BE THE HERO IN YOUR OWN STORY: Framing Is Everything!

It takes time, but somewhere down the road, there’s a powerful story in our darkest hours.

 We attended a gathering this weekend. Good food, great people, and beautiful scenery. That’s where the idea for this week’s article comes from.

I was talking with a younger person there, who’s right smack in the middle of a difficult life stage. I listened to their woes, which, to be fair, they put a good spin on. In other words, they weren’t whining, but they were definitely struggling, in a situation all too familiar to me.

Without loading them with too much advice, I mostly told them they were doing it right. They had the right attitude, they were seeking the help they needed, and they knew they were fortunate in so many ways, they hated to complain about the exhausting situation they found themselves in.

I gave them two pieces of advice. Or rather, insights.

One, I told them that people who have been through the same thing, will understand. And those who haven’t, won’t. I said, “Seek out the first group, and just ignore the second.”

Two, I told her this, too, will pass. It’s hard, and it’s hard to make it easier. But in the end, they will be okay. And when they get through it, they will be able to see the gifts and blessings along the way.

I get that when we’re in the middle of a big muddle, it can feel like there’s no way out. No solution, no quick fix, no “magic mushrooms” to make it right. It can be hard to have hope.

And yet…

When I look back at some of the hardest times in my life, I can see something of value there.

I can see the goods things that came out of it. I can appreciate the people I met along the way, people who often had exactly what I needed to get through one day.

I can see the hard-won lessons that proved so valuable later in life. I can see the blessings, the gifts, the jaw-dropping miracles that not only helped me get through, but formed me into the person I am today.

“You can’t see it when you’re in the middle of it, and that’s okay,” I told them. “Because right now, it just sucks. So take exquisite care of yourself every chance you get.”

“But years from now, there will be something beautiful here, something that will encourage you, inspire you, help you find your way. This will change you, and some of those changes will be powerful. You will find yourself in a place you never even dreamed of, yet.”

“It will always be part of your story, and YOU will get to decide how to tell it.”

No one would ever choose to be in that hard place. It will simply find us, no matter who we are, no matter what we do. We are going to have very, very hard times in our lives.

And not everything has a happy ending.

But there will be gifts, if we chose to look for them.

The trick is in how we tell our story.

In a slump with our artwork? Uninspired? Tired of the same ol’ same ol’? Someday, we’ll look back and see the wall we hit—and how it led us to an exciting new body of work.

Didn’t get into art school? Maybe the wild and crazy path you DID take, is what makes your art so powerful today.

Didn’t get into that gallery? Or exhibition? Or that top-notch show? Rejection feels like failure. But failures have a way of making us dig deep for our art. We can crumple up and walk away, leaving our creative work behind. Or maybe we realize someone else’s “no” can be our next “maybe”. Maybe I’ll try another gallery in the next town over. Maybe I can simply apply for more exhibitions, hoping I’ll get into just one.

Or maybe I realize that no one can keep me from my studio, and it’s time for me to get back to work.

It can be hard to be Pollyanna in the middle of despair. And yet…

What if we actively thought of ourselves as the hero of our own story?

What if the challenges we face, force us to rise to meet them?

What if that difficult person in our workplace finally inspires us to find another job, a better one, too?

What if our loneliness when things get hard, creates compassion in our hearts for others in the same boat?

What if physical setbacks force us to choose another path, one that has its own rewards? (I’ve met TWO potters this month who had to find another form of creating when their bodies couldn’t take the “weight” any longer.)

What if lack of sales, fame, and stardom as an artist, actually encourages us to focus more on the “why” of our creative work? Helps us pay attention to the joy we get from making our art?

What if all we really need to get through this day, today, is a six-minute film to bring us nearly to tears, filled with awe of the beauty of this perfect day?

Last week, I read an old journal from our last two months in Keene, NH, just before we sold our house and 80% of our possessions to move across the country.

I’d made note of some difficult times, people, and situations. But I was surprised at how little of them I actually remembered! I would read, “I hate Doris!” and think, “Who the heck is Doris?!”

When we were in the middle of that move, all I could see was total chaos.

But as I look back, I see what a powerful experience it really was, on many fronts.

The things I loved so much, it felt impossible to leave them behind—only to find out they were in much worse shape than I’d realized, and couldn’t go anywhere except the dump. (My cheetah-patterned sofa!)

