehose”, where there is so much water coming out, sipping = drowning. There’s a healthy balance between getting important updates and facts, and immersing ourselves in “knowledge” that sucks up valuable time. We need to know newest developments, of course. But do we need to check those every half hour? Nope. I wasn’t even aware I was doing this until a friend emailed me yesterday. They are busier more than ever with work, since the format shifted to online consultations with clients (which they already know how to do.) But it’s even harder to make room for their creative work because they’re constantly checking their news feed. Their admitting it shined a little light on my own behavior.

Why do we do this? Because a) it feels like we’re doing something productive, and b) it’s a way to manage our fear and uncertainty. OH, and c) it helps us feel less alone. All of these things are good things in moderation. As a “new normal”, not so much.

Making a conscious decision to only read reliable news sources for useful updates can help. (Won’t fix it, of course, THANK YOU LIZARD BRAIN, but it helps.)

Actively thinking about what works for us, and what doesn’t. I can’t do production work at home, because my own workspace here is half the kitchen table (since a family member moved out here with us last year, I lost/gave up my home studio. See how I reframed that?!) I have an elderly cat who insists I focus on her by methodically knocking every thing off the table. Every minute. All day. (Yes, I’ve tried all kinds of work-arounds, but a spray bottle of water works best.) Fortunately, my off-site studio is structured so I can shelter in place there, too. Another artist friend’s studio doesn’t work that way, but they’ve carved out a creative space at home. We can all explore ways to carve out a tiny creative space if our studios are off-limits and our schedules are upended.

Realizing I can still go to my studio, with the proper precautions, has helped stabilize my routine.

Instead of looking for people to blame, look for the helpers. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”  – Fred Rogers

Reading about bad behavior and selfishness feels good, because it helps us feel “better than” those folks who don’t “get it”. We forget that we are all hard-wired to behave badly at times, and that other people may have fewer choices to deal with the crazy. My own shortcoming?

Hating people who cry about having to “shelter in place” in their multi-million dollar mansions. Until I realize if they are that unhappy, then I am truly blessed to be completely happy in our less-than-900 s.f. home that shelters three people, 3 cats and a dog. (Even if my writing desk is half the kitchen table!)//////  (And those dashes are where my cat just tried to walk across my keyboard again.)

Instead, I love reading about the helpers, the people who realize they have something other people don’t: The ability to sew face masks for the rest of us. Time to run errands for others. The person who tipped a delivery driver with money, and a roll of toilet paper. (My cat is trying to knock over the squirt bottle.)

Because these people embody my last suggestion:

Focus on what we CAN do, instead of what we CAN’T. A few major art events (open studios, opening receptions, etc.) have already been cancelled, and I’m surprised at my feelings – relief! I added an extra one this year, a big one. I was beginning to feel a little pressured.

And now I have plenty of time to update my Etsy shop, order supplies for that new jewelry line I’ve been working on (Ooooooh!! Online shopping!!! YES!!!). When I’m at the studio, I focus on making over cleaning and organizing.

My husband and I were complaining about having to be home so much, until we both realized it was only because we have to. Remove that thinking, replace it with “want to”, and there’s our “old normal” back. Simply reframing how we think about it took some pressure off. (Not useful if your kids are young enough to be home from school, too, but again, another tiny blessing I hadn’t thought of before!)

My partner and I made some stupid choices before we “knew better”. (I didn’t think the situation was that serious, until I had more facts.)

Now we know better – and we do better.

And the side effects! Air pollution has dramatically shrunk since the pandemic. People have new appreciation for open spaces and parks (although we also blew those outlets when too many people thronged to the coast and state/national parks last weekend.) Maybe we’ll care more about protecting them, going forward. Realizing what we do have, that others don’t, gives us a chance to be more compassionate, and caring. Health care workers, first responders, teachers, delivery people, all have gained even more respect.

In the end, it all boils down to the power of our choices. Not just our physical ones, but our emotional/spiritual/mental ones, too.

As artists, our role is a powerful one, and will continue to be, sales or no sales. We have always dealt with uncertainty, our markets plummet at the first sign of “danger”, and when society is darkest, art is a tremendous solace to many. Not just our art, but the creative work of all. It’s what restores us to our highest, best self, and it’s what gives moments of beauty and joy to others.

What is one positive change or insight you’ve had recently? What has lifted your heart in these scary times? What gives you hope?

And how can you share it with others? Start here, and pay it forward, today!

STILL HERE

It’s been two days since we said goodbye to our dog, Tuck.

Tuck was in care several times since our move to Santa Rosa. So Tuck being absent for a few days hasn’t worried our other dog, Nick.

I know dogs can’t understand human speech, but last night, I sat with him and told him Tuck wasn’t coming home. He gave no sign anything was out of the ordinary, though. Just gazed at me with his I-yam-still-a-puppy eyes.

In the comments in my last post on Facebook about Tuck, Jon posted a video we took of Tuck, howling when he hears a siren. He would do it once, and that’s it. We would laugh and laugh. It was a low, mournful song, very drawn out. We loved it.

He never did it out here. I don’t know if his hearing was worse, or if the emergency sirens are at different frequencies.

And Nick never howls. Ever. In eight years, he has never howled at anything.
This morning, Jon was replaying a recording of a siren we sometimes played for Tuck.

And Nick howled!

Higher-pitched. Shorter. But still…..definitely howling to the siren.

He did it twice, but refused to do it for the camera.

We laughed with the first joy we’ve felt in days.

It’s like….either Nick feels there is a fill the gap in our lives that he can maybe fill. Maybe he knows that was Tuck’s “job”, and wants to let Tuck know he’s gotta get back here to do it.

Or maybe someone/something is telling him to let us know Tuck is still here, in our hearts, and in Nick’s.

I remember my animal stories:

Dog tells me, “I will always walk at your side. You need never be alone.”

ALL DOG STORIES

All dog stories begin with laughter, and end with tears.

