WAYBACK SATURDAY….er, Sunday. FEAR AND ART

This post first appeared on my now-defunct Radio Userland platform on Friday, March 21, 2003. At first, I thought “What war??” Then I realized a lot was going on since 9/11. Sound familiar? Other odd coincidences: I just finished reading The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker again, before I even found this article. I did finally find a copy and Art and Fear, about the fears that keep us from creating, and I still highly recommend it.
And though we now know that art shows will be on hold for a while, there are plenty of other ways we can keep our art biz going, by moving to online shopping and virtual events. Our creative work matters more than ever!
Fear and Art

A poster on a discussion forum put into words what all of us have been feeling lately, but hate to admit out loud.  The artist had a show coming up soon–should they cancel it because of the impending war? Maybe no one would show up.  Many of us chimed in with a resounding “no!”, stressing the need to live life as normally as possible until forced to do otherwise.  The discussion eventually meandered into a discussion of other things.  But the original post got me thinking about fear and anxiety in general.

Three of my favorite books about getting control of your life have the word “fear” in them.  “Feel the Fear (and Do It Anyway)” by Susan Jeffers, is a pragmatic book about recognizing and acknowledging the anxiety/discomfort that comes from taking risks and making changes–but not letting that anxiety stop you.  “Fearless Creating”, by Eric Maisel, I’ve read in chunks and bits, with some good sections about overcoming the obstacles to creativity.  (There’s a highly recommended other book called “Art and Fear”, but I haven’t tracked down a copy yet, so I can’t refer to it.)

The last is not a “creativity” book.  It’s “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker.  In a nutshell, the book is about the knowing the difference between general, free-floating anxiety vs. the genuine fear that alerts us we are truly in danger.  When we are in real danger, we sense it, whether we acknowledge the signals or not.  We know that strange guy who offered to help us made us uneasy.  We know  there’s something about that new person we’re dating that just isn’t right.  We may tamp down that feeling because of social conditioning, but we did have it.

Anxiety is more encompassing and insidious.  It’s what keeps us from booking a flight after we read about a plane crash, or makes us wonder whether we should cancel that show when war seems imminent.  It’s what makes us worry about our kid walking to school by himself for the first time, or keeps us from dangling our feet over the edge of our inner tube while floating in the ocean.  (Jaws, anyone?)

Statistics show us that we are more likely to die from a bee sting than a shark attack, yet we don’t flee at the sight of a flower-filled meadow.  If you look at cold hard facts, we are much more likely to buy the farm every day when we belt ourselves into our cars and head out to the mall.  Car accidents kill more people each year than the total number of U.S. fatalities suffered during the entire Vietnam war.  Yet I know of no one who has stopped driving their car because of the risk of an accident.

My advice to the original poster was:

I hesitate to add my two cents’ worth on this issue, since I don’t do many shows.  But I think if you start making decisions based on fear and anxiety, you are heading down a slippery slope.  Yes, it’s natural to worry about current events.  Almost impossible *not* to.  But when you start making business decisions based on “what if?”… well, “What if…?” can kill every effort you make to grow your business.

One way to think of this is: What’s the worst that could happen?  If you bombed at this show, would it bring your business to a halt?

And if so, don’t you really take that chance at *every* show you do?  Your thinking is, “We might be at war, and maybe no one will come.”  What about, “It might rain and everyone would stay home.”  Or maybe “There might be a strong wind, and my tent might blow away!”  Or “The stock market might crash, and no one will be able to afford my work.”  All those events are possibilities, too.  You plan for them as best you can, evaluate the *real*, tangible risks–and then decide.

I’d say, unless the show promoters cancel the show, it would be good business to show up as you contracted to do.  If, after doing a few shows, you decide current events are impacting your bottom line severely, then that’s the time to sit down and re-evaluate how you’re going to restructure your business to accomodate that.

It takes a certain amount of determination to turn this free-floating anxiety around, unless you’re by nature an optimist.  And I’m not.  I’m a born pessimist.  And turning this attitude around is not a one-shot deal.  I have to revisit it again, and again, and again.  And sometimes I still need someone else to point it out to me.  And sometimes, by reassuring someone else, I find I’ve reassured myself.

