What We Lost
The month before my grandfather died, I came home from college for some family function. I don’t remember what it was. It may well have been his birthday. I remember it was a special occasion, and a happy one. It was held at a farm, I don’t know whose.
I remember a sunny, beautiful day, an old and unfamiliar farmhouse, a crowd of people, many relatives, many others who were strangers to me.
My grandfather, as usual, was apart from all the others, more emotionally than physically. I always see him this way in my mind: Silent, sitting quietly, apart, gazing on the activity around him, but not of it. Somewhat interested, but not especially so. (He’d suffered a stroke many years before.)
If you sat by him long enough, he would gasp a sudden remark, gruffly, but with polite interest. How was school? What was my major? After hearing a response, he would settle back into himself until moved by convention to make another comment.
It wasn’t until many years later, after he died, that I finally learned the real reason for this sadness and apart-ness I always felt in him. I always thought he was an especially wise and profound man, lost in his deep thoughts, until overwhelmed by the chatter and chirping of the rest of us, he would rouse himself to be a good sport, and join in. Until more weighty matters pulled him back into his rich inner world.
I always thought that if I could say the right words, ask the right questions, he would suddenly open up and include me into that head world of….what?
Now I know he was an ill man, not just physically, but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. He was diagnosed as manic-depressive, and the source of much pain and anguish in his family.
Time, and distance, old age, had softened many rough and bitter edges, but the sadness and solitude I sensed was a bitter one, not bitter-sweet. (Years later, my mother said she believed she was his “favorite”, and was always good to her. Not so much with my grandmother or the other four aunts and uncles.)
That day, though, he was simply my grandfather. I was feeling grown-up and socially “apt”. I remember chatting with him often, trying for and getting little smiles and a chuckle or two from him.
I remember a beautiful day, a cake, a crowd of people (some familiar and some strange.) I remember feeling part of a celebration, and part of a family.
Less than a month later, he was dead.
The call came from my mother, with the news. She told me the date of the funeral, and expected me home again.
I was a sophomore or junior at the University of Michigan, almost 3 hours away. (After they raised the speed limit, it became 2.5 hours.) I didn’t have a car. I usually snagged a ride from friends at college to travel home for holidays and break. No public transportation, of course. So getting home on my own was hard.
It was also my very first funeral, and I dreaded it.
I wasn’t very grown-up, emotionally. I think I was so self-centered that my thought was for my loss of my grandfather, rather than thinking of my mother’s loss of her father. I wasn’t grown-up enough to realize how much it would mean to my mother and to my beloved grandmother to be at the funeral.
I just wanted to remember him as I had seen him just a few weeks before: Sad, apart, yet more bouyant than usual. It seemed important to remember him that way, to remember happier times. I was afraid to see him dead, to realize I would never know what noble ideas he had, what secret thoughts he pondered. I was afraid to see my grandmother cry.
Somehow, I made it home. I remember very little except my mother’s anger.
For years, I could not remember what I did to bring this on me, I only remember I had done something thoughtless, something terribly wrong.
I remember how still my grandpa was in the coffin, like clay or soft stone.
My mother was angry, so angry she didn’t speak to me the rest of my time home. She yelled about what I’d done that had angered her, then her silence was like a stone.
Both of them seemed as far away from me as a star, cold remote, silent.
After the service, we went back to my grandma’s house. My Aunt Lou, my mother’s youngest sister, sat down on the sofa next to me. I loved my Aunt Lou. She was always kind to me. To everyone, in fact.
We talked about little things, nothing important. As we talked, she sat with her arm around my shoulder. She began to stroke my hair gently, pushing it back behind my ears, over and over. It felt wonderful. I was so miserable I thought my heart would break.
She asked if I liked my hair being stroked, and I whispered, “Yes.” “None of my girls do,” she murmured. “They tell me it bugs them. Grandma Paxton used to hold us when we were little girls and stroke our hair behind our ears. We loved it so much. I always thought I would do it for my girls, but they don’t like it.”
I remembered that when I was little, my mother stroked my hair like that. But not for years now. I wished she would do it then.
My grandfather had been dead for over 25 years when I got a phone call from my mom. (And now it’s 22 years that!) As usual, we chatted, keeping it light. Suddenly, she mentioned my grandfather’s funeral.
We had never talked about what happened. (We never did, about anything.)
