LEARNING TO SEE #9: Do the Right Thing

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.
What is our area of expertise, as artists? Use it!
This morning I read a column in our local newspaper, “The Right Thing” by Jeffrey L. Seglin. It was titled, “What is the right kind of help?”
Seglin mentioned that he’s had many discussions over the years about the role altruism plays in our actions, pondering whether any reward–a tax deduction, publicity, something nice for our resume or college application–negates our altruism.
And now someone was asking if we simply enjoy our action, doesn’t that diminish the outcome, too?
Seglin outlined a logical and reasonable response. But there was one point that in the past has simplified this feeling for me.
Here’s what I wrote to him today:
I read your column today in the Press Democrat newspaper, about someone who felt critical of people who volunteer to do things they enjoy.
This happened to me almost a decade ago. I was a hospice volunteer for five years, before we left NH and moved to CA.
If I mentioned this to people, people who had no experience with this work, they would act like I was an amazing person. “I can’t imagine doing that!” they’d exclaim. I would feel guilty, because I got a lot out of my volunteering. I learned so much about the end of life. Every single client I worked with was a different experience, some sweet and tender, others challenging. (Fortunately, I had an AMAZING supervisor who listened to all my questions and kept me grounded.)
I told my very-wise daughter this. (She became a hospice volunteer in her teens, and went on to become a social worker specializing in elder care.) I said I felt guilty when people praised me, as I enjoyed my work so much and learned so much.
She said, “So you should volunteer to do something you hate?”
Simple answer, putting all your own points into personal perspective.
We don’t have to suffer in order to do the right thing.
And if the “reward” is simply growing as a human, and being aware of that, it’s definitely not a “wrong thing”. If more of the world valued that “reward” over money and self-righteousness, I’m guessing the world would be a better place for all of us.
Why am I sharing this on Fine Art Views today, when we’ve been encouraged to only focus on art marketing during these challenging times?
Because as a creative, I can sometimes feel guilty about my own actions.
Is it right to focus on art maketing during times like these? Is it self-serving to post my newest work on Instagram, and Facebook? Does it ring hollow to ask for advice about a piece, in a posted pic, when people are dying in our streets, in their homes, on a walk?
I’d like to address these thoughts here, hoping I can walk you through this conundrum.
I love making my art. When I can’t get to it, on any level, I get ‘art withdrawal’ symptoms. I can even feel guilty about enjoying my making so much. After all, I don’t make much money at it, which is usually a major factor in evaluating the value of any activity. Saying it helps me feels pretty selfish. (I hear this from other artists, too!)
In this pandemic time and shelter-in-place orders, it can feel selfish to be able to continue this work. Why should I actually enjoy these restrictions, when others are losing everything: Income, human connection, health, even their lives.
With the protests, marches, the courage others have to take up an extremely important cause, why should I get to go to my studio and make little plastic horses?
And even my usual message, about sharing our art in the world so it can help, heal, and inspire others, seems pretty selfish right now. Hoping that share will help sell a piece seems pretty self-oriented, too.
And yet, there are plenty of ways I can use my art to help others.  There are plenty of ways I can contribute to do that without setting my art aside.
Here’s the thing: Years ago, when my partner and I were in couples counseling (we’ve been together over 40 years, so yeah, it works!) we had a fight about how some of our joint decisions were made.
Our counselor (who was amazing!) gave us the key phrase that clarified everything:
Listen to which of you has the most expertise in that area.
This simple insight has curtailed a lot of arguments…er, negotiations… in the years since.
What the heck does this have to do with art marketing?
Let’s start here: Our art is your area of expertise.
We know how to do it. We know we love doing it. Even if it is not our sole means of financial support, we know when we can’t/won’t/don’t make it, we feel something is missing.
Through my articles, I hope many of you see that our art can do this for others, too. People buy our work because it speaks to them, whether this is landscape of their favorite view, a subject matter dear to their heart, or simply something that brightens up their whole house. (Yes, it’s okay if it goes with the sofa!)
Even if they can’t afford our work, or don’t have room, or it’s not really something they’d actually buy, sharing it with the world has the potential to give something back to those who see it.
The fact that we love making it, that it heals us, that it brings us joy, doesn’t mean sharing it is selfish. Selling work doesn’t mean we only care about the money.
Making it is our reward. Sharing it rewards others.
If we think there’s more we can do to support the causes we care about in the world, there are ways to do that, too.
We can raise money with our work, if we choose: Donate to a fund raiser. Start a Go Fund Me campaign, with small rewards to donators (cards, prints, etc.) over a certain amount, and donating the proceeds to organizations who are forces for good in the world.
We can share our gifts: Offering classes to young people of different races and religions. Give talks in schools and expand the history of art to be more inclusive. Volunteer in any way that speaks to us. For example, I taught a grief writing workshop during my hospice volunteer years. It was a way to use my skills to encourage others to process their unique grief, in their own way, in their own time. We could volunteer in so many ways by sharing our skill sets!
Bud Snow was someone I met during my studio years at South A Street in Santa Rosa. They do large-scale public art, colorful, vibrant murals, usually up high. The featured work on that page I linked was a mandala painted on a cemented area on the ground, in a park near my studio. It took them much longer to paint than usual, because passers-by could stand and watch them as they worked, asking questions and in total awe of the work.
Soon Bud Snow offered every visitor a chance to help paint the mandala! I did, and over a period of four days, I saw them interact in a beautiful, powerful way with every singler visitor: Parents picking up their kids from the elementary school across the street. Local workers and business owners. Homeless people. Every single one of them was thrilled to take part. It was one of the finest, truest examples of ‘public art’ I’ve ever seen, involving members of the very community the art was meant to serve.
Yes, Bud Snow was paid for the mural. (Though the extra time spent with the public tripled the time it took, so they took a hit.) Yes, Bud Snow’s work is now a sort of very-public advertisement for their work. Each one enhances their reputation and their asking price.
And yet cities pay for public art because it’s considered a powerful force for good for their citizens. The premise is, art really is a gift that everyone deserves, not just wealthy collectors who will pay hundreds of millions of dollars for a single painting.
Does this give you inspiration to do something similar? I hope so! Especially if, as the old Greg Brown song goes, “Time ain’t money when all you got is time.” Our time can be a powerful donation.
But there are plenty of other ways to use our art, and sharing our artto serve a higher purpose.
Maybe all we can do is donate money. In my case, I’ve made a habit of setting up small monthly donations to many of the organizations working to make this world better for everyone.  This is a good thing, because these folks know exactly what is needed, and they know how to work to get it done. 
Maybe all we can do is give others a bit of joy by sharing our work online. I have a friend who posts a work of art every day on Facebook. They are not a visual artist, they share the work of other artists, usually works I’ve never seen before. They are all beautiful, and speak to her. Then she shares them and it speaks to me. They are one of the most aware people I know when it comes to the difficulties of ‘people not like us’ I know. Yet she also knows a bit of beauty can give us the inspiration to feel better. And when we feel better, we can choose to do better.
So yeah, it can feel weird to keep up with our online marketing in times like these. It felt weird to be making plastic horses on my 49th birthday, on 9/11.
It felt privileged, and entitled. I had to work that through, in my writing, to realize my desire to make art, to make this art, the work of my heart, was indeed a worthwhile thing to offer the world.
I rarely feel ashamed, or less-than, or guilty about it anymore.
Neither should you.
Make your art. Share it. Use it service, if you can or want to. Use it to get you to a place where YOU can be of serice, if you choose.
Art is not a luxury. It is a gift we’ve been given. It’s a gift we need. It’s a gift everyone needs, us, and the people who love it. We can practice it ourselves, or with others, for ourselves, and for others.  We can share it with others. And we can encourage others to find and use their gifts with it, too.
How are you using your art today? How are you sharing it with the world? I’d love to know, and others will, too!