Some tips:

Read a book, forum or article about dealing with fear.  It sometimes helps to realize you are not the only person who’s feeling this way!

Find people whose judgment you’ve come to trust, and check in with them.  Not someone you ought to trust, someone you’ve learned you can trust.  Someone who’s earned your trust.  For decisions about my kids and their growing need for personal responsibility and freedom, I have a very small collection of parents whose opinion I value.  I know they have similar values, I know they respect my values, and I’ve learned to trust how they come to their decisions.  They don’t belittle my concerns or beliefs, they just tell me how they got to their decision.

I’ve learned not to expect everything from one person, too.  I’ve learned that I have parent-decision type friends, business/art type friends, family-dynamic expert type friends, etc.  Find those solid people in every one of your life sectors.  And when one of them goes through their own difficult times, recognize when they are not able to help you with that area (temporarily or permantly.)  In other words, constantly evaluate your support structure.

Learn from yourself.  Keep track of the times you’ve successfully battled anxiety, and remind yourself of those times.  For myself, I find it immensely helpful to write about my anxieties.  I keep a daily handwritten journal.  I would die of embarrassment if anyone read of anything I’ve written there–I complain and swear a lot!  But I also find that making my anxiety concrete by describing exactly what I’m afraid of, is the first step to working through it.

Hand in hand with this approach is a tip given to me by a good friend who is a therapist.  He uses an approach called cognitive therapy, and gave this example of its use.  A patient says, “I’m terrified I’ll lose my job.”  Well…what would the logical consequences of this event be?  An illogical conclusion might be, “I’ll become a bag lady!”  That’s possible, but is it probable?  My friend would say, “What are the immediate consequences of losing your job?”  Patient: “I wouldn’t make any money.”  Friend: “So what would happen then?” P: “I would have to find another job that maybe wouldn’t pay as much money.”  F: “So what would happen then?” P: “I couldn’t afford to make my mortgage payments.”  F:”So what would happen then?”  P: “I’d have to sell my house.”  F: “So what would happen then?” P: “I’d have to find a cheaper place to live, like an apartment.”  F:  “And what would that mean?” P: “My kid would have a smaller bedroom.”  F: “So the end result of losing your job is that your kid would have to sleep in a little bedroom.”

This is a simple version, of course.  And we all know some people do have worse consequences.  But for most of us, yes, losing our job might been living in a place with tinier rooms.  Been there, done that.  Survived.

Recognize, as de Becker points out, that anxiety drains our batteries, leaving us vulnerable and unprepared for real danger when it crosses our path.  Recognize that anxiety is our engine racing without engaging the clutch–it doesn’t take us anywhere, it’s just noisy and uses up a lot of gas.

I’m so pleased with this car metaphor! Remember, anxiety is our lizard brain trying to protect us. Say “thank you, but I got this.” Not every thought is true. 

What’s Luck Got To Do With It? The True Meaning of Luck

What’s Luck Got To Do With It? The True Meaning of Luck

Luck = Preparation plus persistence plus opportunity.

This is one of my favorite personal stories….

Years ago, I belonged to a discussion forum (remember them?!) of stamp carvers. We used soft vinyl materials used in erasers (sort of a really soft linoleum, not as slippery) to make our work. Our skills ranged from newbies to people who actually worked as book illustrators.

It was a lively, talented group, supportive of each other, full of suggestions, materials testing, and inspiration.

One day, an editor from a craft book publishing company* joined our group. They announced they were looking for “gallery images” of our work, to feature in their latest craft book. (Aka, “a call to artists”, defined by AmericansfortheArts.org as “A Call for Artists is an opportunity notice that gives artists the information they need to know in order to apply to be considered for the project. Issuing a Call for Artists is a standard practice of the public art field.”

At first, people were thrilled. But then reality set in: We would have our work published, with credits. But we would not be paid.

People ranted about this, even though I later found out it is a common practice in the art-and-craft book industry. In the end, only a handful of us submitted work.

There were guidelines and deadlines, which we all met. The results? Our work was published! It felt pretty good to own such a book, it was wonderful to be able to say, “Look, my work was featured in this book!” The validation was powerful.