She had been talking with a good friend about the funeral, and mentioned that she had been furious with me because I hadn’t worn a dress to the funeral.
I was stunned.
I didn’t even own a dress when I was in college.
“Did I wear jeans?” I asked cautiously, trying to remember what major faux pas I may have made.
“Oh, no!” she said brightly. “You wore a very nice pair of dress slacks.)
I couldn’t think of anything to say. (I did make a mental note that I should always wear a dress to any future funerals.)
I didn’t want to make the silence uncomfortable for my mother, so I said apologetically, “I guess that was kinda rude of me.”
“Oh, no!” she said again, brightly. “My friend said I should have been thrilled that you came at all, because so many kids your age wouldn’t have.”
When my fierce daughter flares up at me, I’m overwhelmed by my anger. Hers flames mine. I think harsh words which frighten me. I force my jaw closed, to hold back the bitter words which bite forever.
My anger is a chasm. We stand on opposite sides, and gaze at each other, remote, apart.
My hands yearn to stroke her hair, and touch her sweet face.
N.B. I wrote this when my daugher was nine. I was lucky. I began to realize my anger came from taking my daughter’s preadolescence angst personally. Once I set that aside, I always tried to meet her where she was. We made peace with each other. Forever, I hope. I’ve learned so much from her, in so many ways.
I am in awe of her.
And yes, that was as close to an apology as I ever got from my mom. She died early in 2018, after living with coginitive decline for about a decade, and my father died six months later.
And another N.B. Thank you (Susan D!) to those who pointed out all my typos! As I was writing this, a few family members were bugging me to let them use my computer, and I went too fast!! :^)
WHY LOVE > $
Forgiveness is an act of commitment.
Forgiveness is psychological, not moral.
I’ve just discovered this incredible blog by Nick Wignall. It has already given me clarity on some of my “life issues”, good lessons in this confusing yet beautiful school of life.
The most recent one I’ve read is about anger, and consequently, forgiveness, both tricky issues to deal with even as an adult. This article wrapped up a lot of confusing emotions and tied ’em up with a beautiful bow. The following is a summary of what struck me hard, but be sure to check out the article as written, too. Because something different might resonate for YOU.
Last year, both of my parents died about 7 months apart, and I made four separate flights back home. One each to say goodbye, and one for their respective memorial services.
I had already done a lot of work surrounding forgiveness. Long story short, there were many times where I was not protected as a young person, and I suffered from not only the damage done to me, but also suffered from the lack of compassion from those who could have done better. There were also times where I was kicked out of the family because I was so vile and despicable. I had to come crawling back, not sure what I had done nor why it had been met with such an extreme response. And, like so many families, we were never–NEVER–supposed to talk about it, ever.
When a number of years ago, I realized my mother was now living with dementia, I knew I would never hear the words I was so desperate to hear. My work as a hospice volunteer taught me so much. How to sit with a client who is nearing the end of their journey. To understand the difference between “fixing/curing” and healing.
I realized she could no longer be my mother. But I could still be her daughter. I saw her as a person who deserved my kindness, and compassion, and that helped me deal with both losses without losing my mind.
It also planted the seeds of forgiveness. It took time for me to really understand what true forgiveness is, but it started there.
I was still living with anger, though. Many members of our family had different experiences, due to our ages and…er…experiences. It felt like a contest for ages: Whose version was “right”, and whose was “wrong”. How do we forgive people who are so sure we are doing it wrong? Especially when they never inquire what our own experience was like? Especially when we DID share those experiences, but remember them differently? Where is the truth when all we have is our own perception to rely on?
Nick covers forgiveness in the same way I finally reached it. Forgiveness does not mean “forgetting what happened” (because it is impossible to forget the pain). And it doesn’t mean the perpetrators are “off the hook”, and you have welcome them wholeheartedly back into your life. It doesn’t mean there has to be reconciliation–we are free to choose to protect ourselves, and we don’t have to accept “excuses” that are often at our expense. (For the record, “I’m sorry you got so upset” is not an apology.)
It’s about recognizing that other people are not under our control. We can only control ourselves, and there’s even a limit to that.
That’s where the anger issue came into play, and I love how he framed it.
Again, lots of quote and part paraphrasing:
Anger is a “positive” emotional feeling–we feel that we’re right and they are wrong. But it’s really an anti-depressant with potentially nasty side effects, and the consequences are often negative. LOVE THIS!