Today, we had our dog Tuck put down.

We adopted him on our last family vacation, to the Turks and Caicoes islands, over ten years ago.

We’d been looking for a dog to go running with Jon. When we landed on the main island, I picked up an island magazine to read at our hotel. In it, we found an article about a rescue group, the TCSPCA, that rescued potcakes, the island name for the village dogs that were pets, then dumped, then feral, then rescued, a common cycle for village dogs around the world.

Unfortunately, when we visited the shelter, it only had very sick dogs and puppies, as there were no facilities for all the rescues. They were all in foster care, in private homes!

While we browsed the gift shop, hoping to contribute to their efforts, the manager quietly called a foster mom. Soon, a van turned into the parking lot, and three adults and four potcake puppies tumbled out of the van.

Tuck was one of four puppies left, of eight born to a female potcake, rescued by a British family, when they took in the abandoned mother. The other four had already been adopted, and these four were left.

For the rest of the week, we test-ran puppies (literally!) to see who would jog with Jon. We loved them all, but fell in love with three. Then our first choice was adopted, and another, and we were left with our second choice, Tuck. So we brought Tuck, our second choice, and his sister back to the United States with us.

He then proceeded to change our lives.

Potcakes are an anxious breed, and they can take awhile to fully house-train. And this being our first dog, we were amazed at what they considered edible. Our most frequent phrase those early years was, “I didn’t know they ate things like that” and “Eeeeuuuww!!!”

He loved to lie on the sofa with us, and of course, he slept with us on our bed, until he got too big. And until we took in Nick, who was even bigger.

We were fortunate to have a big house and a big backyard. We lived within minutes of river trails and reservoirs with open areas, perfect for a dog to run free. I can still remember Tuck and Nick (a later island rescue) racing through high drifts of snow, plowing through snowbanks like furry snowmobiles. They loved snow, and sunshine, but hated water. Island dogs! Go figure.

When Tuck was young, he was very good with other dogs, including the dozens of potcake puppies we received over the next five years, as other returning island visitors carried adoptable puppies back with them. We would meet them at the airport and place the puppies in wonderful homes, for our remaining five years in New Hampshire.

He grew from a sweet awkward puppy into a beautiful, elegant, graceful dog. A friend’s mother remarked that he was “a noble dog”, and somehow that suited him perfectly. When he was aggrieved about something—having to share the couch with a cat (our elderly cat Chai) or Nick, he would grumble about it, but begrudgingly accommodate them.

He also kept his puppy fur. His coat was soft and dense right up to his last days with us. And that face! To his dying day, he would give us that anxious, winsome, sad-puppy dog look that never failed to melt our hearts.

As he grew older, he became a bit of a grumpy gus, grumbling and barking at other dogs, including Nick. But he never showed a sliver of violence or aggression when handled by vets and nail-trimmers. He never crossed that line with anyone, ever.

He was always a sweet, sweet dog. And he was a great dog to run with. He ran with Jon until we moved to California, and Jon had double-hip replacement surgery. No more runs. Also fewer places for a dog to be off-leash here.

So his life became a little smaller, but it was still good.

Then the year of death hit us, hard.

In one year, I lost both my parents, and my daughter miscarried with her first child.

I made many trips to Michigan and Washington, D.C. that year. Tuck had already begun slowing down, more reluctant to take long walks. And that fall, we thought we were losing him for certain. We thought he had a stroke. He couldn’t walk, he was incontinent, he couldn’t jump up on the bed, he wouldn’t eat. We were frantic with worry.

We rushed him to an emergency pet hospital, fortunately to find out he’d eaten a marijuana brownie on a walk the day before along a local creek trail. He was high on weed!

It was frightening for him and for us. But we made it through. And afterwards, we could laugh about our bongo dog. We thought we were past the hard year, finally.

Then, early in 2019, my daughter lost her second baby, this one at 8 months into her pregnancy. It was awful.

We took turns flying out to see her. She and her husband were—still are—devastated. There are no words when your child is suffering, no wisdom or insight or advice that will magically erase the horror of what they’ve gone through, what they are still going through. (Fortunately, the hospital staff were incredibly compassionate and supportive.)

We were still reeling with that when, a few weeks later, Tuck’s life took a major turn for the worse.

He developed acute pancreatitis, which was misdiagnosed by our first vet, but caught by another emergency hospital when he was referred to them for care.

After all our losses from last year, and this, we were determined to spare no expense to ensure Tuck’s recover.

That turned out to be a disaster, financially, and health-wise, for him.

The next six months were a horror-show.

When he recovered, he had developed diabetes. We worried about the cost of that, but were told, “Oh, insulin for dogs is only $60 a bottle.” No one mentioned at the time that he would need four bottles a month. Plus syringes. Plus a special bucket for disposing of the syringes. Plus a syringe disposal fee.

Still, okay. But wait! There’s more!

Our lives became a highly-scheduled regime of expensive food, multiple bottles of insulin each month, stuffing supplements and antacids down his throat. He was never a pill-taker, and forcing those pills were harder on him than the insulin shots.

The hospital and office visit costs started at few thousand dollars. Ulp. But manageable, right?

But then that got worse, too.

We had to take him in for bi-weekly reassessments, at several hundred dollars a pop, plus meds, plus everything else involved, which we did for several months. Oh, that was going to go on for several more months though. And oh! They would need to be repeated several times a year, for the rest of his life. His meds and supplements alone ran to over $500 a month, not including these additional testings. As Jon said, “We gave him more access to health care than most people in this country get.”

And Tuck hated it.

Was it worth it?

That’s a hard question. There’s no price on a dog’s life, in one sense. He’s a member of our family, and we thought it would restore him to a normal life again. Maybe we would have him for 3, 4, even 5 more years. It seemed worth it.

And it would have been. But in addition to the financial strain, it became obvious his quality of life was permanently changed, and not for the better.