As always, if you enjoyed this article, let me or my editor know! If you’d like to read more, you can either read more of my articles on Fine Art Views or subscribe to my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com. You can visit my older articles in the wayback machine at Radio Userland. (They are harder to search for, but they are also shorter!)

If you think someone else would like it, please forward it to them. And if someone sent you this, and you liked it, ditto!

DO THE RIGHT THING

No good deed goes unpunished. Do the right thing anyway.

If you are a decent person in the world, you want to do the right thing.

You want to be generous. You want to be helpful. You want to share what you’ve learned.

I love that line from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, when Gene Wilder/Willy Wonka says, “So shines a good deed in a wear world…”*

It sends a shiver down my spine even thinking of it. Acts of kindness, compassion, courage all make the world a better place.

I believe my artwork, and my writing, is a way to be that good deed. I share what I’ve learned, I share my stumblings and muddling, I try to be my authentic self. I do it so people can see (if they choose)  they have something to offer the world, too. Sharing our creative work is essential, and healing, and powerful.

Before you rush to “help”, though, consider these thoughts:

Ask the turtle. Don’t assume you know what is needed. Find out. Our assumptions get in the way. People who don’t know what they don’t know, and who don’t want to find out, just make things worse.

Don’t judge. I remember being told, “Don’t give money to street people, they’ll only spend it on booze and drugs!” So I didn’t. Until I learned that living on the streets is hard, and frightening, and dark. Someone who knew better said, “If they turns to drink or drugs to comfort themselves, who are you to judge?” A recent article on a homeless-outreach group suggests we lie down on the sidewalk before we judge. “How vulnerable do your feel, with your head on the concrete, exposed and unprotected? Scary, right? That’s how these people feel every single day.” Research now shows that creating safe havens and housing for the homeless is critical to helping them get the services they need–because being on the street is so traumatic, not much can be done until they have a place to call home.  Only then can they begin to heal.

Don’t feed the vampires. In our rush to help, we may encounter vampires, in the most surprising places. Vampires are people who feed on the attention and emotions of others. Sometimes they are simply needy and desperate. Often they already have so much, but it’s never enough. Recognize the black holes in the world. The people who will take and take and take, who feel you/the rest of the world, owe them.