Anger helps eliminate sadness, boredom, feeling helpless, etc. It’s a crutch that makes us passive. It creates “opportunity cost”: Sucking up time and energy we could devote to learning better behaviors. It also reinforces our deep memories of the wrongs done to us. (Yup!)
The right approach, according to Nick, is to validate that anger. But don’t feed it.
The way there is acceptance–not for that person’s actions/inaction, but to acknowledge and accept we cannot change the past.
Thinking we can change the past helps us feel more in control, but it’s an illusion.
As I read this, I began to understand where my own residual anger comes from:
I hate it when other people diminish my pain. “Oh, that’s not what they meant, get over it!” “I don’t remember it that way, so that means you’re remembering it wrong.” When compatriots agree with me “in theory” but still defend “the group”.
And the reason I ghost them, I now realize, is because it feels like the only thing I can control. I can avoid any further interactions, and avoid the snark, the disbelief, the snide comments, or subtle “betrayal” of not standing with you even though they know exactly what it was like for you
So I’m still learning about forgiveness, and I’m beginning to distrust my anger, especially as it often serves only to feed the flame, or grow the sadness.
The last take-away from this article is, forgiveness is not ONE decision. We have to get there over and over again until the process gets “learned”. And it won’t “feel good” in and of itself. Because not only can we not control other people, we can’t control how we feel. Feelings are part of us, forever.
We may be able to soften the feeling. (The common phrase in a grief support group I attended was about how grief never disappears, but it does “gets softer” as time passed.) But it will always be there. Feelings are us. (Apologies to Toys R Us….)
All we can control is our actions.
This was exactly what I needed to hear.
For years now, I’ve written about the power of our choices.
We all have a lizard brain (aka “monkey mind”, “reptilian brain”, etc.) But when we learned to recognize those instinctive responses (anger?) to perceived danger (a rude customer, a snide family member), we can choose how we respond. We can choose “better”.
I am grateful that I found the way to continue the work of true forgiveness. I am grateful to find a better understanding of how my anger does not serve me, but I can never make it go away. I can choose to truly understand that in the short run, righteous indignation feels really good, but does not serve me in the long run.
And whether I have decades yet to live, or only a few hours, this is who I want to be.
This is who I can choose to be in the world.
This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews, an online art marketing newsletter. 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.
The body does whatever we ask it to. But it may not be the best way to do it. Only conscious effort can change that!
(5 minute read)
I was at the old people’s (of which I am one) gym today, the place where I’ve received physical therapy here in Santa Rosa . They have an independent gym program, which I signed up for as soon as I could. It’s the “opg” because almost all of us who are in the program are up there in years. (I might be the youngest one at….gasp!…67! Score!)
I do what I do best in life. I discreetly eavesdrop on nearby conversations, and gain insights to my own issues when something resonates.
Last week, I overheard one of the employees say to a client, “When we move, our body automatically does it the easiest way possible, especially if it’s trying to avoid pain. But that just “locks in” the “bad” behavior/action. And “doing it wrong” can make the situation even worse…”
“To change that, we have to….”
And darn it, I couldn’t catch what he said.
Had to wait til this week. I recounted his response, and asked what his advice was.
Turns out that, to retrain our bodies to move in a healthy, balanced, healing way, we have to consciously move the “right way”.
For example, I tend to walk on the outside of my feet if I don’t consciously think about it. Various injuries throughout my life have created this pattern for me. As I do the DUI walk, as we call it (going toe-to-heel along a line on the floor, a balance exercise), I could see in the mirror my feet weren’t “rolling through” the right way. I have to deliberately think about proper foot position. I never realized my “old way” was creating more issues, until physical therapists pointed it out. The unused muscles weaken, the extra strain on the overused muscles can actually pull a kneecap out of alignment. OW!!!
“Observe. Pay attention. Focus.” Sounds mindlessly simple, doesn’t it?
Except, when you think about it, there are a lot of times and circumstances where we do “what is easiest” and in a way that “doesn’t hurt.”
And the only way we can change that is to choose to do it differently.
One example: How often do we roll through stop signs at intersections?
Probably 99 times out of 100, it doesn’t matter, especially if the intersection is usually traffic-free.