A few months later, the editor submitted another call for entries. The same little group responded, and the rest of the group continued to gripe. “It’s not fair that we aren’t paid for our work!” I figured I’d never made a cent from my prints—they were always for myself or a gift for someone. So nothing + nothing didn’t seem too awful.

And now our work was featured in two books!

This continued for about a year. Even the little group dwindled a bit, but I loved the “exposure”. I know the saying, “Artists die from too much exposure!” In this case, I still owned my stamp and held copyrights to my images, so what the heck?

I developed a relationship with this editor, a talented artist in their own right. We became friends. It helped that they loved my work! But they also appreciated the fact that I made their job easier. I met deadlines, my work was different from other people’s work, and whenever they called, I dropped what I was doing to talk with them.

Eventually, they asked if I would like to submit project for other books. (Multi-media work gave me an edge! I could do stamps, fiber, collage, jewelry, etc.) Over the next few years, my work appeared in around a dozen books published by Lark Books.

At one point, I got a call to submit a painted glass project. I said, “Oh, gosh, no, that’s too far afield for me!” They said that was fine, they had other people in line, including one person who was shipping a lot of painted glass pieces.

About six weeks later, they called in a panic. That person’s shipment had arrived totally smashed, the final deadline was looming, and that artist couldn’t possibly create enough new pieces in time. Could I, would I pleeeeeeeeeeze pretty please make a piece?

Of course, I said yes.

I found some stacking clear glass plates, in three different sizes at a thrift shop, traced images of my Lascaux series stamp carvings on the bottoms, and painted them with acrylic paints. Soon I had a ring of red stags and running horses on them. It looked pretty cool, if I do say so myself! (Sadly, one broke years later, and I gave the rest to a friend before we moved to California.)

You can imagine how grateful my editor was!

Sure enough, in a few months, they reached out to me again. They wanted to publish the first mass-market craft book on rubberstamp carving.

And they wanted ME to write it!

Let’s make this big enough so you can see my name!  :^)

Now, there were other stamp carvers who were more skilled than I was. There was a well-known stamp carver who had already self-published a beautiful little booklet on the same. I actually recommended that person for the job, and reached out to them, too. I didn’t want to step on any toes or disrespect their efforts, or this opportunity.

But they were not interested! “I am just not up to that!” they replied. “I can’t commit to all the deadlines, the amount of work….  Thank you for reaching out, but you do it, with my blessings!”

And so I did.

It was an amazing experience. I was assigned another editor, and they were amazing, too. It was a long process, with me writing the intro, all the lessons, carving stamps illustrating all the “stages” of stamp carving production, and compiling the resources section.

Lark Books flew me to their headquarters in Asheville, North Caroline, so I could be photographed “carving” stamps. (That is, my hands were photographed! Yes, I am now a hand model!) (Er….not anymore, actually.) I got to meet both editors, I got to explore Asheville (the first time I’d ever seen outdoor seating at restaurants!), and….

I am now a published author.

Thanks to this opportunity, I was the first person to write a mass-market book on rubberstamp carving. There have been more (and some of my work appeared in one of them), and they are even better, more on-trend.

But here’s the lesson:

When it came time for the gallery section, I reached out again to that same discussion group, inviting them to submit their work for inclusion.

The response?

“You’re writing a book on stamp carving?? You’re SO LUCKY!!”

*Thanks and a hat tip to Katherine Aimone and Joanne O’Sullivan of Lark Books. I am forever grateful for the opportunities you provided to make this all happen!

 

P.S. I got a few grumpy comments on this article, from people complaining I was giving my work away. I wasn’t. I got free publicity by submitting work to the book galleries, I was paid very well for the projects, and I received a decent advance for the book I wrote.  Did I get rich? Nope. Not much of the work I do pays very well, and that’s even more true today. But it was enough, it was enjoyable, I met amazing people, and it broadened my horizons in uncountable ways. I’m grateful, and I’m glad I did it!

PLAYING IT SAFE: Don’t!!

Martial arts teaches me that playing it safe means no playing at all.

When I decided to quit practicing Tae Kwon Do, it felt like the right decision. The safe decision.

I was keeping myself safe from more debilitating injuries, right? After all, I’d been in physical therapy to strengthen my knee for six weeks already, when I stumbled in class and twisted my knee again.