Don’t do it for the thank-you.  We’ve all had the experience of taking on a tough project, contributing, volunteering, often unpaid, as a way of giving back to our community. Inevitably, there’s the jerk who is quick to let you know you’re doing it wrong. They are negative and critical. They are the ultimate back seat, constantly telling the driver where to go. My husband’s comment is, “No good deed goes unpunished!” The response I always stifle is, “I think the word you’re looking for is “thank you”….”

In this TV episode of Supernatural , (a guilty pleasure of mine. Remember the “don’t judge” thing!) Bobby the boogieman hunter is dying. He has to revisit his worst memory, a scene from his horrific childhood, the day he killed his abusive, violent father to save his mother. It’s his original story, his core story, the reason he chose to spend his life fighting evil in the world.

It’s also where he learns for the first time that the people you save will not thank you:

You did what you had to do. This is where you learn that… they pretty much never say thanks when you save ’em.

There are reasons for this, but I’m not getting into that today. My point is this:

Don’t expect gratitude. Don’t do it for the thank-you.

Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.

*”How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.”

–William Shakespeare (The Merchant of Venice)

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.)

20160816_113427-1
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?

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I found a gray sheep! Does that count?

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE POWER OF NOW

This is a column I wrote for The Crafts Report, way back in 2010. (I remember it well….it was…ah…the year before 2011.) I just came across it, looking for something else, which, by the way, I haven’t found yet. (That’s how my life works, people. Embrace the serendipity.) But it make me laugh again, and maybe you will, too.

I recently picked up a used copy of Ekhart Tolle’s THE POWER OF NOW at a local thrift shop. It’s a well-loved, well-read copy–the previous owner underlined and highlighted almost every single page. I especially loved the “!!!” and “YES!!” and “THIS IS IMP.!!” written in the margins. Just in case I missed what was going on.

I don’t want to make fun of that person nor the book though. It really does have some thoughtful things to say. It’s about being “in the moment”—not reliving a painful past, nor anticipating the future at the expense of the “now.” It takes a lot of practice, though. Otherwise, you end up watching a clock and saying things like, “NOW….it’s 10:30:24.” “NOW….it’s 10:30:31.”

On this particular day, I’d worked hard in the studio. I’d promised two of my galleries I’d restock them quickly, as they’d sold a lot of my work lately. A LOT of my work. (Whoo hoo!)

I worked on a popular new series of jewelry, with a more organic, simpler designs. It seems to appeal to people who like my aesthetic, but want something more “neutral” than powerful animal totemic work. (What?? You don’t want a giant ivory bear hanging around your neck when you go to the supermarket??) (I can joke about my work, but you can’t, okay?)

I’d been focused and busy all day, “in the zone”, moving easily from one production task to another.

Later that evening I was dashing around town to finish up some stuff so I could relax “later”. You’d think by now I’d know that “later” rarely comes.

The last errand took me across town and back. On the way home, I thought maybe I could practice being “in the moment” in my normal life, too.

So instead of wishing I could hit all the green lights, or cursing the idiot who pulled out in front of me at the rotary, I tried to slow my breathing down. Breath…… In. Pause. Out.

I relaxed and observed what was going on right now.

“I’m driving the car,” I thought. It felt like flying. That was neat.

My knee ached a little. “My knee hurts,” I thought. But that was a good thing. It meant I’d gone for a long, vigorous walk with our dog Tuck, playing “monster chasing dog” and “kick the pine cone” and “grab the stick and pull” games. (Dog training tip: A tired dog is a well-behaved dog.)

“We have a dog!” I thought. Tuck, sitting in the back seat, chose that moment to stick his head forward and nestle it gently next to mine. Sweet. Except for the doggy breath. I’m still not used to that.

“I’m cold,” I thought. Not painfully cold, just enough to feel it. Refreshing.

“I’m on my way home to my family.” That felt good, too.

I drove through the town square. “This is a pretty town,” I thought. Keene does have a really nice downtown. This is where our kids grew up. No matter where we end up, it will always hold a special place in our heart.

“It’s a beautiful evening,” I thought.

And then I thought, “I’m driving through a cloud of soap bubbles. And I was.

Someone in an apartment above had opened a window and blown soap bubbles to drift down to the street below.

It was wonderful. Quite a lovely moment.

Then I saw a very flat, very dead squirrel, and that moment was done.

RETELLING A STORY: How to Get Your Mind to a Better Place

Find a different way to tell your tired, sad old story, and watch your heart grow.

There’s a sad story I catch myself telling over and over. And I’m sick of it.

When we moved into our current home, I did a major de-stash of my fabric collection. I actually reduced my inventory by almost 75%. It was a glorious horde of vintage fabrics and used clothing (from my vintage looking traditional quilting days), home decorating fabrics (from my make-my-own curtains, duvet covers and pillow phase), silk ties and antique velvets (from my crazy quilt days).

