Category Archives: What is the story only you can tell?

HOW TO MAKE WATER

Artists urge us to see the invisible, unnoticed beauty, and the important stuff of life.

I didn’t intend to write today.

I opened my journal, intending to try a new journaling technique I just read about. In flipping to the next blank page, I came across a note I’d written a few weeks ago. All it said was David Foster Wallace: This is Water

That’s it. Curious, and always open to an opportunity to procrastinate, I Googled it.

It’s about everything I’ve ever written about.

Of course, my lizard brain went, “Dang! Nothin’ left for me to write.” The angels of my better nature said, “Shut up and write. And then share it.”

Foster tells the story of two young fish passing by an old fish. The old fish says, “Mornin’, boys, how’s the water?” The younger fish continue on, til one turns to the other and says, “What the hell is water??”

Foster talks about a basic fact of life: We are the center of our own universe. After all, he notes, everything that happens everywhere is filtered through our eyes, our experience. He describes a typical experience: Grocery shopping after work. He outlines every single nuance of frustration and exasperation involved, from getting caught in traffic, shopping crowded aisles filled with slow people and whining kids, and ending up in the longest line at checkout. Who are these annoying, terrible people, and why are they ruining my day??!!

This isn’t bad, or evil, he reassures us. It’s natural. It’s ordinary. It’s human. It’s our default setting.

And yet….

We have something unique in us. We get to consciously choose what has meaning, and what doesn’t.

We all worship something, something not necessarily god-like. This, too, can bite us back. If we worship money and things, we will never feel like we have enough. If we worship our bodies and sexual appeal, we will always feel ugly. If we worship power and control, we will always feel afraid. If we worship our intellect, we will always feel stupid.

Real freedom, he says, comes from conscious choice. It involves attention. Awareness. Self-discipline. Effort. Caring for, and sacrificing for others.

That awareness comes from seeing what is real and essential, hidden in plain sight.

“This is water.”

I instantly realized, this is what artists are for.

When I say to you, “Yes, making money from art is nice. But that’s not the whole reason we do it.”

When I say, “When we have a creative gift, it’s our responsibility to bring it forth.”

When I say, “We can’t judge the work we do. We just need to get it out there in the world.”

When I was told, “The world needs your art”, I felt ‘the call’.

When I say, “Art is more than just what it does for you. It’s what it does for others.”

All of this, and more….What I’m really saying is this:

Art and creative work helps us see water.

This is why we must make the work that is unique to us–not what’s trendy and fashionable.

This is why measuring ourselves with fame and wealth is a sure way to kill our creative spirit.

This is why trying to control our legacy creates a disconnect with our rich inner life.

Bringing our creative work into the world involves the same conscious decisions: Attention. Awareness. Self-discipline. Effort. Caring for others. Sacrificing for others. (I’m still wrapping my head around that last one, I can almost get it, but can’t articulate it. Another article??)

First art heals us. When we share it with the world, then it can heal others.

Sadly, Wallace suffered from severe depression, and committed suicide in 2008. Sometimes the angry, frightened voices in our head cannot be silenced. But he left us with beautiful words, and powerful ideas.  He got them out into the world so that you and I can flourish.

He helped us see water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under go to the studio today, life lessons, ProPanel, the power of our choices, What is the story only you can tell?

BE KIND (to yourself), REWIND

You and me, we are only human. Embrace that!

Yesterday I wrote how I sabotaged my creative workday. I did dishes and laundry instead of making art.

Today, I did the same thing.

Doesn’t matter what I did. (Okay, I finished a book. It took a couple hours. But I had to do it. Why? Well, it was kinda creepy. Giving me bad dreams. But the writing is good, and I had to get to the ending.) (No, I’m not going to tell you.) (Okay, The Chalk Girl, by Carol O’Connell.)

Yes, as I was reading, I thought, “I should get to the studio.” But I chose to finish my novel instead, knowing I had other choices.

Why? Because I’m human.

This means there are days where I will have the power of my intention. And days where I will give in to temptation.