So I quit. For two months. I was terrified of being injured again. I thought I was making a good decision.

It was a physical therapist during my second round of pt who finally set my head straight. “Luann,” he scolded me. “Professional athletes in peak condition still get hurt. It’s just something that happened.”

He assured me that being active was the best strategy to staying ‘safe’. He pointed out that he gets just as many clients in for therapy who are total couch potatoes, who fall on their way to the kitchen for another bag of chips and injure themselves.

If doing something you love motivates you to work out every day, then do it.

In his mind, “playing it safe” meant continuing to do the strengthening exercises he’d given me, faithfully.

Somehow, I ‘got that’, and decided to return to class.

In fact, I decided to also return to kickboxing as a way to train better for tae kwon do.

I heard a lot of protests from friends and acquaintances. “Are you crazy?! You’ll get hurt again!” they exclaimed. “Don’t you think you should take it easy?” Some suggested swimming–it was much safer.

Play it safe.

But here’s the thing: If you live your life fully, you can’t play it safe.

I like swimming okay, but I don’t love it. I don’t love it enough to show up to do it three to five days a week.

I do love martial arts–tae kwon do, kickboxing, tai chi. And I doshow up to do them, at least five days a week.

I know now that a daily practice may occasionally result in injury. But it will also strengthen me, stretch me, and improve my balance. All things that will serve my body, and my spirit well as I approve my sixties, my seventies, my eighties and beyond.

I’ve been playing it safe in my art, too.

Not just in getting it out into the world, but in doing the work I love. I’ve been holding back, making less expensive work, worried about whether it will sell.

Telling myself to give up on certain dreams and desires. Too unlikely. Can’t see it. It will never happen.

Figuring if what worked the last ten years wasn’t working anymore, then nothing would work.

So give up. Keep my head down. Play it safe.

You know how well that’s worked (NOT!) because I’ve been writing about the pain.

Art needs a different kind of daily exercise.

Normally, that’s simply doing the work. Making art generates wanting to make more art.

But I’ve been ‘injured’ doing my art. So I tried a little “emotional physical therapy” suggested by Martha Beck in her latest book, Steering by Starlight.

I can’t picture my perfect life right now. Too big, too scary, too unlikely. So I’ve been practicing how I’ll feel when I’m living my perfect life.

I imagine feeling joy instead of fear. I imagine feeling anticipation instead of dread. I imagine the world wanting exactly what I’m making, instead of me trying to imagine what I could make that the world wants.

And it’s working.

I see a wall hanging that my brain tells me could never be purchased. It simply wouldn’t fit in anyone’s house I can imagine.

But I imagine feeling my heart leap with joy. And suddenly I saw that piece laid out on a worktable in sections, waiting for me to work on it.

I have an idea for a book I can’t imagine would be published. I can’t imagine how I would find a publisher. I can’t imagine an editor who would be so on board with what I want to write, that she would call me every few days to read what I have and exclaim in delight and encouragement, with excellent suggestions on how to make it even better.

But I imagine what that would feel like, to have an editor like that, working on a book like that. And I feel anticipation instead of dread.

I know I’ll never be young again, ‘thin enough’, good enough to do justice to my martial arts practice. It’s too hard to lose weight, too hard to practice daily.

But I imagine what it would feel like to be light on my feet, to be strong enough to throw a kick perfectly, easily–and my spirit soars.

I’ve been doing this a handful of days. And I cannot express to you how much lighter and happier I feel.

I’m starting to really feel like good things are ahead.

Pulling out of my ‘normal’ routine for the last few years helped clear the decks. Cleaning the studio helped, too (though I’m sorry to tell you, my friends, that you can’t tell I cleaned at all in here anymore.) Following my heart on hospice has cleared a space in my schedule this spring. My dear husband allowing me the space to simply get through this and see what happens, has helped enormously.

For the first time, I am not afraid to simply wait and see what’s next. (While moving ahead all the same.)

And to prove that playing it safe does not necessarily keep you safe….

I did badly twist my knee again yesterday.

But it wasn’t in kickboxing, it wasn’t in tae kwon do. It wasn’t climbing a wall. It wasn’t while I was snowshoeing, yoga-cizing or riding.

I slipped on the ice while chasing a chicken out of my garage.