It was really really hard. I had to use all kinds of strategies to overcome my hoarder mode brain. I was determined to keep only the materials I would use in my art quilts, and the fabrics I truly loved. For example, pink isn’t really on my Lascaux Cave color wheel. So I told myself if I ever made another baby quilt for a girl, I could go out and buy NEW pink fabric. (Don’t worry, I kept most of the vintage pink fabrics.)

Another strategy was to find the perfect home for my stash. For years I’d donated fabrics, books and supplies to a little sewing group at a women’s prison in northern New Hampshire. They accepted almost anything gratefully. They made quilts for various causes. It felt wonderful to help a group of people who, in such sad circumstances themselves, made things for other people who were even less fortunate. It made the ‘letting go’ easier.

I bagged up almost twenty giant bags of fabrics. Someone from one of the causes found out about my donation, and offered to meet me at a town halfway between us to get the stash. I was grateful, for it saved me hours of driving time.

We met, the bags were transferred to her van, and I went home to wait for the donation receipt.

A long time later, I emailed to ask her where the receipt was.

Her answer struck me speechless.

She said her organization only accepted donations of new, 100% cotton fabrics. Because so much of my fabrics were old, blends, vintage or specialty fabrics, the entire lot (except for some picking by the staff) was…..dumped.

I called her immediately to remind her that the donation was not to her organization, but to the sewing circle that donated some of their projects to her organization. There was a long silence and then a quavering, heartfelt apology for the misunderstanding. I received the receipt for the donation anyway.

But I still cringed at the thought of all those fabrics sitting in a landfill somewhere.

For many years, that affected my ability to de-stash. Because one of my main motivations is to feel that my cast-offs are going to a new and better place, to people who will truly love and use what I’ve given them.

And it made for a good story, too. When I was feeling small and vindictive, I could tell that story with a sad little face, and with relish. See how awful that was?? All that good fabric gone to waste! It was a guaranteed sympathy-grabber and aren’t-other-people-awful moment.

Yes, no good deed goes unpunished, as my husband always says.

But lately I’m embarrassed to tell that story. And ashamed I’ve kept it going so long. It feels…wrong.

Because the truth is, many good things came out of that incident. Things that served me far, far better than a small truckload of fabrics I was happy to move on.

1) I discovered the light heart you get when you finally let go of things you don’t really need nor even really want anymore. If it took a ‘good cause’ to get me going on that, so be it. But when you really let go of something, demanding that it still serve you somehow is unproductive.

2) Remembering how quickly my stash of not-really-useful fabrics grew, it makes me think twice before letting just ‘any old fabric’ into my studio. Oh, I still succumb now and then. And those of you who have seen my fabric stash and are snickering, “Really, Luann? You actually restrain yourself from buying more fabric?! Yeah, right….snort!”, just cut it out.

3) Someone I respected admitted they’d made a mistake. And apologized with a full heart. (I am a complete sucker for a sincere apology.)

4) This same woman taught me a simple technique for prayer. And though I am quite the agnostic (meaning I don’t feel we can KNOW there is a higher power, and I know there probably isn’t, but I like to believe there could be), I believe the act of prayer is human and healing and good for the soul.

To pray for what you want and need, you don’t fall to the ground and hunch over with closed hands.

You stand. You take a deep, cleansing breath, and let air fill your lungs. As you gently exhale, let your arms drop, hands open and facing outwards. Raise your face to the sky, and close your eyes. Get quiet. And ASK the universe for what is in your heart.

I have a story about how dramatically this worked for me the first time I tried it. It was so powerful, I’m actually a little scared to use it much. But somehow, simply going through these motions is often enough to lift a weight from my heart, and soothes my savage, yapping little brain.

It restores me to my true self. I find I rephrase my wish into a better request. And the sole act of asking fills me with a feeling that’s even more healing than getting the wish. (Which, perhaps, is what I’m always actually yearning for.)

5) And, hey, I got my tax deduction.

So I’m telling that sad, self-righteous little story for the last time (I hope!) I think the process I’m describing is called ‘reframing’ in psychological terms. Whatever. It works.

And from now on, I will strive to ONLY tell it in this shiny, wonderful new context.

FEAR AND ART

Let fear enlighten you, not enslave you.

(This post was written just before we invaded Afghanistan. Or Iraq. I can’t remember now.)

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.

Some 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. (The guy is more long-winded than I am, but there’s some good stuff in there.)

Another book I highly recommend is Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. It proposes that being creative is all about having fear and self-doubt. So embrace and move through them–it’s part of the territory. Just don’t give in to them.

The last is not a “creativity” book at all. 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 or magical thinking, but we do have it.

Anxiety is more encompassing and insidious. It keeps us from booking a flight after we read about a plane crash. It makes us wonder whether we should cancel that show when war seems imminent. It makes us worry about our kid walking to school by himself for the first time. It 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 work or 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. (And actually, all of them did, indeed, come to pass.) 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 accommodate 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 that have helped me:

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.