The person who gave me a hard time, and now I can’t even remember who it was, nor what it was about. (As I deal with difficult people here in CA, I’m reminded there are difficult people EVERYWHERE.)

The people who didn’t show up to help (“I’m not going to do one thing to help you leave, because I want you to stay!”) and the amazing gift of the people who DID show up, every day, for weeks.

The fear that I would lose my audience in NH (which DID fall off for awhile), and yet realizing how quickly I could start growing a new audience here.

The people who were upset by our choice to move, until I shared with them our own “hero’s journey” that led us to that decision. (Hallelujah, they came around!)

Now, sometimes we just need to gritch. I get it. I love to gritch, too. It feels good to get a good whine in (with a glass of wine, too!) And it can be cathartic to blow off steam with a good friend who’s willing to listen.

But in the end, I choose to see the miracles, the gifts large and small, the Angels In Odd Places I find in almost every step along the way.

So the next time you get slapped in the face with a big ol’ whipping cream pie of rejection, or lack of sales, or whatever, take note. My bears’ story: “Be strong when things get hard. Listen more. Think slow. Love deep.”

Bear tells me, “Be strong when things get hard. Listen more. Think slow. Love deep.”

I process things by writing, but you may have another process. Maybe painting your heart out, or creating a song, or poem, or prayer. Maybe do something kind for someone even worse off than you. Perhaps a chance to simply blort with a loving partner, or a really good friend who is truly there for you.

Whatever works for you, embrace it.

Be the hero of your own story.

Tell the story only you can tell.

Because your story might  just inspire someone else to be a hero.

Do you have an example of a setback that proved to be a power booster for you? Share it here! It may be just what someone else needs to hear today!

And if someone shared this with YOU, and you like what you see, sign up for more articles at my blog here.

ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE

I’ve become one of ‘those people’–people who feel sad about their art. I hat them.

I was fussing and fuming in my head this morning, about how nobody wants my artwork anymore stupid stuff, when I realized I’d become one of “those people”.

The whiney, self-absorbed, time- and energy-consuming, nobody-can-help-me, hugely annoying artist, drowning in a sea of self-pity and ennui. The people who start off any conversation, professional or personal, by heaving a soul-weary sigh and declaring…

“I feel sad about my art.”

I’ve been in several artist support groups in my art career. I’ve learned to duck and run for cover when someone takes this stance more than once. Especially if, when you offer feedback or advice, they argue with everything you say.

I hate it because I’ve always believed this is a cheat, a cop-0ut. A way of letting yourself off the hook, to shirk responsibility for getting your art out into the world.

And now I’m one of them.  Let me take a moment to search for a cartoon on the internet to illustrate my point. Got it!

Over the years, as I learned to supress my urge to kick these people became a better listener, I realized there are really two kinds of whiners:

There are those who unconsciously use the mud they’re stuck in to excuse their own inaction. Sadly (but true), nothing will work, nothing will help, no advice or suggestions will get through, until they’re ready to change it up. They may need a new creative outlet, a new way of thinking, sometimes even a new partner/lifestyle/career. But that’s their journey to make, not ours.

Others truly are aching to get out of the mud. We just haven’t been taught or shown how to do that.

And most of us, their friends, their supporters, haven’t learned how to really help.

We haven’t learned how to listen–deeply, patiently, fully.

That’s what a great support group does. No advice. No cheering up.

Instead, we listen. And ask questions. And more questions. We poke at that person, gently, until we understand better what it is they’re really asking, and what they really need.

And usually, what they really need? They either need better information, a little moral support, and/or affirmation for their creative self.

Sometimes our sense of failure is based on misconceptions. Sometimes we’ve been knocked down by a particularly rough spot in our life. Sometimes, we’ve just never actually thought about what it is we really, really, really want, in our life or for our art.

And that’s okay. In a world awash in information, it can be hard to sort out the bits that are right for us. In a world that’s always full of uncertainty, even danger, and death, it can be hard to create a space for peace and wonder and hope. In a world that measures success by our income, our celebrity, our website hits, our Facebook likes, it can be hard to know what really makes us feel whole.

I’ve been whining a lot lately. And fortunately, along with the silly (though thoughtfully offered) advice, there have been some wise listeners. too. They pointed out some thing that could save me from working at McDonald’s help me earn some kind of income in 2016, and would still be a way of teaching/sharing/giving back to my community.