And when it happened, I laughed at the absurdity of it all.

p.s. I’m okay. Sore–but okay.

THE QUAGMIRE OF CUSTOM ORDERS

I’m struggling to finish my last custom order from my big big retail show in August.

On the surface, it wasn’t a difficult order. The customer, new to my work, fell in love with my aesthetic. She asked me to create a necklace featuring a treasured natural artifact.

We discussed colors, style and price range. I took all her contact info. I promised to have it done within a month, at the most six weeks.

It’s been a heckuva lot longer than that.

I’ve had a difficult fall–a death in the family, new injuries, not a few distractions. Enough to bump things like this custom order a little further down the priority list each week.

Fortunately, I must have sensed the potential for trouble, so I didn’t take my normal deposit for the work. At least I haven’t taken money for work I haven’t done (though I do have her precious artifact in my care.)

And fortunately, I’ve found my creative jones again. I’m slowly envisioning what this piece could look like, and I’m halfway through the design process. I’m hoping that free express shipping, and a healthy discount on the quoted price will help offset the customer’s frustration on my lateness.

But I’m struggling with the why. Why do custom orders so often throw me for a loop? Why do they seem so difficult?

I’ve written about possible pitfalls with custom orders (the Design Diva scenario, for example.)

I know the drill on how to make sure custom orders go smoothly: Decide if you’ll charge for the actual design process. Get as much input from the customer as possible (size, price, color, etc.) Get a deposit upfront (to ensure the customer is committed.) Get them to sign off on the design stages, even sending images, if possible, of the work in progress. And get everything in writing.

And I’ve enjoyed success with most of my custom orders. Customers seem to be thrilled with the finished products, and often come back for more.

But there are still sticking points. Today, in the wee hours of the morning, I woke up with a better understanding of what those are, and why I struggle with them.

When a customer falls in love with a piece I’ve already made–at a show, in my studio, in my new Etsy shop–that emotional connection is palpable. And immediate.

They see it, they react to it, they buy it–and they’re happy. Instantly.

There is that astonished moment of recognition–“This is the one!”–a moment that is the culmination of my creative process. I made something I think is beautiful, and someone else agrees. They trade their hard-earned money for my time, my energy, and my vision. The transaction is complete.

I love that moment.

With a custom order, we both get partway there. But then that final moment is postponed. It becomes nebulous.

I go back to my studio after the show. There’s usually a significant amount of downtime. I have to recuperate, physically and emotionally, from the stress of doing the show. There is inventory to be put away, booth paraphernalia to be stowed, paperwork to be completed, sales to be recorded and deposited.

The excitement of the show dissipates. The memory of the actual encounter fades. (I’m getting older, after all!)

I can’t read my own notes on the transaction, or I don’t understand what my sales assistant meant by her notes.

The desire to make that customer happy is still overwhelming. But
the energy has faded, the details have become hazy.

Doubt and second-guessing sets in.

She said blue. But which blue? Sky? Turquoise? Baby? Cobalt? Copen? Capri? (Yes, I have all of these blues in my stash.)

She said handmade ivory beads, but not too big. What does that mean??

She said she didn’t care, she trusted my judgment. But the seeds of self-doubt have been sown. I don’t trust my judgment anymore.

I’ve become paralyzed trying to anticipate the desires of a customer who’s no longer in front of me, and whose heart is not known to me. (Geez, I struggle making things for people I’ve known intimately for years….)

I’ve moved the center of my creative energy from pleasing myself, to pleasing someone else.

I care deeply about being successful, yet I begin to question every design decision.

It’s not the customer’s fault. It’s just the nature of the process, for me. I struggle with this particular dynamic.

I don’t mean to sound presumptuous, but I sometimes wonder if God felt this way when he created Eve. “Hmmmm, yes, I’ll make him a companion, sort of like what I did with him but a little different. Dum de dum de dum de dum da….. Wow, that’s pretty good! Very nice. VERY nice. Wait….what if he doesn’t like brunettes????”

One thing I know for sure: I have to figure this out.

If I move into making bigger fiber wall hangings, if I hope to work with interior decorators or do commissions for public works, I’m going to have to get over this hurdle. Because these will all be “custom orders” in a sense–site-specific, made-to-order, the whole shebang. And the bigger the work, the more money involved. And, I assume, the bigger the risk of not pleasing the customer.