He was weaker. He was in discomfort. He began to whimper, and squeal and whine constantly. He refused to even walk around the block. He lost a lot of his vision, and struggled mightily with that. Only his hearty appetite remained, and yet his diet was severely restricted. No treats (which we never gave him anyway, just a bite of cat kibble now and then.) No dish-licking. No licking the yogurt container when it was empty. Just expensive, no-fat food at almost $100 a bag, a month.

We finally found a great vet a couple weeks ago, and had “the talk” with them. What was this going to look like, going forward? Could things get better? Was it possible they would get worse?

They assured us that some dogs recover from this, and have a good life.

And, they said frankly, some don’t.

What were we looking for, they asked.

Clarity, we said.

How do we decide when it is all just too much for a dog to handle?

We  have loved all our pets over the years, every single one. When we thought they had a chance at a good life, despite their injuries and illnesses, we gave it to them.

But when it was obvious their quality of life was not so hot, were we doing them any favors by keeping them alive because we needed them to be here for us? No matter how miserable their lives became?

We are not those people.

They gave us some suggestions, some strategies, and assured us they understood where we were coming from. We left, feeling reassured that we could take a few measures to ratchet things back, and wait until we knew the time had come.

It came less than two weeks later. It came yesterday. It started last night.

He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t pee, just dripped. He wouldn’t eat. He whined, piercingly, nonstop, all night. We took turns sitting up with him.

I got angry at one point, as his piercing squeals jerked me awake dozens of times with a start. I yelled at him. Stop it! I said. Just stop it! I am so ashamed to admit that now. I didn’t realize it was his last night with us. I was exhausted, and scared.

I want to believe he forgives me for that.

The next morning, things were event worse. We knew it was time.

Unfortunately, our new vet was not available for a consult today. Once again, we took him to the animal emergency hospital. We explained why we were there:

If blood and urine tests showed that this was manageable, fine. We could go forward with treatment, and hope it would help. But unless they felt sure his new condition was treatable, easily, without incuring thousands of dollars more, we were not going forward with this. It would be time to say goodbye.

The first person who came to the lobby to discuss this was simply mean. No other word for it. They made it clear they felt we had failed our dog, that we were careless and uncaring, that our vet was out of line, that we had screwed with his meds and messed up his care. This was on us, his suffering.

That hurt. It’s hard enough to make these decisions without those who would judge us. We almost left to wait to see our vet tomorrow.

But neither of us could bear to see him suffer another 24 hours.

I’m glad we waited. The next vet tech person to talk with us was amazing. And then we spoke to the vet, and they were amazing, too.

We made it clear how much we love this dog. We made it clear it wasn’t about being “cheap”, or wanting a fancy home or car instead of a healthy dog. It wasn’t about trying to economize on the expenses, though it was causing issues for us.

But the expenses we went through meant we can’t do that for any of our remaining pets, ever. When we first went there, we told them, we met a gentleman who told us he’d spent $14,000 to save his kitten.

$14,000.

We thought at the time, “Are you crazy?!” We’ve been living with one car for five years, Jon is underpaid at his current job for his industry, we haven’t been able to set aside funds for our retirement for five years, and that’s not going to change soon. We haven’t been able to significantly offer financial help either of our kids all year because of this expense. My art and writing biz has tanked in the last five years, partly because of the move and leaving a loyal and loving audience behind, and partly for reasons that have nothing to do with me or my work. In short, that was simply a jaw-dropping amount of money for us to contemplate.

$14,000. Well, we came pretty close to that figure over six months. We knew we couldn’t go on with it indefinitely.

But even that wasn’t the deciding factor.

We were also very clear that, if we KNEW Tuck’s quality of life would definitely improve, if they told us this newest episode was something easily fixed, easily cured, we would do it.

But if not, that would be the main reason to stop this.

If we had to put him down, we would miss him forever. But putting him through more misery just because we didn’t want to feel bad about it? Not an option.

It’s our job to offer our pets the best life we can.

It’s not their job to suffer because we’re too tender to let them go.

The staff reassured us. They were compassionate enough, and honest enough, to tell us that a good recovery would not be the case. There wasn’t much hope.

And what brought the tears for both of us, is when both professionals told us repeatedly that it was a good decision. Too many people go down that other hole, they told us, and put their beloved pets through hell, trying to “fix” something that just can’t be fixed. We weren’t “copping out” like the first person implied. Yes, it is a difficult situation, really hard.

But they said we were making a decision based on what was best for Tuck, and that was commendable.

It helped. It also made us cry, again. Thank you, we said. Thank you for understanding. Just….thank you.

They put us in a private room with a soft cushion for him to lie on. I’d put my hoodie jacket on him, the lobby was so cold, but they brought fluffy blankets for him. They explained their process, which exactly met my request: Give him something to soothe him, and let him fall asleep as we held him, just like normal, just like always, one last time.

And when he was deeply asleep, and released from his anxiety and pain, then he could have the final dosage.

They gave us time alone with him so we could say our goodbyes. We said we wanted to be present for the entire process. We owed him that, to sit through something heartbreaking, to be present. To be with him to the end.

Jon and I sat with him, and held him. We whispered, “Who’s a cute puppy?” and “What a good dog!”, words that always made his tail wag gently, and perked up his ears.

He simply lay there quietly. Sometimes critters fight back at the last moment, instinctively. It makes it harder, as if they’re saying, “No! Wait!”

But he didn’t. It felt like he was ready to go.

We told him he was the best dog in the whole world. We told him we would love him forever. I traced the white patch on his head and neck that looked like a bunny. I looked into his beautiful eyes, eyes that look like he wears eyeliner. We said goodbye.

It was the softest passing I’ve ever experienced with a pet. He melted into my lap, relaxed, and closed his eyes. His labored breathing softened, evened out, gently, in. And out. And in. And out.

And then he was still.

Goodbye, beautiful boy.