Get absurdly reasonable. Seek professional help if you have to. One strategy is called cognitive therapy, was hugely helpful for me. Here’s an example:

A patient says, “I’m terrified I’ll lose my job.”

Therapist: “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?)

Patient: “I wouldn’t make any money.”

Therapist: “So what would happen then?”

Patient: “I would have to find another job that maybe wouldn’t pay as much money.”

Therapist: “So what would happen then?”

Patient: “I couldn’t afford to make my mortgage payments.”

Therapist: “So what would happen then?”

Patient: “I’d have to sell my house.”

Therapist: “So what would happen then?”

Patient: “I’d have to find a cheaper place to live, like an apartment.”

Therapist: “And what would that mean?”

Patient: “My kid would have a smaller bedroom.”

Therapist: “So the end result of losing your job is that your kid would have to sleep in a little bedroom.”

Patient: “Oh. Okay. So I guess that wouldn’t be so terrible…”

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.

Consider medication. I know this is not for everyone, and it doesn’t “fix” everything. But I found that a very low dose of anti-depressant was enough to take the crippling knife edge of anxiety away. Now I do less obsessing, and gentler fretting. (This was after trying exercise, massage, meditation, yoga, tai chi and my favorite, lots and lots of red wine.) (I still like these things, but I’m saner now. Really.)

Last, embrace your fears. Being involved in hospice has healed a lot of things. I’m not fear-less by any stretch of the imagination (and boy, can I stretch it!). When it comes to change, I still drag my feet. I still hate touching seaweed when I’m swimming.

But I’ve learned that many of the things I used to be afraid of, are simply not as bad as I’d imagined.

I accept some anxiety and fear as part of being human. They are my small, often annoying, ever-nagging companions. Even as I sit here, I am worrying about….ten different things. No, twelve. But I also look out the window and marvel at the first spring rain. I am so grateful for all the blessings in my life. I listen to the sound of my breath moving in and out, so regular and easy.

Life may be long or short, hard or sweet, with joyful ups and crazy downs A few little moments of terror and wonder thrown in. Usually a good mix. And it’s good to simply be alive, to savor this moment, with a little peace in my heart.

I wish the same for you.

WE ARE ALL MADE OF STARS

Do you realize how amazing you are?

Why are we so willing to believe the worst about ourselves?

I had a conversation with a friend recently. She tends to believe she presents herself worse than she does. She accentuates her perceived weaknesses and berates herself for being “stuck”.

When I commented on her strengths and her perceived weaknesses (more on that), she smiled. “Yeah”, she said, “A friend once told me what my real problem is. My friend said, ‘Your problem is, you don’t realize how amazing you are.”

I agree with her friend.

I told her about a presentation I made last year, to an auditorium full of people. I’d goofed pretty badly–thought I was doing a presentation on one topic, only to realize the night before I was committed to a different one.

I was still more than adequately prepared. I’ve taught this workshop before, and have plenty of material on hand. But throughout the presentation, I kept apologizing. “I’m handing out a resource list–I’m so sorry, it would have been longer….” “Blah blah blah, sorry!, blah blah.”

When I read the evaluations later, everyone raved about me.

Except for one astute soul who commented, “The presentation was excellent, good information. Just one negative. She apologized too much. I found it distracting.”

Oy.

It’s time to quit apologizing for ourselves.

It’s so easy to see this in other people. So hard to see it in ourselves: Not trusting our instincts. Focusing on our weaknesses and flaws. Taking our strengths for granted.

Taking ourselves for granted.

So in the interest of full disclosure, here’s the back story behind my blog:

I merrily make my art/write my column/prepare a seminar. Things are humming along. Life is good!

Then I hit roadblocks. An envious peer. A missed deadline. A new injury (usually acquired doing something absolutely stupid.) A rejection from a show. Oh, and a very low checking account balance.

Some people thrive in adversity. Yay for them! (And we all can do that sometimes.) But often we are struck in vulnerable places. The roadblock looks similar to a struggle in our past. And there are some people in this world, in a kind of pain themselves, who know exactly where to aim their blows.

If I’m in my powerful place, I shrug these off as annoying but manageable, tiny little bumps in my path. I will not be deterred from my journey.

But if I’m in a fragile period, I get knocked off-center. “Why do I bother making this work? Nobody likes it!” “How can I make her like me and stop being so mean?” “I’m so disorganized!”

Soon I feel like there’s no place for me in the world. No gifts I can offer. No way I can contribute. I’m just a whirling bundle of fret and anxiety and unkindness and ineptitude. (I thought I was making that last word up, but spell check says no, I’m good to go. Until I spelled “spellcheck” wrong….)

I eventually sit down to write. I dump it all out onto paper. I whine, I cry, I resent, I blame.

And then something wonderful happens.

I realize how amazing I am.

Not in the swelled-head, I’m-okay-you’re-not, aren’t-I-grand kinda way.