I realize it is this fear, this huge issue of self-doubt, that is holding me back from that next big step in my professional art career.

So how do I get past this?

It may simply be a process of learning to trust myself, completely, with full heart and steady resolve.

After, my customers did.

And maybe once again, my life situation and my art are closely intertwined. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, just as I’m realizing my next step in my martial arts practice, a log jam in my creative process is slowing breaking up.

All I ask is, I wish it would hurry up.

SOME CALL IT COURAGE

I was checking in for an appointment yesterday, and the receptionist commented on my hair. Yes, it’s still Irish setter red, and it’s long now–much longer than in my photo. (But I’m thinner in that photo, so it stays.)

Then she said something that stopped me dead in my tracks.

“I would never have the courage to do that,” she said.

Now I’ve done some things that took some deep breaths and the proverbial leap off the edge in my life. Although I wouldn’t call myself a huge risk-taker, I’ve put myself out there from time to time.

But come on….dyeing my hair?!

It’s true I had some kind of “integrity” thing going with my hair for many years. I never colored it or frosted it or did anything outre’ with it.

Then one day just before a show I thought, “It’s just hair.” I went to the drugstore, looked at all the shades of vivid red, and picked one that I thought would go well with my booth. (Garnier #660 Intense Auburn, just fyi.)

It’s darker than my natural shade used to be. I was a sort of strawberry blonde like Donna in “That 70’s Show. (Truth in advertising: I am not saying I look like Laura Prepon, I’m saying my hair used to look like hers.) This shade is darker and deeper. But people comment on how good it looks and say it suits me. So I stay with it.

So why do I keep dyeing my hair?

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not to “look young”. I don’t really think raging red hair really negates all the other signs I carry that scream “55!!”

Part of it is the stage of life I’m in. A desire not to go “gently into that goodnight.” I asked my daughter and a friend of hers if I should let my hair go back to roan/grey. Both of them said, “No!” When I asked why not, they both said, “It’s not time.” (I’m not actually sure what they meant by that, but it sounded good.)

Part of it is, I still have amazingly thick, healthy hair. I realize there will not be many years left to simply have outrageous hair. (At some point I’ll be lucky if I have hair.) So why not enjoy this last long fling of hair?

And part of it was realizing I was making a big thing about having natural hair color, when there was so much fun with hair to be had.

But it wasn’t an act of courage. I figured if it went awry, I could always dye it back or get it cut. It is, after all, just hair.

To me, many other things are truly courageous. It takes courage to make your own artwork and get it out into the world. It takes courage to make a marriage work–or to leave a bad one. It takes courage to be a parent, or to parent a kid that’s not even yours. It takes courage to stand up for people who can’t stand up for themselves. It takes courage to hear those awful words,”You have cancer” and try to figure out what your life will be like for the next six months.

As I thought about the receptionist’s words, I realize it’s all relative.

Some of us are brave about some things, and not about others. I climbed a wall that was 40 feet tall, my heart pounding and afraid to look down. On the other hand, I freak out about something as simple as walking into that new NIA class, afraid I will look different or dance weird. I spent thousands of dollars, packed my booth and shipped it across the country to do a wholesale show. Yet I can’t bring myself to pick up the phone, call a gallery owner and ask it they’d be interested in carrying my work.

After all, courage isn’t always about personality, or a one-time choice. Courage is about taking all those little steps that get you to the person you want to be. It is something we have to choose, over and over again, in big ways and little ways, every single day.

So maybe that receptionist was right after all.

Maybe it is just hair. Maybe it’s not courage.

But as I look in the mirror this morning, I see what she meant.

Maybe it’s just my little, visible, personal reminder to try again, every day. to be brave.

LOST MUSCLES

I’m finding another benefit to wall climbing.

I’m finding muscles I never new I had. I mean this in two ways.

I’m hurting in places I never knew could hurt.

And I’m stronger than I think in places I never knew were strong.

It turns out women are actually better than men at first when it comes to climbing. We tend not to have as much upper body strength. So we naturally rely on our legs more. We literally get a “leg up” because we aren’t relying on our arms and shoulders to come to our rescue.