Thank you for the years of joy and laughter, the wonderful memories.

Thank you your exuberance, for your companionship, for your devotion and love. Thank you for your expressive face, your noble look.

Thank you for being a poop about getting your nails trimmed, and yet not making it hard for the people who trimmed them. Thank you for being afraid of skateboards, because people glide on them in a weird way and they make a rattling noise.

Thank you for your love of a wide open field, and a brisk wind, and sunshine. Thank you for hating rain and baths. Thank you for loving smells, and cats, and fluffy pillows, and blankets.

Thank you for inspiring me to learn more about dogs, learning about their deep history with humans, going back over a hundred thousand years. Thank you for evolving right along with us, so that you always somehow knew when we were sad, or disgruntled, or afraid. Thank you for teaching me that dogs have walked by our side for an eternity, so that we need never walk alone.

Thank you for making us dog people. It wasn’t hard, was it?

We were waiting for you all along, never knowing how much we needed you, until you showed up in our lives.

After Jon and I argued a day ago, we made up and drove to Bodega Head. For the first time ever, when we put the windows down, Tuck and Nick both stuck their heads out of the window. I could see Tuck in the rear view mirror. He looked happy.

We went for along walk along the road that follows the inner bay. He tried to eat a dead crab. (No, Tuck.) He sniffed every piece of garbage. He tried to eat a sandwich wrapper. We laughed. Our last good day with him.

Today, I can still see his serene, smiling face, with his snout facing into the wind, just….happy.

And now I know first-hand, what I’ve always known is true:

All dog stories begin with laughter, and end with tears.

FINDING HOPE IN THE HARD PLACES: My Blog Tagline Works Its Magic Again.*

Don't miss Luann Udell's words on finding hope, faith and inspiration in what you do
Don’t miss Luann Udell’s words on finding hope, faith and inspiration in what you do

FINDING HOPE IN THE HARD PLACES: My Blog Tagline Works Its Magic Again.*

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

It’s been a year. A lot of death, a lot of loss, a lot of grieving.

Just when I thought it was safe to go back in the water…. (Cue “Jaws” music.)

After yet another emergency trip to the East Coast in mid-March, this last crisis seemed almost too much to handle. Our dog Tuck, our first dog, and the one who inspired not only my dog artifacts, and my dog story ***, but also this article that ran in the magazine formerly known as The Crafts Report became critically ill last week.

He stopped eating, he was misdiagnosed by our newest vet, and he ended up being hospitalized for acute pancreatitis and diabetes (as a permanent complication.)

The good news is, he has received excellent care, and may even be able to come home tomorrow.

The bad news is, this cost nearly as much as I made all last year in my art biz, including writing these columns.

I was afraid the high cost of emergency care would force us to make a painful decision. But my husband, as usual, gave clarity. “He’s part of our family,” he said firmly.

I was so relieved. We live fairly frugally (except for living in California!), so though this isn’t an easy budget item, it won’t destroy us. My heart goes out to people whose financial situation would force them to do otherwise.

Why am I writing about this today?

Because I could not stop thinking about this: The financial cost could have superseded all other factors in our decision. And yet, the devastation of losing our pet would have last for YEARS….

Love, and hope, vs. money.

In many ways, I cannot be counted as a “successful artist”, especially if money is used as the only measure of my success. Even at the height of my art biz career, I made less than minimum wage today.

I am not famous. Although I love it when someone stops me in mid-conversation and says, “Wait a minute….You’re Luann Udell?? THE Luann Udell?” it doesn’t really happen that often.  (Don’t let that stop you from saying that, though!)  :^D

So what is the “true value” of my artwork, my writing, my presence in this world?

Frankly, who can say? Who cares?

What really matters?

My art, my words, my actions, have given me a place in the world. The size of the return doesn’t matter.

My work has given me a voice in the world. The size of the audience doesn’t matter.

They have given me solace, an outlet, and much joy. What they do for others is an important, yet ultimately secondary effect.

The past 12 months have been filled with loss, exhaustion, despair, the feeling of not belonging, not being “good enough”, and not being valued. Even when I’ve traveled to be with those who are grieving, my only “gift” was being present. I could not “fix” their grief, or give them the answers they seek. I could only be a mom who cares.

But even now, I still rejoice at the prospect at getting back to work in my new studio. I know I will be restored to my better self. I know the healing power of my own art.

My words will probably never bring me wealth, or fame, nor will they end a war.

All I can offer, myself, with my art, the work of my heart, is this….

A small place for hope.

A safe place for grieving.

A little money to help those who are worse off than I.

A listening ear.

And sharing my stories, hoping someone, somewhere, they will help someone who needs to hear them today.

If you make tons of money for your artwork, I celebrate with you. I’m truly happy, because it means there’s a chance I will, too, someday.

If you have gained fame and fortune with the work of your heart, I hope you use it to make the world a little better than how you found it.

Although I usually tell artists not to “water down” their art by relying on sales of cards ($4,000 paintings, $4 cards??) I have to admit that such a card, sent by a friend recently, with their beautiful work on the front, lifted my spirits. A lot!

My hope for you today is that you feel the power of what you do. That you have faith in the power of what you do, no matter how much, nor how little, you can see.

And here are a few side notes on what the first vet, and the animal hospital did right, that also inform our art-making/marketing:

When the vet realized the condition was much, much worse than they thought, they immediately contacted us and referred us to a more experienced resource. Lesson learned: When your work gets in a rut, when things seem too hard, step outside your box and explore new options. Kick it up a notch! A class, a new body of work, perhaps even a new medium, can be just the uptick you need. Start that email newsletter! Clean up your website. Try Instagram?

The hospital saw us immediately. And every day, we not only received updates twice daily, we were allowed to visit Tuck. Which put our hearts at ease, and his, too. Lesson learned: Your audience wants to hear from you, too! Use your website’s “Events” features, your email newsletter, and other social media to let them know what you’re up to. You’ve created a relationship that goes beyond just sales. You’ve created a real human connection.