Just…amazing…in the ordinary way. A person, here in this world, in this time, trying to love and be loved. Trying to be kind. Trying to shine. Trying to do the work I was put here to do. Trying to do the best I can. (Another friend, years ago, said to me, “I like to believe people are doing the best they can.” It brought tears to my eyes.) (Although it’s hard to remember that when someone cuts me off in traffic.)

For a few wonderful, incredible minutes, maybe a few hours, maybe even an entire day, I see how powerful I am, how brightly I shine. Just enough for me to get back in the saddle and try again. (OH! A riding metaphor!)

At some point, this struggle, this journey, turns into a blog article, or a keynote speech, or a new wall hanging. If it’s funny, it goes to my column at The Crafts Report.

I write about the struggle. I write about how I end up in the hard place, and how I find my way back from there.

And how I still end up there again.

And find my way back home, to my own heart–again.

I write about how our weaknesses are not something to be cried over, but something to be celebrated. Because our weaknesses are the true source of our strength, if we let this awareness happen.

If we are the victim of cruelty, we can still choose to be kind.

If we are gripped by sadness, we can simply embrace that, for now. Or we can choose to act as if we are happy. Or we can help someone else who is sad.

If we grieve, it is because we loved. Or because we wanted to love, or to be loved.

These things are not imperfections. Or rather, they are imperfections. They are what make us beautiful, just as as stress, flaw, disease and even death make something beautiful in wood.

If we don’t think we are amazing, it is simply because we are afraid of what that might mean. We think we don’t know what that looks like. We don’t know what might change or what we might lose, or that we are setting ourselves up for even bigger failure. We are afraid we will have to work harder, and we are afraid we won’t be able to.

We are afraid we are not enough.

And yet, in each of us, is the potential to simply be ourselves. To be present. To respect our gifts, and USE them.

What inspires me, what makes me cry, is that this very place that’s so hard for us–“I am not enough”–comes from a very powerful, very beautiful place–“I want to be somebody</em, somebody worthy of love, respect, kindness, joy, achievement. I want to be seen and cherished. I want to do good work. I want to be remembered after I'm gone."

Don't you think it's amazing that we all want these things?

Isn't it astonishing that this desire drives everything we do, every choice we make, whether we act on this consciously ("I'm going to hold the door open for that person behind me.") to unconsciously ("Huh! That person cut in front of me! He acted as if I were totally not worth his kindness!" or choice words to that effect….)? (I am praying you did not get lost in the punctuation of that last sentence.)

And that's why, when people say I'M amazing, or do such beautiful work, or write something good, I do a little foot shuffle and blush, and say, "Aw, tweren't nuthin'…"

Because I DON'T have this all figured out, or rather, it doesn't STAY worked out. I'll have to do the same thing tomorrow, and next month, and probably for the rest of my life–fall down, cry, take hope and get back up.

I know I just have to do this. And I don't have to do it perfectly, either.

Because when I look at my work, at my art, at the artifacts, the fiber work, the little bears and otters, the grumpy fish, the horses….oh, the horses!

When I remember my story I tell about myself and this work, what it's done for me spiritually, and what others say it does for them….

When I remember how far I've come from that lonely, sad place, where I was so sure there was no place in this world, I actually tried to leave it….

When I look at the wonderful guy who is my life partner, and our children, our friends and family, even the stranger on the street who chooses to be kind… When I realize all the opportunities there are in life to BE that partner, that child, that friend, that stranger…

I realize we truly are all made of stars.

I am. And so are you.

p.s. Thank you, Moby, for the title of this post.

WHEN IS A WYSIWYG NOT A WYSIWYG?

When is “What you see is what you get” not what you think? When it’s something else.

(Originally published December 4, 2002)

Last week I got a call from someone on committee. They were in a bind. They needed someone to help with a project–could I volunteer for half an hour? I checked my calendar, saw an open spot and said yes.

I went in today for my assignment. I was greeted by the person in charge and put to work. Half an hour later, the task was done, and I asked the person in charge, “Is that it?”

She said, “Yes. Now, wasn’t that easy? That wasn’t such a big deal, was it?” with a kindly smile.

Being a grown-up, I managed to bite my tongue before the words “I think the words you’re looking for here are ‘thank you’!” popped out. I simply smiled and left.

At my next stop, I related my story to the woman behind the counter, bemoaning how ungrateful some people can be..

“Oh, that’s nothing,” she said.

Last year her fiance was at a local organization here in Keene, NH. He saw their Christmas tree project in the lobby, covered with dozens of tags. (This is their special Christmas project. Each tag has a child’s name, a child who was in one of their community outreach programs, with the child’s age and one wish for a gift.)

It was a week before Christmas, and no one had taken any of the tags.

Her fiance found the woman in charge of the program. He told her he wanted every tag on that tree. He was determined that no child’s wish went unfulfilled.

Together, they went shopping. He bought every single child not only their designated gift, but lots of extra presents as well.

He spent over $2,500.

They returned to the facility and stored all the presents to be distributed the next day. He told her he preferred to remain anonymous. And he had to hurry, because he still didn’t have a Christmas tree himself.