There are days where I will make time to make the work of my heart. And days where I will set it aside to do something else I love. Or like. Or fool myself into thinking I have to.

There are days where I will move heaven and earth to explore a new design, a new color palette. And there are days where I have to look up “palette” for spelling (because I always forget the which of the three options is right) and I come across a wonderful new color palette app–so cool!) and get distracted. (Color Pal–get it? Auto fill-in with Google led me right to it.)

You are human, too. Which means, if you read that last post, you may have realized how often we sabotage our creative efforts with more mundane tasks that can wait.

And, being human, you–me–all of us–will do it again. And again, and again, and again.

Here’s what I’ve learned from my decades-long observation and exploration into what makes me click as an artist, what holds me back, what holds me down, what gets in my way, what leads me astray.

It’s always me. Me making that decision, consciously or unconsciously, to leave the path.

And no matter how many times I observe it, write about it, clarify it for others, there’s also something else I’ve learned….

I’m going to do it again.

Here’s why I’m not beating myself up about it. And why you shouldn’t either:

This is what people do.

You are not a bad person because your will power is made of rubber, not steel.

Here’s an interesting fact: We’ve all read the benefits of meditation. We all know what we’re supposed to do. Sit quietly, empty our mind, and if we do it right, we will achiev a state of enlightenment.

And most of us know that finding that time, that quiet space, is something we just can’t seem to make room for. We know we start emptying the mind, and all sorts of stuff rushes in to fill the vacuum. “Did I remember to turn the oven off?” “How do my kids/cats/partner/employees know when I’m trying to sit quietly for five minutes?!” “I can’t remember my mantra….!!” We are left with yet another feeling that we’re doing it wrong. We’ll never be enlightened, unless yoga class goes on for another hour or to.

But do you know that enlightenment is not the goal?

Turns out the benefit doesn’t come from “doing it right”.

The benefit comes from trying.

Here is a two minute video of a beautiful explanation of why the trying matters.

I’m sharing this with you, today, so you don’t waste a single minute feeling bad about yourself today. I want you to know how normal, how human you really are.

People don’t exercise, lose weight, break addiction, stop drinking, meditate regularly, make their art, because they have superior will power.

They achieve that habit because they never stop trying.

My favorite quote from martial arts is, “A black belt is a white belt who didn’t quit.

True dat.

So do make room for your art today.

Do set aside time to note some ideas. Play with paint. Stitch a little. I’m experimenting with animals you can carry in your hand.

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I didn’t do as much as I’d planned, but I did SOMETHING!

Practice your intention, daily. Observe what the lizard brain monkey mind says.

Decide you only have to dedicate a wee bit of time for your art. (I allowed ten minutes to make these. Yep, I fooled my monkey mind, and actually finished these!)

And listen to the achingly beautiful, loving-kindness of Mary Oliver’s words today:

Go to your studio today. You won’t regret it.

And if you don’t get there today, why, try again tomorrow.

WILD GEESE

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver 

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Filed under go to the studio today, perseverence, What is the story only you can tell?

WHEN YOU SHOULD SKIP YOUR TO-DO LIST

Creativity comes first. Everything else can wait. Really!

Recently I wrote about finding a new source of ideas about creativity. This 3-minute article by Todd Bisson answers 7 Questions Aspiring Writers Ask That Don’t Even Matter a Little Bit. (Short story: Write first. Everything else, later.) (In case you don’t have 3 minutes this morning.) (In which case, you really do need to do something about that to-do list…)

I loved it, because it’s true. So many folks get hung up on figuring everything out first. They spend so much time spinning their wheels, trying to finess all the marketing strategies, they never actually create a body of work to build on. And of course, in the actual doing/making, you’ll probably figure out most of what else you need to do.

I felt pretty smug as I read the list. I’ve got that all figured out already.

Then I got to my studio to work.

And felt totally unmotivated to make anything.

Fortunately, I did what I do whenever I feel stuck. I pulled out my journal (I call it my “blort book”, for…well. blorting.)