Most important, be grateful. Be grateful to those who know the depth and power of our love, for our family, for our pets, for our art. They will raise you up when things get hard.

Be grateful you are able to make room in your life for your art. So many people feel they can’t, that they aren’t good enough, that nobody wants their work, that they aren’t “successful” enough. It’s okay to want more recognition, to want more skill, to make more money. It’s also okay for “making” and “making it” to be enough, for now.

Hold on to your dreams. Know the power of love. And keep making your art!

And when we do lose Tuck (that day will come), I know we will still welcome another pupster who needs a loving home into our lives. “All dog stories begin with laughter, and end with tears.” Keep the laughter coming!

How has your work lifted the hearts of others? How has your work helped you get back to your happy place? I’d love to hear, and I bet others will, too!

*My art tagline is, “Ancient Stories Retold in Modern Artifacts. But my blog tagline is, “Muddling through life with the help of art.” (Some of my subscribers call themselves “Muddlers”. I love that!)

Mercy Now

Need to just cry for a few moments?

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

It’s been a hard month so far. Family matters, hard and sad stuff with our kids, impossible to solve. “Nobody died”, has been our way of framing things for Jon and I over the past 30 years. No longer true. Still hard. Health issues (I now have not one, but TWO inhalers). A runaway pet. (Of course, the one who panics once she gets outside, and figuratively goes crazy.) Listening to people blame those dealing with hardship on…guess who? The people going through those hardships.

Where is the kindness?

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

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

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

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

And yet, the lyrics could have been written today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

noddy and nick
Noddy, please come home!

Update: Noddy came home. I’ve mended the fences I could, and walked away from the ones I can’t. I’m off the inhalers. Time has healed a lot of wounds, and I try to forgive others and heal MYSELF for the ones that I can’t fix. Eternal student of life still a thing.

 

 

 

PIGEON GRATEFUL

cute pigeons 2 flickzzz.com 019-768559
Last month I rescued a sick pigeon.

I’ve done it before. In fact, this is the third pigeon I’ve rescued.

I like pigeons a lot. They are actually pretty smart birds, and they do well in captivity. Better than in the wild, in fact. In captivity, wild pigeons can live 10-15 years. In the wild (in cities, I mean), they last about a year or two. (Yes, all those pigeons you hate are very young pigeons.)

Most injured wild birds will die in your hand from shock if you attempt to rescue them. Not pigeons! They will get quiet and look at you as if to say, “Well, finally, my ride is here! Where have you been?!”

I spotted this one on my drive home one day, and knew he was in trouble. It was extremely hot and humid, and a thunderstorm was brewing. He was staggering in circles, listing to one side, barely able to stay upright.

I vaguely remembered the virus PMV that causes these symptoms. I quickly pulled into a nearby parking lot and stalked him for fifteen minutes til I caught him. He kept trying valiantly to fly away, but after flying into a building and then into a passing car, he was finally exhausted enough to let me pick him up.

I looked up his symptoms to make sure I wasn’t exposing myself, my family or my pets to anything toxic, then made up a cage for him. I didn’t expect him to survive the night–he was in pretty bad shape, with an injured eye, dehydrated and subdued. I forced a dribble of water down his throat, made him as comfortable as I could, and left him alone.

The next morning, I was surprised to see him looking (askant) at me from his cage. Beady bright little eyes, like the pilfering penguin from the Wallace And Gromit movie, The Wrong Trousers. “You made it, Magoo!” I exclaimed. I made him drink a little more water, cleaned him up, set out some cockatiel food, and left him alone again.

Soon Mr. Magoo (I have no idea if it was a he or a she, but “Mr. Magoo” seemed to fit his bewildered stare) was drinking on his own, and eating, too. He was still aslant and wobbly. But every morning he let me pick him up so I could clean his cage and refill his food and water. Every time I went out in the mudroom, he looked down at me from his cage with his shiny eyes.

About four weeks went by. I was getting ready for a drive home to my folks in Michigan. I knew Jon wouldn’t be wild about cleaning up after a pigeon every day. I toyed with the idea of letting him go. he was getting a little better every day. But I wasn’t sure if he were fully recovered or not.

The day before I left, I went to lift him up. To my surprise, he fought me and flew out of my hands. I managed to corner him and snag him in the mudroom. But I knew then it was time for him to go.

I took him out to the front steps and set him down. “If you’re ready, you can go,” I told him. “If not, you’re welcome to stay.”

He exploded into the air and flew away without a backwards glance.

I didn’t begrudge him the lack of gratitude. Wild things don’t owe us anything, even when we help them. I was glad he lived to fly again.

A day later, I went to get in my car.

On the driver’s side door was a huge white splat of pigeon poop dripping from the window all the way down the panel.

Now, I could have have been annoyed, and made up a story about how pigeons will poop on the person’s car who saved them.

But I like to think that a pigeon, wanting to say, “I’m alive and okay!” would have very few ways to communicate in a way we’d be sure to notice.

So I’m making up a story that Mr. Magoo was saying, “Thank you” the only way he’d know how, by pooping on my car.

GOMEZ SAYS GOODBYE

We have everything we need to know, right here in our hearts.

More musings on the grief writing workshop I teach at Home Healthcare and Community Services here in Keene, NH….

For each week of the class, there’s a central topic for our journaling or free writing exercise. Some topics allow us to talk about who we were, and where we are now after the death of a loved one. Some encourage us to remember them in a different way. Some acknowledge the difficult nature of our relationship with them. Some “point us toward home, so we can go there…” (A quote from DEAN SPANLEY, a remarkable, gentle and sweetly funny movie about death, grieving, and redemption.)

There’s one particularly powerful exercise we do in the writing workshop. It’s so powerful, I’m afraid I’ll give away the punchline. But it’s also so healing, it would be a sin not to share it with a wider audience….