But what I’ve noticed is, if we train ourselves to “roll through”, we do it without thought. We may lapse in checking to see if there is other traffic. Or if there’s someone else who’s running the stop sign. And the consequences could be fatal.
In our city, running yellow, orange lights (orange is when people run through and are still in the intersection when the light turns red) and even red lights, is a thing. It’s heart-stopping the number of times I’ve had the green light, and someone bombs through on their red light. Most of us take a second to actually move forward, and/or stop to check left and right.
The only way to break the “roll through” habit is to deliberately, consciously, stop, or at least pause, even for a second.
Is it annoying? Yes. Has it saved my life? Oh, yeah!
On a much smaller scale, for the first time in my life, I am now flossing daily for the last several months. I realized I was unconsciously choosing not to because “I didn’t have time” on busy mornings. Until I realized I DO have 30 seconds to floss. And I remind myself, by getting out the floss and placing it next to the sink before I even brush. I look at it and think, “30 seconds.” And consciously choose to do better.
How does this apply to our art-making and art-marketing? So glad you asked!
I’ve been writing and posting articles for years, here on Fine Art Views and on my blog. It was only a month ago I realized that if people SHARED those posts, there might not be an easy way to encourage the share-ees (for lack of a better word) to find me, let alone sign up themselves.
So now I try to remember to add, “Share if you like this” and add a link for the people readers share it with. (Hmmmm….let me do that right now!)
Art-making? I’m working on a new line of “statement jewelry”. I’ve been struggling with some the finishing steps, which are even more time-consuming than the actual “making”. Until I finally realized if I swapped out one of my “usual tools” for a different one. It felt awkward. But it cut the time involved in half.
I used to post articles on Facebook, then Twitter, and now Instagram. Time-consuming! But then I learned I could “share” through WordPress directly to my Facebook business page, and from there, post automatically to Twitter. And after Facebook acquired Instagram, I found I could post to Instagram, and set it up to automatically post to Facebook, and from there, to Twitter. (I just have to remember to post to IG now.)
I was reading Keith Bond’s FAV article on compartmentalizing our art. It made perfect sense! I’ve actually been doing it for years, with separate workstations in my huge studio back in New Hampshire, and as best I can here in California. (The only issue is sometimes having to have duplicate tools on hand, which is why I still own about eleventy-six pairs of scissors….)
I loved the article because it shows how “unconscious actions” can send us into a tailspin if we’re not being fully aware of what we’re doing, and why.
What “bad” habits/assumptions/unconscious actions are holding YOU back?
And what can you do about it, starting today? (Hint: Even acknowledging we DO have unconscious habits/assumptions/actions is a powerful “first step forward” for today.)
If you enjoyed this article, share it!
And if someone has shared this article with you, and you enjoyed it, you can sign up for more articles here.
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.
Rewards, Insight, Setbacks, and …K…K….courage, all this can be yours!
As I typed the title to this column, I realized I almost had an acronym! But I couldn’t think of a “k” word except “kindness”. Maybe spell “courage” with a k??? Aw, what the heck, let’s put both in there!
Last week, I shared my story about “luck”, and how we can make ourselves ‘luckier’. I told how setting aside my expectations of being paid for everything I do opened doors I never even knew were there.
I shared the rewards of that risk, which expand even into today:
- I had my work published and made visible before the internet made that easy.
- I created fun projects that not only were well-paid, but upped my own skill set: Using vintage buttons to make distinctive jewelry. Painting on glass, which (I only realized after writing that article) paved the way for a new series of work. I’m painting cave art images on my handmade faux ivory medallions.
- I wrote and illustrated the first mass-market craft book on carving soft vinyl stamps.
- I met amazing people, who were a powerful, wonderful presence in my life for years. And I continue to do so! (It turns out our dentist here in California pulled out her stamp carving book to make her annual handmade holiday cards, saw my name on the cover, and realized I was her patient!) (Yes, I autographed her copy.)
- I’ve bought old copies of my book (which is now out of print) to sell to students who take my stamp-carving classes.
Another big reward from taking a risk deserves its own list: Insight.
- We cannot control everything in life. Not even close! But “nothing ventured, nothing gained” is a powerful insight. Here’s my favorite joke about that, but be forewarned, there’s a naughty word in there!
- If you look back to my previous article, where two Mary’s had vastly different lives, then you will understand the power of ‘framing’, what we pay attention to and what we choose to let go of.