Within a paragraph, I knew what I’d done wrong.

I’d followed my to-do list.

Some of it was time-sensitive. I get the damn boot off next week. I know if I don’t line up my physical therapy appointments now, I could lose another week or two waiting for slots to open up. (Even as I was on the phone with Megan, slots were taken as we spoke.)

But did I really have to catch up on email? Well. There were one or two that needed a quick response. But the others? No. They could have waited.

Did I have to do my volunteer commitment (Instagramming!) for the art group I’m part of? Yes. Did I have to take care of my own IG account right then? No.

Did I have to do the dishes? No. (God, no. There will be more in a minute tomorrow.)

Did I have to do the laundry? No. Good god, usually I look for excuses NOT to do it. I tend to stock up on the essentials. I can go for weeks without running out of clean underwear. (Too much information?)

But it felt like I was on a roll this morning, and I ran with it. I was pleased  with how much I’d accomplished.

Until I got to the studio and realized I was out of oomph.

I can blame the fact that it’s been a long eight weeks of recovery, a long time spent off my feet (and necessarily so.) It was my priority.

hanley1med.jpgBut the day that my priority is to do dishes and laundry and check email is the day I officially declare myself housewife of the year. (Please. No. Remember that 50’s TV show, Queen for a Day? Arguably the oddest game show in television history.) (Yes, it was my favorite game show as a very young-ster. There were crowns!)

(Hint: Truly desperate housewives competed for washing machines, so they could do laundry for 13 kids faster.)

So take a good hard look at your to-do list. They can be great for writing down all those big and little tasks, the ones that wear down your brain when you try to carry them all in your head.

There are extenutating circumstances and exceptions, of course. If you are a mom, especially a new mom, yes, young ‘uns are at the top of the list. So does the work that puts food on the table (if that isn’t also your art work.) Partners and friends get top slots, too

But when you can, put your creative work way up at the top. Even a tiny bit of time, and space.

It may seem like a luxury. You may not always be able to put it in the No. 1 slot.

But it is the foundation of everything else you do.

The work of your heart completes the circle of who you are in the world, and from it comes the strength, the clarity, the energy to carry everything else.

Twenty years from now, no one will remember that your laundry basket was always empty, and your sink was never full of dishes. They will remember the powerful energy you got from the work of your heart, and how it influenced everyone you met and everything you touched.

And if, like I did, you won’t do it for yourself, do it for your kids and/or the other people looking up to you.

How can you want that fundamental wish, the power that comes being in the world with a whole heart… How can you want that for your kids/people, and not for yourself?

And how will they know what that looks like, if you don’t show them?

Go to the studio–NOW!

William Stafford has something to tell you.

p.s. I was going to include a photo of my sink. But you don’t need to be exposed to that today.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under mental attitude, time management, to do list, What is the story only you can tell?

THE POK POV AND GROUP DYNAMICS

Balancing our individual needs with the needs of the group can be a fine line to walk.

No, I didn’t invent a new language. POK is an acronym for “Pissed Off Kids”, and of course, POV is “Point Of View”.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about mood.

Why do I wake up some mornings already stressed out, on edge, irritated and annoyed? Why do I sometimes wake up feeling inadequate, or as if I’ve been humiliated? I know it’s usually because of dreams I can’t even remember clearly.  But why do those feelings linger? Probably because dreams feel real, right up until we wake up.

I’ve also read how things we aren’t even conscious are, can affect our mood, even our actions. If we read a list of words, one word like “angry” or “unfair” can cause a change in our outlook hours later–even if we can’t even recall that word from the list.

I’ve always had issues about “fitting in”. Some of comes from being a child of the 50’s, where expectations for women (in art, in academia, in business, even in sports) were different than they are today. (As in, they were lower.)