The surprising weariness in my hands, fingers and forearms after a climbing session was my first clue that something else was changing. Turns out our hands don’t really get a good workout in daily life. A few climbs gripping the hand holds showed that!

Soon, we tackle walls where upper body is really important–where the wall starts to curve towards you rather than away from you. Suddenly, what you’ve always depended on–your legs, your foot holds–don’t save you. It’s about holding on.

I realize that this is going to be good for me! This is going to help my writing/keyboarding, my Tae Kwon Do, my normally weak shoulders.

It occurs to me that staying in our normal comfort zone–doing the shows we’ve always done, making the designs that always sell, approaching the stores that always want our work–also keeps us from flexing muscles we may need later on.

I’m not saying we should drop everything that works, nor that we need to risk everything, all the time. But the last few years have shown me that things that “go wrong” force me to try something different–with interesting and positive results.

The second thought, being stronger than I thought, is important, too. I realize I may be worrying about my upcoming retail shows–driving myself long distances, setting up a simpler booth in a lot less time, introducing my work to a crowd that knows nothing about it.

But as some of you pointed out in your comments to my “Booth Confession” essay, I’m probably going to do just fine.

So the next time you find yourself in a log jam or a dead end with your art–whether it’s in design, self-promotion, shows, wholesaling, whatever–simply look at it as a wonderful opportunity to cross train.

You, too, may find muscles you never knew you had.

LOOKING FOR A HORSE

When I had my little cancer scare a few weeks ago, some surprising things came of it.

I’ve been through this before–suddenly realizing you may not be around for another Christmas, another New England spring, another round of baby bunnies. Maybe there won’t be “plenty of other times” to take the family to a silly movie, or go get ice cream.

It brings you up short, this little calling card from death. It makes you think really, really hard about what is really important. And what you really want to do today. Today.

It’s a great wake-up call.

So it was interesting when in the middle of my first talk with my dear husband, when I had my first panic attack, about what this might mean for us if the news got bad, what popped out was,

“Can I have a horse?”

We both laughed as soon as I said that. I sounded like a kid. It really took me back to my childhood, when I would have given anything to have a horse.

But maybe it’s not so funny.

After my last round of knee surgeries five years ago, I actually promised myself riding lessons as a way of getting me through my long recuperation and physical therapy. I’m been happily riding once a week since then, and loving it.

Recently I’ve been riding Missouri Fox Trotters with a friend of a friend. It’s deliriously fun! Their trot is like a fish wiggle. Trail riding is a wild, exuberant dash up and down our steep New Hampshire trails. I LOVE it!

And of course, an ancient little horse is where it all began for my art.

But actually own a horse? Be responsible for the care of such a large and expensive animal every day, in summer and winter, rain or shine? During black fly season???!!

Well, maybe I’ll lease a horse instead.

But it’s still a thing of wonder. Over the years, I’ve heard incredible stories of women who went looking for their horse, and incredible stories of how their horses found them.

The stories are beautiful and moving and powerful–because horses can be hugely healing and profoundly powerful animals to be around. (A little too huge and profound when one is standing on your foot….)

I know when it’s time for me to have a horse, a horse will appear. And it will seem as magical and wonderful as that sentence sounds.

So here we are, two very busy professional people with kids still at home and aging parents and full personal lives.

Jon is waiting for a dog.

And I am looking for my horse.

GO AHEAD, BREAK IT!

I subscribe to a newsletter from http://www.coachlee.com. Every day I get a “thought” from this website. Usually I don’t have time to read them. But today this headline caught my eye:

Just Because It Breaks, Doesn’t Mean You Broke It

Coach Lee goes on to say, “It can be so frustrating when something breaks while you are using it. The assumption by many is that if it breaks while you were using it, it is your fault. Not true. Timing is everything. When something breaks when you are using it, it is a matter of timing not fault. Things break. Don’t feel bad or guilty if it just happens to break during your time of use.”

It’s funny, but the one thing not addressed in this article is why things break when we use them.

It’s because when they are at rest, there is equilibrium. No energy in, no energy out.  No force.

But when we add energy, we disturb that equilibrium.   Think how a light bulb usually burns out when we turn the light on.   It’s that tiny surge from new energy that causes it to flare out–rarely while it’s burning.