- I found out what works and what doesn’t work, when it comes to choosing shows. I have respect for the wisdom of “never do a first-year show”….!
- Not all rewards in life are about money.
- It takes courage to pursue your dream, patience for it to build into something profitable, and a sense of self-worth to keep it somewhere in your life, even if it doesn’t work as your paying job.
- There will always be people who will be uplifted by our work—professionally, emotionally, spiritually.
Now for the downside: Setbacks!
- Not everyone is your friend. There will always be people who are deeply threatened by us, and our work. It’s taking less time for me to suss them out, thank goodness! (Thank you, The Nibble Theory!)
- Not all shows are as well-managed as others. After all, show organizers/promoters make money on a show even if vendor sales are awful. (Of course, they can’t continue to be successful if their vendors aren’t. Still, there are always people like me who are willing to try….)
- Hard financial times (9/11, war in the Middle East, the dot.com crash, the stock market crash of 2008, etc.) are especially hard on art and fine craft markets. Art is considered a luxury, not a need. (Debatable, of course) It can feel very personal, like ‘we are doing it wrong’. Many, many people in the industry—artists, craftspeople, show runners, galleries, etc.—suffered mightily in those years, and many never recovered. Many folks took wild chances, shifted strategies, tried desperately to hang on, where sometimes just hunkering down and waiting out the storm made more sense.
The danger of setbacks is, it’s all too easy to give them a major role in our decision-making. Once burned, twice shy, etc. Yes, it’s simply good sense not to keep sticking your hand in the fire.
Otoh (on the other hand), not all failures are useless. As good ol’ Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
So here’s that word again: Courage! (I almost went off on a bunch of metaphors based on Tennyson’s poetry, but I spared you. You’re welcome!)
Courage was a relatively new concept for me, as a child. Oh, I had exercised it a few times as a young adult, but always in pursuit of a dream. Going back to school, getting a teaching degree, even traveling across the country looking for work in the 1980’s recession.
But when I took up my art in my forties, I exercised courage in a sustained manner for years, viewing each setback as a valuable lesson learned, and always, always continuing to move forward. Even moving across the country in our 60’s was a monumental act of courage. Sometimes I’m still surprised we did it, though I don’t regret it for a minute. (Well. A few minutes….)
It takes courage for me to write these articles. I get paid a nominal sum, far less than when I wrote for magazines even 15 years ago. But though it doesn’t bring in a big income, it fills my need to share what I’ve learned, and expands my audience weekly. (Thank you, faithful readers!!!)
In fact, all my writing comes from sticking with it, even when it felt like nobody cared. Because…
It mattered to me.
It’s a risk. When I put my work/words out there, I want them to serve someone else as it served me. I hope it reaches someone who needs to hear that story, today. I’m delighted when people say it did. I love it when people pass it on to someone else, who may also need to hear it.
And yet, there are setbacks, too. There is always someone who thinks we’re “doing it wrong”, and they never overlook a chance to let us know that. There are people who are offended by my titles, fercryin’outloud. There are those who believe there is nothing worth doing for free, and those who believe my writing is toxic.
Still, I persist.
And now, here comes kindness….
My art, and my writing, have taught me to practice kindness even…or especially… to the naysayers, the contradicters, the folks who seem to be looking for a fight.
It felt impossible at first. It’s obvious my work is not for them, and that’s okay. The kind thing to do, of course, is for them to simply stop reading, or to delete it, or move on to the next studio on the tour.
But I’m learning. Like the people who call pastels “just chalk”, or the people who claim fiber is not an art medium, etc. they are where they choose to be. Yep, maybe even doing the best they can.
By responding with as much kindness as I can muster, I can let go. I am restored to the person I want to be in the world. My risk—putting my work out there to be criticized or ridiculed, is offset by the knowledge someone else is grateful I did take that risk.
And that makes it all worthwhile.
In the end, the choice is ours. We can play it safe. We can avoid risks, ditch change, never step outside our comfort zone.
It’s up to you. I can’t even pretend to think I know better than you. As I always say, if this doesn’t work for you, don’t do it!
I can only share what’s lifted my heart, write what’s helped me move forward, what restores me to my better self.
What risk have you taken that’s moved you forward? What did you learn when it didn’t work out? Remember, both are valuable, and both are worth sharing!