Some of it is being part of a large family. I’m the oldest of seven sibs. I’ve noticed that younger sibs learn much from watching family dynamics all their lives. They observe what works and what doesn’t when dealing with parents, they learn when to keep their mouths shut and how much information to share. Oldest kids have only adults for their role models. We spend a lot of time explaining and justifying our actions. I tend to believe if only other people understood me, my intentions, and my motives, they wouldn’t judge me so harshly. (Um…I just realized that’s probably why I blog.)

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I make black horses, bears, bunnies, otters, and birds. But no black sheep. Yet.

This may also be why I’m so obsessed with the “why” about making art. It’s a powerful tool to connecting others to my work.

Some of it is being a parent. We think we have more knowledge and experience than our kids. That’s true. But we forget we don’t have their experience. Their life is very different from ours. We often make assumptions that get in the way of truly seeing them.

The theme running through all of this is something I learned when I belonged to a craft guild years ago. When you belong to a group of any kind, the group has a lot vested in you being a member of the group, rather than being an individual with different goals and needs. In the case of the quilt guild, group pressure can subtly affect something as big as your color aesthetic over time. When I realized that was happening to me, I left the group. (nb…they were actually very nice people, it was very subtle thing.)

 

2016-08-16 11.52.41

My color choices were not the maroon-and-navy blue popular with local quilt guilds in the 80’s…

I get it. I really do. It’s easier for groups when everyone is on the same page. When there are common goals, much can be accomplished. Accommodation takes time. Patience. Energy. Even compassion. All those can slow down or interfere with a group’s common purpose.

So, in the group or out? Which do I prefer? I always chose me. What are the drawbacks there?

For me, it’s the fact that I still feel guilty about choosing myself over the group. I want everybody to be happy! So I explain. I explain way, way too much, to people who don’t care–because they want the group. Which isn’t good.

The problem with wanting everyone to understand me is, I’m trying to control what other people think of me.

Explaining,  sharing the “why” about me is only powerful when people want to know. If we’re talking about customers who like my work, then they care.

If they don’t care, if they aren’t my audience, or the group is more important to them, then it’s a losing battle, and rarely works for long.

As I get older, I realize I’m expending a lot of energy that could be put to better use.

I might be a POK.  (Thanks and a hat tip to Amy Johnson, who not only coined the phrase, she has lots of insight about what it’s like, how it works, how to reach out to a POK, and what not to say to a POK. (Hint: If I’m focused on my needs and my POV, it usually will not appeal to the POK.)

Today I realized I’m stuck in the middle.

I want to be understood, and accepted. But the people who I want to understand, do not care. So I’m angry and self-righteous, and unhappy.

I say I must be myself, and not molded and shaped by the group’s expectations. That means I must be comfortable with not being part of the group.

But most groups react badly when a member leaves. This is a fact of life. I was taught to be “a good girl”. The resentment directed at me for “not being nice”, for choosing “me” over “us”, is hard for me to bear.

“Not fair!” I cry.

This solves nothing.

And so I understand I still have a lot to learn. (Hence, the “eternal student” moniker.)

In a very primal way, I’m still learning the only POV I can control is mine. 

The only person whose actions I can manage are my own.

The only people who want to know “why”, are people who care.

Now if only I could convince my dreaming self to get on board with that, my morning moods might improve.

Er…booze and chocolate for breakfast, anyone?

20160816_114608-1-1

I found a gray sheep! Does that count?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under getting unstuck, life lessons, What is the story only you can tell?, world peace

THE BIGGEST SINGLE MISTAKE YOU’RE MAKING TO GROW YOUR AUDIENCE

Don’t be an asshole. Be respectful of those you’re building on.

This was a convoluted journey today, that got me to this thought. Bear with me!

I somehow signed up for something called Medium.com. It looks kinda like Flipboard, Kos, Upworthy, etc., a news-and-ideas aggregator sites that let you select the kinds of stories and news you’re interested in.

Medium’s Daily Digest somehow got me to a newsletter from Josh Spector, digital strategist, creator and collector of ideas) called “10 Ideas For You”.

I browsed the ideas, and found some that intrigued me. Especially one by Alex Turnbull, founder and CEO of Groove. The article is called 8 Wins That Helped Us Grow Our Email List to 100,000 Subscribers.