So, too things break when we use them.  Only when we touch it/move it/use it/push it/twist it/pick it up does it fall apart in our hands.

And as I struggle to put together a new model for getting my art out into the world, wondering why everything seemed to go wrong in the first place, I realize this is the answer

Everything went “wrong” because I was doing something.

Everything went “wrong” because I was doing something.

I was making my art.

I was  getting it out into the world.

I was exhibiting it, showing it, selling it, promoting it, writing about it

f I had simply been a little lump, sitting in my studio and doing NOTHING, then NOTHING would have “gone wrong.”

And of course, what exactly went wrong?

The economy soured, massive terrorist attacks paralyzed our country, and our national shopping spree went into lock-down mode. Buyers for craft galleries stopped going to wholesale shows, stopped buying new work, and many even went out of business.

So what did I do wrong?<

Not much.

It wasn’t about me.

I just kept trying the same old things for awhile. And when they worked, I kept doing them.< (My one big retail show, the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Annual Fair, just got better and better for me.)

When the same old things didn’t work, I tried something new. A new show, more self-promotion, new marketing materials, new work.

Some of it worked, and some of it didn’t. And I’m still in that process of trying something new.

Of course it all “broke” while I was “using it”!<

I was out there with my art, trying to give it everything I had. Taking risks, new ventures, putting every cent I earned back into the business of getting my art out there.

I tried new presentations for my art—framing with glass, framing without glass, smaller work, bigger work, less expensive work, more expensive work.

And of course I made mistakes.

Because, like the old adage says, if you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t trying hard enough.

So no more apologizing from me on not having this all figured out yet. I’m in this for the long haul. It may take me twenty years to be an overnight success.

But when I make it—and there’s no doubt in my mind I will—you will have heard about it from someone who started out just a handful of years before the worst economy in 30 years—and came through the other side.

So go ahead. Make mistakes. Break it!

It means you’re working it.

It means you’re doing something right.

CLIMBING THE WALLS

Climbing walls teaches me about taking risks and having fun doing it.

A few weeks ago, on a whim, I visited the wall climbing class at our local Y.

I found a small group of avid, enthusiastic climbers. Before long, I found myself strapped into a climbing harness and scrambling up a wall.

It’s exhilarating. Exciting. Exhausting!! After two days of climbing, my hands and forearms feel like jello. No, scratch that. Jello bounces. Let’s make that limp, cooked spaghetti.

Here’s my big breakthrough moment while climbing the walls:

It’s okay to fall.

I obsessed at first about picking “safe” holds, making sure my feet were firmly planted before I made my next move. When I couldn’t find the next spot to move to, I’d panic. I worried I wasn’t making good decisions.

Was I doing it right??

I was terrified to fall.

But my coach finally convinced me it’s okay to fall. “Everyone falls!” she exclaimed. (She’s 65, by the way, and would look better in a bikini than most 20-year-olds I know.)

In fact, you SHOULD fall. When you get to a tricky bit, try a little jump up. Try a hold you’re not sure of. Reach. Leap. Go for it.

Because—and this is important:

You’ve got nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

Because the point of climbing, oddly enough, is NOT to avoid falling. It’s simply to get to the top–any way you can.

You can dash up, you can scramble, you can go slow and stop and rest. You can go up sideways, you can stretch off to one side. You can even just jam your foot against the wall, and push off against that. If you’re stuck, you can simply decide to take a little leap of faith. Take that big step up and lunge for that handhold you’re sure is just out of reach….

Because even if you peel away from the wall, you are perfectly safe.

You’re in your harness, your spotter has a rope on you, and you’re not going anywhere until you say you want to come down. (Which is pretty darn fun, too!)

As I went up the wall for the third day today, I actually felt my brain unlocking.

I thought of that saying: “What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?”

Because when it comes to taking chances with our climbs, with our ambition, with our art, failing does not kill you.

Oh, your pride may be ruffled a little. And I’m sure there are some nasty souls somewhere who will take pleasure in your little downfall.

But I would rather focus on those enthusiastic voices below, the ones who are taking real joy in your efforts. The ones who really want to see you make it, all the way to the top.

And the rewards are so great.

“Beautiful climb! Good job! You made it!”