So to all the sad-about-my-art people out there, I apologize. My friend Nicci once said, “When you point your finger at someone, three more are pointing back at you.”

I hope, if you really do want to not be sad anymore, you find the peeps who will help you do that. I hope you find people who care, who listen, who shine a light in front of you, so you can simply see your next step.

Til then, another Jessica Hagy illustration, to give you a better way to look at the mud.

TIME MANAGEMENT FOR CREATIVE PEOPLE

Artifacts, potential wall hangings, jewelry or framed collages.

Last week I attended an amazing presentation by integral coach Lyedie Geer. Her website is here. The focus was time management for creative people.

Now, fifteen years ago, when I first started my artistic journey, I was on fire with professionalism. I was determined not to be that “spacey artist” with no concept of time or discipline.

I was very good at it, too. I entered juried shows early. I had a binder of my galleries, their complete contact info, my shipments to them, their terms, etc. Correspondence was carefully filed in each of their folders. My slides were labeled and up-to-date, and I had duplicates ready on a moment’s notice for any occasion. My Rolodex was full with fellow artists, show management, photographers (I had a photographer and a back-up photographer), suppliers. You name it, I had their name and phone number.

My editor at Lark Books called once, and in an hour, I’d produced every single source and resource we talked about. “Oh my GOD, you’re so organized!” she exclaimed.

Then something happened.

I can’t remember what set it off, but things…changed. I wasn’t frantic about recognition. I didn’t care about publicity or awards. I wasn’t willing to do ANYTHING to keep my income stream going.

I rode more. I wrote more. I dropped everything to be with my family or a friend in need, even when the “need” was a drink. I took in homeless puppies. I volunteered more. I took hospice training.

I paid more attention to other things: The change of seasons. Walks with my husband. Phone calls from my daughter. Driver’s Ed with my son.

The concept of time management began to annoy me. Oh, sure, I understood I could get so much more done if I actually MANAGED my time instead of letting it manage me.

But that just didn’t seem as urgent anymore. I still care deeply about my art and my art business. I just felt that more was being called for of me.

I wanted to explore that call. And everything is different.

So I attended the seminar with extreme prejudice. Borderline hostility, in fact. I assumed we were going to learn about day planners and Google calendar. I expected we would be urged to be more ‘professional’ in our dealings.

I was prepared to be bored stiff and MAYBE take away a nice idea or two. My only defense is I was also willing to be proved wrong, which is why I even went in the first place.

Well, Lyedie blew my socks off.

Her presentation gave me a deeper understanding of my creative process, and how to use that understanding to focus even more on my creative and professional goals.

Like Bruce Baker, her information is the kind I would attend to many, many times, as I would ‘hear’ something different every time. The content is powerful, and Lyedie’s presentation style is earnest and heartfelt.

Some people are monochronic, she said. Time is rigid and linear. There are rules, and expectations. This goes HERE, and that goes THERE.

Creative people are polychronic. Time is fluid, priorities are in constant flux.

To maximize our skills and impact, TIME is not the thing to be managed, but our AWARENESS.

It’s not so much about artists learning to be better businesspeople, or learning how to squish ourselves into a better business model. In fact, the monochronic world is the one that needs to adjust, and flex, and support the polychronic.

Because our creative self–WHAT WE ARE–is what’s of value to the world

And the world needs us now. Badly.

There was more, so much more. A lot of it is science-based, on what we now know about creative people, and how creative thinking works. It’s also full of hope, and wonder, and connection, and everything human. It will take time for me to process exactly what this means for me in the days–years!–ahead.

It’s simply powerful stuff.

Our entire audience of creative professionals (web designers, commercial photographers, graphic artists, etc.) applauded when she finished.

I highly recommend Lyedie to any organization that offers professional development for creative people–your local art organization, your professional guilds, art schools. Her insights can offer benefit to creative people at every level of development, from rank beginner to accomplished professional.

In fact, as I face another dramatic surgery in the weeks ahead (total knee replacement surgery, eeeeeeeeeeeeeek!) I plan to meet with Lyedie. I want a ‘life intention’ jump start.

As I recuperate, I want something pulling me away from the pain and frustration of recovery, to the rich new path I believe lies ahead. It may not LOOK much different, on the surface. But I’m hoping for a ‘unified field theory’ for myself, a way to examine, evaluate, and include all the paths and projects on my plate.