Normally, I don’t click on something like this. So much of the information out there is too vague or too ridiculous for very tiny (art) businesses like mine. And the most useful advice you’ll get is the obvious: Be yourself, be unique, be authentic, and be persistent. (In other words, it can take years to become an “overnight success.”)

But this particular article was enjoyable and helpful. The title was irresistible. In fact, it inspired the flashy clickbait title I used today. (What the heck? It’s true, I’m gonna come through, and you don’t have to pay for anything. A girl can have some fun, right?)

One huge suggestion Alex gave, was to reach out to already-established “influencers” in your field, to encourage them to check out your article, comment on it, and link to it from their platforms.

The trick is to be authentic, open, reciprocal, and succinct. And it reminded me of one big mistake people often make when doing this, a strategy that’s historically been a huge turn-off for me.

It’s when people engage with what I’ve written, on my blog or another art blog I write for (link)….

And then blatantly redirect my readers to their own blog.

I’ll be honest. I used to do this, years ago. In fact, we were encouraged to do this. I actually pissed off a few people doing it. (I am so sorry!!!) Times have changed, thank goodness!

It’s one thing to contribute substantially to a conversation, to build on what’s been said, to offer another point of view or thought.

It’s another thing to argue, to bring up a contentious point I’ve already addressed, and then to overtly suggest people leave my site and go to your site.

Here’s where the authenticity part comes in:

If you build on what someone’s already published, you’re helping them. Especially if you are an expert or influencer in your own right, your comments (in a perfect world) validate their efforts. It’s win/win, since people will want to visit your site, to see more of what you have to offer….

Because you’re doing it right.

You haven’t shanghaied the conversation for your own self-aggrandizement. You’ve given before you (subtly) suggest you might have something just as useful to say, yourself.

People will see your enthusiasm, your integrity, your respect for the author’s work, your professionalism.

You’re not telling them or implying you do it better.

You’re showing it, in your modus operandi.

Think about it. I get comments all the time on my blog, comments that go directly to the spam folder. Why? They make general comments that are obviously boilerplate stuff, with almost no connection to the actual post.

Then they post their own website, and urge my readers to check it out. It’s a blatant redirection, with no contribution to what I’ve created.

So when ordinary, oblivious people do it, it looks like spam.

I want to tell these people, “Back in the day, we were encouraged to do this. Times have changed. Catch up!” That’s why I’m embarrassed to admit I used to do it, too. But to my credit, it always felt contrived and awkward.

So check out Josh’s space, if these ideas intrigue you. (There’s one on Bruce Lee and his personal journals, where he constantly encouraged himself to be the very best at what he did.) (Originally posted on Brain Pickings, another great site for big thoughts and ideas.)

And visit Alex’s article on the tried-and-true method they created, for growing your audience. Yes, they’re geared for businesses large enough to outsource their customer service services. (Er…what would that be like??) (Wait. Never mind. That’s not the “big” I’m aiming for.) But I found something useful, and you might, too.

And the next time you try drafting on someone else’s good work, think about what you’re doing before you hit that “post” tab….

Because you’re doing it wrong.

 

 

 

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Filed under advice on getting advice, advice on giving advice, What is the story only you can tell?

BAD SHOWS, BAD ART, AND WHY WE HAVE TO PERSEVERE

I heard from a good friend this weekend. They’re doing the League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Craftsmen’s Fair at Mt. Sunapee. It’s been a crazy week for them: Attendance up day, crashing the next. Slow sales, strong sales, then…crashing. Hot, humid weather. Friends in Keene say they’ve had heavy rain and hail. I’m praying that went south of the mountain, and didn’t hit the Fair.

Every show we do can be a test of our talent, our commitment to our work. Amidst the craziness, there’s almost always a sudden burst of light and amazement. Someone who buys a major piece. Someone who loves what we’re doing. Someone who gives us the wise words that lift our hearts, and keep us going another day. Week. Year. If we’re truly fortunate, for our lifetime.