It’s something I structured, sort of aim the sessions toward, so we get there at just the right time. Last week was the proper time.

I ask everyone to imagine the deceased in a place–it could be heaven, it could be nirvana, it could be in an alternate universe, it could even be in our dreams. It’s a place where they are safe, and loved, and happy. A place where they are fully healed, in mind, body and soul. A place where they are at their highest, most evolved self. A place where no matter what their faults or failings were, no matter how much they’ve already suffered or given, or loved, they are the best person we’ve always dreamed they could be.

“Write a letter,” I say to the class. “From them, to you.”

This always draws a lot of confusion and questions. I usually have to repeat it a few times. There are frowns, and pursed lips, and sighs.

Then the writing begins.

And then come the tears.

I am always astonished, when we finally share what we’ve written. It’s as if people have really stepped outside themselves, and delved into the heart of that person. The things we see, and recognize, and understand and finally accept, are incredible.

It’s a letting go of what could have been. It’s accepting what it was, and is. It allows hope to sprout the tiniest, most delicate green leaves.

And it lets the healing begin.

It’s never failed me, this exercise. I wrote about this the first time I did it, with a complicated death that had haunted me for decades.

I did it again last week with my beautiful cat Gomez.

It was a funny night to begin with. Three of us selected animals to write about. It felt a little disrespectful at first–People before animals, right? Except we were also accepting that the loss of a beloved pet can be just as rattling, especially since they are often the very thing that soothes us during other, larger losses.

And so we wrote a letter from our pets, to us.

In my opening sentence, I immediately saw how empathic this exercise really is. I wrote, “Dear kind lady….” Because, of course, Gomez would have no idea what my name was. And being a cat, he probably wouldn’t care.

Here’s the small miracle: All three of us did the same. Realized our pets don’t “know” our names. But they know who we are to them. One writer started her letter with “Dear Mom”, because that’s who her dog would think she was.

Here’s my letter from Gomez:

Dear kind lady,
When I saw you at the shelter with your child, I knew I was going home with you. I saw you go to each cage, check out each cat. I saw you trying to connect with each one.

“I want an older cat,” you said to the shelter person. “I want a cat who really really really needs a home.”

But none of those cats would play with you. They knew I was meant for you. They wouldn’t give you the time of day–they knew it was my turn.

Finally, after coming to me 3 times–and every time I tried to tell you, I tried to show you–“Me! I’m the one! It’s me you want!”….

And finally, though you said I was too beautiful, and too young, you said I was the one.

I charmed everyone, didn’t I? Even Chai. Even Tuck. Even Nick.

I brought you mice, and birds, and I slept on your bed. You gave me a good home.

Yes, there was a bad man, and yes, it hurt. It hurt so much.

But that pain is gone. It is no more.

The only pain I feel now is the pain in your heart, the part of you that blames yourself for what happened.

It’s not your fault, kind lady. It’s not your fault. Be at peace.

My time with you was lovely. You cared for me, and loved me, and kept me safe. You gave me a good home.

Someday there will come another cat, a cat that needs a good home. Open your heart again, your kind and loving heart. Give that cat a home, a hearth, a sofa to sleep on, dogs to tease and torment, food to eat and saucy mice to chase.

Don’t grieve for me, kind lady. I don’t regret a thing.

Everything we need to know, is already in our hearts.

All we have to do is be silent. And listen. Truly listen.

Goodbye sweet boy cat.

GOODBYE GOMEZ

A local news story brings its share of heartache this morning.

Our cat Gomez has been missing since August 18, the day we left on vacation. He escaped the house just as we were packed and ready to go. “He’ll be fine!” everyone groaned. “Mary (our pet care person) comes tonight, he’ll be back for dinner time!”

So against my better judgment, we left. I tried not to worry. Everything would be fine, I told myself.

That was the last time I ever saw Gomez.

Mary called two days later to tell us there was no sign of Gomez. When we got home, he still hadn’t made an appearance.

We made very effort to find him–calling shelters, hanging posters, talking to people in the neighborhood. We met many wonderful people who tried to help us.

But every lead dried up. Even the black cat sightings all turned out to be other cats. I never knew there were so many black cats in Keene!

Gomez is such a great cat! I held onto a slim hope that he’d ingratiated himself into a new home, though I know that’s not how most lost cats end up. I called him every time I went outside. I watched for him as we walked or drove around our neighborhood.

Twice I was sure I’d found him. Happy, happy day!

Then I’d wake up, and realized I’d been dreaming.

Then I read the article in last night’s Keene Sentinel, our local newspaper. Three dead cats found in different Keene neighborhoods. Although there’s no evidence the cats were deliberately killed, the number of incidents, and some details about the deaths, raise a suspicion or two.

Two of the bodies were found very near our house.

I called the detective assigned to the case to get more information. Sure enough, one of the incidents involved a black cat. Actually, the head of a black cat.

It was disposed of by the home owners before the police arrived. And with no body, there was no microchip to be checked.

The head was found the day after Gomez disappeared.

The detective was sympathetic. He has pets, too, and had recently lost one. He knows how hard it is to lose a furry friend.

Some day soon, I’ll share those wonderful stories. As in any bad situation, there are good people who come forward, who cross our path, who restore our hope and faith.

It helps to know that Gomez is not lost, or suffering, or frightened anymore.

But right now, it is a very sad day at our house.

Goodbye, beautiful, beautiful cat.

Our charming and suave cat Gomez.

P.S. See this essay for how I finally healed from this.

MAGIC ACTS

For your reading pleasure, here is my latest column for The Crafts Report magazine.

Oh, also a sneak preview picture of my exhibition piece for Craftwear at this year’s League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair!

I’m not participating in the Fair this year, for the first time in….14 years?? My only representation there will be this necklace. I feel totally at sea about missing it, but I know I couldn’t physically handle it this year. My knee replacement surgery was my fourth surgery in three years, and it’s catching up to me! Hopefully I’ll be back in the saddle for next year’s Fair!