The woman said, “You said you don’t even have a tree for Christmas yet? Why don’t you take that tree home with you? It’s the least we can do to thank you!”

So the took the tree. As he walked out the door with it, the facility director walked in and saw him.

This week (one year later), the man saw this year’s tag-covered tree in the lobby. Again, he approached the front desk, where the facility director was standing. “I’d like to help out again with your Christmas program again this year,” he said.

The director looked at him. He only remembered seeing this guy walk out of the facility a year ago with the tree. He sneered, “I don’t think we’ll need your kind of help this year.”

What you see is not always what you get…..

I told the woman to have her fiance write a letter to the guy, cc’ing the board of directors, the woman in charge of the Christmas program, and the local United Way, which supports and funds this facility. Oh, and the local newspaper, too.

He should explain that last year, he had donated his time and $2,500 of his personal money to make sure no child in their care was left out at Christmas. This year, he had repeated his offer, and had been told his help was not needed this year. And he should say how delighted he was that the facility had been so successful in their efforts that they needed no other help from their membership or the community to ensure every child had a wonderful Christmas.

He won’t do it, of course. But what a lesson for all of us!

Sometimes what you see is NOT what you get.

Sometimes…there’s whole nother story being told.

Update: The generous gentleman preferred to suffer in silence, and vowed never to participate again. But eventually, he realized only the children were hurt by his decision. He continues to make Christmas wonderful for these kids.

P.S. This is a perfect example of BIBS, the Baby In the Back Seat phenomenon. Here’s where I read this concept by conflict resolution expert Anna Maravelas and here’s a recent retelling.) Please read them if you have a moment, it will change your life!

TIME TO SIT ON MY HANDS AGAIN

I write for several venues now. Fortunately, my humorous column at The Crafts Report rarely draws complaints. (Or maybe it does and Jones Publishing is just shielding me from them….??)

There’s another blog I write for every two weeks, usually about getting your art out there. And it seems like every time I write, someone complains I’m not writing about “art”, just about “selling art”. And the monstrous idea of making art “for filthy lucre” raises its ugly head once again.

The idea of “art for art’s sake” is a very common one among many modern artists. I don’t really disagree. I do hold my art passionately, and with integrity, in my heart. Anyone whose read my blog for the last eight years, or heard me talk, or teach, or met me in my booth, knows that. I will always make my art and I will always write, whether I’m paid to or not. (For example, I’m not paid to write this blog and I’ve been doing it for eight years now.)

We all already create our art with passion, with joy and with zest. I often write about my art processes here. At this other site, I figured a bunch of artists might be less interested in my prattling about MY art, and more interested in how to get to get people excited when they prattle about THEIRS.

And most of them appreciate that. I’ve gotten many thoughtful comments and words of thanks for giving people another point of view, for sharing an insight that helps us be more successful artists, or simply more compassionate people.

But art does NOT exist in a vacuum. If our work only sells “if it’s good enough”, and nothing else should matter, that would limit much of the stuff we normally call “art.” And oh, if only it were that easy….

Exhibiting, publishing, marketing, selling are simply venues for getting one’s work out into the world.

I don’t know why our modern times puts such a judgment on that process. When did getting paid to make art get such a bad rap??? Many of the great masters had wealthy patrons or commissions to do their work. The Sistine Chapel was painted on commission, after all. Picasso was not only a famous artist, he is famous BECAUSE he was a master at self-promotion and marketing. Remember the picture he drew to pay his tailor bill? Or the check he wrote and told the recipient if he waited, the signature would be worth more than the amount of the check? Marketing. (See more “myths about artists” here. (I don’t know why all fourteen don’t show up, but if you do a little digging while you go through these, you should be able to find them all.)

Yes, it would be nice if artists only had to sit and paint/carve/sculpt/write/sing all day, and not worry about anything else. I would be terrific if we could all have someone else to promote, market and sell our work. In fact, it would be wonderful! But it doesn’t happen very often. In fact, that’s what that website for artists I write for is for–to help artists exhibit, show, market AND SELL their work.

Saying we shouldn’t care about exhibiting or selling our art is easy. But most of us DO care, very very much. IMHO, many people who say they don’t care of the world sees their work are actually afraid of the world seeing their work. It is so precious to them, they fear and avoid rejection, ridicule, humiliation. Those fears (very human, and very common to us all) are so powerful, the person would rather embrace obscurity than risk it.

And even if we don’t fear these and truly believe our art is ONLY for ourselves, then we inadvertently disconnect art from its very purpose–to enrich the world emotionally and spiritually. The cave paintings of Lascaux weren’t hidden because they were personal. They were protected because they were so powerful. The welfare of the entire community was wrapped up in their creation. Maybe it was hard to get to see them, but they WERE seen. Evidence of torches, evidence of men, women and children (foot prints, hand prints), even doggy foot prints prove that.