When I got the message, I was browsing Craigslist. (No lectures. I’m housebound! Have mercy here!!)

In the arts and craft section were the usual offerings of supplies and actual works. There was a plethora of paintings, for some reason. Did a collector die?? Did a lot of collectors die??

It was hard to tell from the crappy photos, but most of the work was ho-hum (to my uneducated eye.) Even odder, the works ranged from a few hundred to thousands of dollars. I don’t know if they’d been assessed at that price, or if an eager heir was sure these were masterpieces. Who can say?

I’ve already told my kids that when I go, they shouldn’t worry about all my stuff. Just let people into my studio with a grocery bag, let them fill it, and charge them $50 a bag. They will be millionaires.

As I scrolled and scrolled through this vast wasteland of art, two thoughts came to me.

One was from the lizard brain. Who bought this stuff?  Did they surround themselves with this work in their home? (Maybe it looks better in person…??)

Even sadder, who made it? Did they spend their lives painting mediocre landscapes and portraits? Did they sell any of it? Or…even worse…was the artist selling it? On Craigslist??

Does the world need more bad art????

Thankfully, the angels of my better nature chirped.

Yes. The world needs art. Even bad art.

I miss Regretsy, a hysterically funny website where April Winchell daily curated truly awful items for sale on Etsy. (Her tag line was, “Where DIY meets WTF”…) If I ever had doubts about the quality of the work I was doing, I only had to check in with Regretsy to feel enormously superior.

So one advantage of bad art is it can make us feel better about our own work, and give us our giggle of the day.

Then I thought about the artist(s) who made that work.

They must have painted their heart out over the years.

Every day (metaphorically speaking) they set up their easels, found something beautiful (in their eyes) to paint, and went to work.

Every day, they tried to do better (sometimes with mixed results) so they could be the artist they’d always dreamed of being.

Every day, they did something they loved–making their art–and hoped someone else would love it, too.

Maybe they cast a ray of light for someone else, too. Perhaps they were an artist living their dreams. And maybe someone else saw that, and was inspired to make art, too.

So what’s the takeaway today?

I cannot compare myself, my work, my success, to others. One of my art history books talked about a very popular Victorian artist, hugely successful in his time. But today, his work was considered too schmaltzy. Other artists of that period (some of them unsuccessful in their time) produced work that has stood the test of time. (I can’t find the reference now. Do I need to buy back my college texts??) The same for certain poets of that era, too.

I cannot judge the value of what I do. Only time will tell if what we make will stand the test of time. We may, like Vincent Van Gogh, become a major discovery in the years after we’re gone.

Or our work may end up on Craigslist. Or worse, the midden heap. (The dump, in days of yore.) (Where do you think most archeological finds come from, btw? Yep.)

I treasure what making art does for me. Taking up my artwork, without judging the value of what I do, healed me. If it did nothing more than that, that would be enough. But the practice teaches me, too. I began to write about these insights and lessons, to encourage others, too.

I want to be an art hero for others. We may never know who else has been healed, or helped, by the work we do. If we were once inspired by art, or another artist, then we know the value of that. Now it’s our turn.

I’ve quoted Martha Graham’s profound quote on creativity many times in my writing. The short story: There’s only one ‘you’, only you can make your work, and your work matters in the world. For yourself, for others, for the tiniest bit of beauty and meaning and healing it brings to the world.

I wasn’t put here on earth to be immortal, and neither is the work I do. Of course I hope it lasts! I hope to create a legacy in my lifetime, just like you do. We all do. But I that’s not under my control. All I can do is make the work of my heart, and put it out into the world. All I can do is to do the best I can–and then let it go.

 

 

 

 

 

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YES, YOU CAN CHANGE THE WORLD

In these crazy times, many of us are asking ourselves, “What can we do??”The answer: “Give of yourself, to others.” One person CAN make a difference.