I don’t want to feel distracted and unfocused anymore. I don’t want to feel guilty about my messy studio. I don’t want to feel anxious about the new work that’s in my head, that I can’t quite get out into the world yet. I don’t want to feel like I love so many aspects of my creative self, yet feel that none of them the full attention they deserve.

I want to feel that, whatever I’m doing, whatever has my attention, and my awareness, is what I should be doing. I want to feel that there is a place for me in the world, and a need for what I have to offer.

I’ll keep you posted! And in the meantime, see if you can get your group to host a seminar with Lyedie. I promise you, you will not be disappointed.

JUST TOO LAZY TODAY

You know what? I’m just too lazy to write today. So when this amazing post on how to tell if you’re doing your life work fell into my inbox today, I just had to share it with you. (I’ve already bookmarked Everyday Bright for future reads.)

And yesterday I was telling a friend about Eddie Izzard, and she’d never heard of him. So your chuckle for today is this clip of Eddie explaining world history for you in a totally new way.

See? Even on days when I feel like doing absolutely nothing important, I’m still thinking about you! :^)

DOG OWNER, HEEL THEYSELF!

Living with intention makes for better dogs, and makes us better artists.

Our new puppy Tuck (he’s the stylin’ dude in the blue bandana) is a delight. Tuck is our first dog ever. He’s a little too smart, but funny, sweet and eager to please. He has already added a lot to our lives. Including a few little puddles and stinky poo piles. (He’s getting much better with housebreaking, though.)

Actually, we’re getting much better with housebreaking. Which is the point of today’s post.

We’re learning that training our dog means retraining ourselves.

This weekend we hired our local “dog whisperer”, Perry Davis, for a one-hour intensive puppy training class. Perry is amazing with dogs. He doesn’t have a website (yet) but if you are interested in his services, please email me privately and I will send you his phone number.

We found we were doing some things right. But there were quite a few things we could do better. And the time to start doing better is right now, in this stage of deep learning, before Tuck hits the human equivalent of adolescence. (Parents of teens know this is when you seem to become invisible and mute to your child.)

This is the time to take advantage of natural tendencies in a puppy (eager to please, follow the leader) to lay down a good foundation for all future training.

Our dog sees us as either a leader, or a follower. We need to establish ourselves as the leaders in every situation.

For example, we’ve been using “come” to get Tuck to go along with us. And already it was not working as well as it should. He was beginning to resist going for walks on his leash, and would end up sitting in defiance while we tugged and lugged on his collar. He loves to go home, though. So I would drive Jon and Tuck downtown, and then they would walk home from there. Not something we want to become a habit.

Perry showed us that we were giving Tuck mixed messages, and not taking advantage of a built-in tendency: A dog his age (four months) wants to follow.

In order to encourage him to do what he naturally would do, we should not face him and ask him to “come”. (“Come” should ask a dog to return to you, not go with you.) We were to turn around, face away from the dog, and go, with the firm command, “This way!”.

We tried it. Sure enough, his compulsion kicked in, and he hurried to catch up. It was amazing! It worked every time. Soon Tuck was walking downtown and back with us again.

My husband Jon, as always, was quick to see the subtle structure beneath the advice and suggestions Perry offered. It was Jon who noted that the sequence also trained us.

Changing the command and the posture also changed the whole balance of energy in the interaction.

“Come” asks for something to come to you–in this case, our dog. It hopes the “something” will come.

“This way!” is you taking charge, you going your way. And expecting that “something” to go along with you.

What an intriguing metaphor….

Of course, there are many times when it’s nice to ask.

And hope is a good thing. It’s always good to have hope.

But there are also times when you need to just get going. “This way!” This is what I want. This is where I want to go. Making our intention clear to the universe.

When we know what we want, when we take responsibility for our journey, all our energy will go into supporting that. Naturally, without fuss, with enthusiasm.

Not without obstacles, of course. There are busy streets and high hills to cross on our walk. There may be setbacks and issues.

But knowing we want to go there will give us the good energy and zest we need to make our way.

Such a useful management tool for dogs. And for us.

P.S. The title comes from an old joke about a guy who named his dog “Physician.” When they went out for walks, he could say, “Physician, heel thyself!”