Click the images for a bigger view.

Shaman Necklace–Bear Clan
My “walking bear” artifact with handmade and hand-carved polymer beads.
Detail of “walking bear-man” pendant, modeled after a 30,000 year old artifact of a walking lion-man.

TRAINING CATS TO DRINK WATER

To achieve new heights, we have to acquire new habits and tell ourselves a different story.

Stay with me, there’s a point to this drinking water thing.

We’ve always had cats. If you have cats, you know what happens.

Cats train you to do some really funny things. They get us to act in ludicrous ways, irrational ways. And we end up believing in the idiocy, too. We even believe it’s natural. “Cats are like that–they’re finicky!” we say.

It starts out very innocently. Maybe the cat starts playing with water coming out of the kitchen tap. Soon, every time you turn on the tap, the cat is there to play some more, and maybe take a few sips.

After a while, you begin to notice that the water level in his official water dish, stays the same. “Oh, no!”, you think. “The cat isn’t getting enough water!” So you turn on the tap. He jumps up and gratefully starts drinking.

Before you can say, Holy Catfish! you have a cat who will only drink out of the faucet.

Eventually, you even have to adjust the flow of water to just the right speed–not too fast, or he’ll be frightened. Not to slow, or he’ll walk away in impatience.

It will seem very normal to you, too. You will simply accept the process as what you have to do to get him to drink.

Until you see someone else doing this in their house, with their cat. And then you see how ridiculous the situation is.

For us, it was when we visited a friend with a cat. He had half a dozen caps from cans of shaving cream arranged around his bathroom floor, each cap filled with water. He told us (in total seriousness) he had to do this so his cat would drink water.

I burst out laughing. Because, you know, I know, and Pete knows….

No cat dies of thirst because his water is in the wrong-sized container.

No cat starves to death because his food is not the right brand.

Your teenager isn’t going to starve because you don’t make his sandwich the right way, with the right bread.

“Finicky” goes out the window when you’re hungry enough, when you’re thirsty enough.

“Finicky” goes out the window when you want something badly enough.

I was thinking about this today. Oh, all right, I admit, because I now have a cat who will only drink water who has trained me to think she will only drink out of the bathtub faucet.

As I watched her drink this morning, it suddenly occurred to me…

I wondered what have I trained myself to do….
What story have I told myself….What story do I ‘know’…
That’s getting in the way of getting what I really want in my life?

I’ve been fearful of “not doing it right” with an upcoming workshop I’m teaching–to the extent that I wanted to cancel it. I want to do it badly. But I think I can’t do it unless I do it perfectly.

I have a project dear to my heart, something I’ve been dreaming about for six years. I have a million reasons ‘why it won’t work’. Today I wrote in my journal all the excuses I’ve made up for why I shouldn’t do it: ‘I know’ there’s no way to exhibit it. ‘I know’ there’s no one who would buy it. ‘I know’ I shouldn’t start it til I have the whole concept figured out perfectly.

Well, duh, who cares??!!

I want to do it.

And the only thing holding me back is the story I’ve been telling myself, and all the ridiculous reasons I’ve made up about why it won’t work.

So giggle a little at the thought of Tomcat Toes drinking daintily out of a lovely assortment of plastic cups. Smile at the thought of chubby Chai shlurping heartily from the bathtub faucet. Let’s tease my sister not wanting her son to go to California years ago because he would never make himself a sandwich and so he would go hungry….

But the next time you have a project, an idea, a glimmering of something that makes your heart beat a little faster….

Listen hard for the imaginary can’t/shouldn’t/no-way thinking that could have you drinking out of a shaving cream cap within a few weeks.

Won’t that look silly?

Now go to your studio. Write that song. Start that video. Get out your brushes.

Me? I’m gonna go dust off my sewing machine.

And yes, I will share my big project when it firms up a little more. Just keep those cups of water outta my sight for awhile, okay?

PUPPIES REVISITED: The Torch Wipe Thing.

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.

She says…

…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!

PUPPIES

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.

PUPPIES

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.

Tuck, Mike and Molly

LATEST ARTICLE AT THE CRAFTS REPORT

Well, actually there’s my regular column, Craft Matters: How to Build a Craftsperson

and the shout-out from my friend Nancy LaFevre for Bunster in her article The Joys of Having Your Pet at Work”.

Yes, that’s BUNSTER in the picture!

OH, THOSE CATS….

And now, a short break from my regularly serious program…. Trying to stay sane as our giant snowstorm turns into a giant cold and gray rainy day.

Today I read a short news item in our local newspaper about the newest recipient of Britain’s Dickin medal.

The Dickin medal, awarded to animals in wartime for bravery and devotion to duty, is the highest military honor an animal can receive. A bomb-sniffing black Lab in Afghanistan named Treo won it this year.

I was intrigued by this about the medal: “It has been presented to 63 animals since its inception in 1943, including 32 World War II carrier pigeons, three horses and a cat.”

Thirty-two pigeons. One cat. What gives??

Wikipedia says this about the cat’s win:

1949: Simon – the ship’s cat on HMS Amethyst during the Yangtze Incident, noted for surviving injuries from a cannon shell, raising morale and killing off a rat infestation during the incident, by doing this duty despite being wounded. He was raised to the fanciful rank of “Able Seacat” and awarded a campaign medal. The medal was sold by the Royal Navy and is now a valuable collectors item, partly because Simon has been the only cat to win the medal

I don’t know why I think it’s so funny that only one cat has won. For sure there’s just something about them being beaten out by so many birds that tickles my funny bone.

Granted, cats are just not very reliable when it comes to delivering messages, except for the occasional “Yo! I’m outta cat fud!” one. Or when they eat YOUR food instead.

On the other hand, I think this kitty really does deserves a medal!