I ran into a friend today. Our chat ran to some odd places (in a good way!) We talked about what various social issues, issues that need rethinking, reconsideration: Young people and higher education; homelessness; insight into race and racism; disadvantaged youth.

Quite a heavy load to contemplate on a beautiful sunny morning in Santa Rosa!

“I don’t know what to do,” my friend said. “I don’t know how to help.”

I shared some of my experiences as a volunteer. in hospice, and grief support; as a volunteer reader in my kids’ elementary classes; a visiting artist in a program for high school students who were struggling with emotional- and mental-health issues.

Soon he remembered something he’d done awhile back, offering support for a computer technology he has lots of skill in.  He shared a few things I often felt as a volunteer, things I know other volunteers have felt.

So, in no particular order, thoughts for how you can help the world be a better place for others.

Share a skill. Almost all of us have expertise in something. Find a group to share that with: Youngsters, students (high school, college), newbies in your field, seniors. It may be drawing, computer technology, writing, jewelry-making.

Share an interest. Do you like reading? Share a story with someone. Do you play an instrument? Start a small music group. Do you collect rocks? Share that passion. You don’t have to be an expert, you just have to be willing to encourage others’ interests.

Share your time. An hour or two a week, or even a month, spent in the company of an engaged adult, can mean the world to shut-ins, students, event organizers, museums, outreach groups.

Share your uniqueness.  Young people don’t need you to be awesomely expert or talented. It’s enough to show them what that looks like, to be someone employed in work they care about, who have hobbies and interests they enjoy. It may open a door, or a whole new world to them.

Here are things to be aware of:

It’s okay to volunteer for something you really like. For some reason, volunteering/sharing an interest or skill, can seem not worthy–because you’re having too much fun. It’s like we feel we have to give in a way that hurts. That doesn’t make sense, does it? Or as my wonderful, smartsy daughter always says, “Would you rather volunteer to do something you hate?!” Er….nope. But it’s weird to realize how guilty we feel if we enjoy our outreach. Lose the guilt. You’re doing it right.

It’s okay to share something small. So you volunteer to sit and listen to a second-grader read a book. You think, “I’m really not working very hard here….”  Well, you just freed up the classroom teacher to work with another kid. You lightened someone’s load. It’s enough.

It’s enough to simply be present. One of the hardest concept to wrap my head around in my hospice volunteer training was, we can’t fix things for our clients. But what we can be is…well, to be present. Many clients found it comforting to simply have another human being with them. Sometimes we talked, sometimes laughed. Sometimes we simply sit with them, and hold their hand. (And some didn’t want their hand held, but they still felt our presence, and were comforted.) And it wasn’t about being there when they died. In fact, the greatest gift for some was to give them the privacy they craved when their time came. It’s weird, but they let you know.

Give some money. You don’t need to donate millions of dollars, or thousands of dollars, or even a $100. Instead, give a homeless person a buck or two (or five), with no judgment about what they need to console themselves from their life on the street. Yesterday I read an article about helping the homeless. The volunteer said, “Try laying your head on the sidewalk. See how vulnerable you feel. Then have some compassion.” It’s hard to fix your life when you have nothing. If someone needs a beer, or a cigarette to numb the pain, I no longer feel competent to judge that.

Give a little something. If helping someone personally still feels awkward, donate a few bucks to your favorite charitable foundations.

If you can’t spare the money, or time, give something else. Shop at thrift stores that serve social causes: the homeless, the elderly, kids, hospice, people without healthcare.

Or donate your old books, clothing, equipment.

Pick up a few extra cans of soup when you shop for groceries, and donate them at the door. One meal is a lot, to that one person.

Some of our greatest social challenges in the years ahead will take big steps, huge effort, giant leaps in understanding, compassion, campaigning, commitment.

It will also take rethinking how we we view the problems.

In the meantime, small steps will get us somewhere, eventually, especially if millions of us make those steps.

Last, but not least, put yourself in the mindset of simply being kind.

You’ll see the difference not only in what you do, but what you feel. Others will feel it, too.

You’ll be glad you did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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