TRIBES #1: RUNNING WITH THE PACK

Last summer, we came back from our first Caribbean vacation with a rescue dog. A puppy, in fact, from the Turks and Caicos Islands. Most people bring back a t-shirt or some shells, we came home with our first dog.

Watching him grow and adapt to our household has been a treat. I don’t think a day goes by that he doesn’t make us laugh.

He’s desperate to belong–a potcake cannot survive on the islands without his mates. Here in our home, it means fitting into our family. Watching his antics as he tries to befriend and play with our cats is a hoot.

There are no other dogs in our household, so of course he mimics many of the our cats’ behaviors. He has been around other dogs, of course. But he and the cats are together 24/7, so they are his first source of observation. For example, he noticed that both our cats take a piece of kibble, drop it on the floor, then eat it. And so he does the same.

The funniest cat imitation is how he goes up and down stairs. He watched our cats closely as a pup to see how they did it. Aha! One step at a time.

It worked when he was a puppy because he was the same size as our cats.

But he’s a lot bigger now. As he grew to the size of a border collie, it got harder and harder to scrunch up his body to take each single step. His contortions were extreme.

Yesterday, he had a sort of doggie breakthrough.

For the first time, he took the stairs in great, bounding leaps, three at a time. He practically flew up those stairs.

The look of pleased astonishment on his face was delightful. “Aha!”, he seemed to say. “I can bound!”

There’s a lesson in here for us; you know that, right?

When we have no other examples to learn from, we believe the right way–the ONLY way–is what we see around us.

We look to the people around us to learn “the right way” to do things.

That’s perfectly fine, if we are surrounded by excellent examples. But ask yourself: Perfect examples of what?

Not many artists grow up surrounded by artists and encouraged by other artists.

If you are a dog, there are only so many things you can do like a cat. No matter how many cats you surround yourself with, you cannot be a cat. No matter how much those cats wish you were a cat, you are still a dog. No matter how much they wish you were not a dog, it ain’t gonna happen.

If you yearn to make things with your hands, if you love to draw or paint, if you love to make music, or you must dance in order to think… (I urge you to listen til he gets to part about the little girl who could simply not sit still in school. It is astonishing.)

…And the people around you do not understand that….

What contortions would you put yourself through to fit in?

I scrunched to get up and down those “stairs”, for years. I’ll bet many of you did, too.

When I finally broke through, and created my own paradigm, I felt a freedom of spirit I hadn’t felt since I was a kid.

Ever since, I’ve encourage others do do the same–to find some way of getting their heart’s work out into the world.

Because when you try to bury who you really are, bad things can happen.

If you cannot be the artist you are meant to be, you may become a shadow artist.

I guess you CAN teach an old dog new tricks.

ALMOST ANOTHER EXPENSIVE PUPPY LESSON

The things you have to check on when you own a puppy!

We’ve been pecking away all week at a pile of eight cords of firewood, stacking it onto pallets in our yard.

Our new puppy, Tuck, loves to help. He also loves chewing on wood. Consequently, just as we turn to pitch a chunk of wood from the pile to the pallets, we often see Tuck merrily pouncing on a wood chip just where we’re ready to chuck. Fortunately, we’ve always managed to “un-chuck” in time. But we could tell how this would end if we didn’t do something different.

So Jon has taken to tying Tuck up to a long clothesline while he works. Plenty of room to romp, and access to nice chewy chunks of wood, but keeping him out of harm’s way.

Today’s nearly expensive lesson hinges on exactly what the other end of the clothesline is tied to. Sometimes it’s a wheelbarrow, sometimes it’s a tree trunk. Sometimes…..wait, I’m getting ahead of my story here.

Yesterday I was running late for an appointment. I jumped into my car, did my three-point turn to head out of the driveway, and headed out to the street.

Halfway down the driveway, I heard a horrendous noise and the entire car shook. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the passenger side rear view mirror wobble. Wha….???

I braked immediately. What did I break now?? I got out to take a look.

Someone….someone…had tied Tuck’s clothesline to that rear view mirror. No, Tuck was not still attached. (I would have noticed that!)

But when they’d brought Tuck inside, they’d untied him at his collar, and left the clothesline attached to the mirror.

And as I whipped down the driveway, the trailing rope had gotten run over by my rear tire, jerking the rope. And nearly yanking the mirror off my car.

Fortunately, I’d stopped in time. So I still have my mirror, although it looks a little bendy right now.

Who knew that once you own a dog, you have to do a walk-around check of your car before you drive it, to see if someone has tied a rope to it??

EXPENSIVE PUPPY LESSON

Where NOT to let your dog ride in a car.

We just learned a very expensive lesson today.

When we go in the car, our puppy Tuck rides in the back seat, preferably on the floor. He immediately would scrunch under the driver’s seat, which we thought was cute. “Oh, look!” I’d say, “He’s trying to get closer to us without actually getting in front!” (Which isn’t allowed.)

Two days ago, my “air bag” warning light came on. I took it in to the Subaru dealer today.

The service manager called me back a few minutes ago with an odd questions.

“Do you have a dog?” he asked.

“Yep”, I replied. How did he know??

“Is it a small dog?” he asked.

Wow, I thought, this guy is amazing! “Yes, he’s a puppy.”

Then I thought, did Tuck poop in the car??

Nope. Much worse. And much more expensive.

Turns out our little Tuck chewed through the air bag harness which is located…..under the driver’s seat. It will take at least four days for a new one to be sent, and it will cost $545 for the harness and it will take 2-3 hours of labor.

Oh my.

So here is my public service announcement: Do not let your darling little puppy-or-small-dog crawl under the car seats.

Because in addition to the candy wrappers/empty pop cans/gas receipts/other assorted trash, there is evidently a pricey little part under there that dogs just love to chew.

That, or Tuck is actually a gold-digging puppy who hoped to inherit our estate after we were killed in a car crash.

Naughty Tuck! But he’s in good company, as you can see from our other pets who create havoc with their chewing.