A piece of art that is never exhibited, that is not shared, or sold, is a loss to the world, like a song that is never sung, a poem that is never read. Emily Dickinson is often given as an example of a powerful writer whose work was never published and someone who never sought recognition. But she desperately WANTED to be recognized, and she worked hard trying to get her work published. She wanted her art to be visible in the world. And though it didn’t happen til after her death, the world is richer for her words. Her work was certainly “good enough” to make her successful. But for different reasons, that didn’t happen in her lifetime.

My articles serve many purposes. Sometimes I just need to write about an issue to find my way through it. Sometimes I find a deeper truth than what I originally planned. Sometimes I find myself in a hard place; I’ve learned that being honest about that, and sharing that, will sometimes help someone else through the same rough spot.

I ALWAYS try to encourage everyone who makes art, or who wants to make art, to just do it. The world is full of despair and sadness and hardship. Art serves many purposes, but the one I celebrate is its role in healing some of that. Every work that comes from the joy of our creating is an act of love and healing on our part.

Art is a constant reminder that we are all alike, and that we are all very, very different. I like to believe each of us brings something to the world that can be–should be–celebrated.

Some people feel art has a much narrower role, and a sharper definition. They will not be happy with my writing. And being so open about my thoughts will leave me vulnerable to people who are very comfortable with their own rigid guidelines. So be it. I’d rather be open than limited.

Normally, too, I sit on my hands awhile before responding to people. Right now, I’m in between two major gigs–I just finished a nine-day outdoor show (yes, 9 days!!) and I’m packing to leave for a week-long artist-in-residency (7 days). The mind boggles. Perhaps I am not at my most resilient today.

So for the next few weeks, I am totally immersed in the process of showing/talking about/selling my work. The joy of creating has segued into the power of people connecting with and reacting to my work.

It is a different energy, but part and parcel of the entire process.

TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS #13: One Big Break is All You Need

Myth: If only I could get into X Gallery/get Famous Person Y to see my work/get a website, I would be successful!

Reality: No one person, event or venue will make or break your vision.

When I first started showing and selling my art, I read these very wise words somewhere:

Every day you will find an opportunity to move your art/biz forward. Every day you will overlook an opportunity to move your art/biz forward.

I quote them now because a reader posted this comment on my blog recently, and with her permission, I reprint it here:

Hello, again! I get what you’re saying, Luann, I really do. But right now I’m really in a down space.

Filled with excitement, I opened up a space in Etsy back in September thinking that *there* I would find people who would see value in handspun hand-dyed yarn. They do, apparently–there are lots of other spinners on Etsy–but evidently they don’t see any value in mine.

Lots of looks, a few hearts, no sales.

One part of me is bugging me to get busy and make more yarn, but the other part of me is saying, “Why make MORE beautiful yarn that no one will want to buy? What’s the point of doing that, when no one wants what I’ve already made?”

I’m sorry for dumping on you my own pity-party, but I need someone who is an artist and “gets it” to vent to. ..

Maybe the Lord is trying to tell me to give up and become a boring housewife who grades papers and washes dishes and remembers when she used to make beautiful stuff. I don’t know.

Dear Reader, I give you permission to wallow for awhile. Things do get hard, and we all get discouraged. (See Myth #14 about this.) (Not yet, I haven’t written it yet!!)

But I can assure you wholeheartedly that the Lord is not telling you to stay small and regret your lost dreams. 🙂

Sometimes we take that leap and many things fall into place. Sometimes we take that leap–and things stay hard.

In fact, that is the major purpose of my blog: To chronicle my journey pursuing my art, with honestly and self-examination. And hopefully, a huge helping of inspiration.

Because, as my husband pointed out to me a short while ago, we always hear about the instant overnight successes. (What I call the Cinderella stories.) And we also hear about the not-so-overnight success stories, where the hero struggles and perseveres, and finally gets a lucky break.

The point is, we already know how those stories end. We know the goal was achieved, because the tales are always told afterwards–not while the ball is actually in play.

My blog is all about the ball being in play. And sharing that process with you.

So here are some possible scenarios regarding this handspun yarn biz, but don’t take the “you” thing personally. These are just some things to think about:

1. When we stand at the beginning of our stories, we cannot see the end.

Sometimes, we can’t even see what our ultimate goal will be. Longtime readers may remember my sad little story about wishing my handknit toy sheep idea taking off.

And when they finally did, how I discovered how much I hated knitting toy sheep.

If your handspun biz where to be an instant hit, you could be locked into a business that takes too much time away from your other pursuits right now. Or you might find spinning is fun for a few hours a day, but not so much fun doing it all day. Maybe you’ll realize you like writing about the process, or teaching the process, more than making yarn to sell. (Although that piece of it will give you the insights you need to do the other stuff–writing, teaching, demonstrating, etc.) Maybe you’ll end up developing a therapy program with your skills. Who knows what the possibilities are?

So maybe right now you think your dream is to sell handspun yarn. But maybe even bigger things are in store for you.

2. We cannot tell what strategy will work, and which ones will peter out.

Etsy looks like a “sure thing” from the outside, but having an Etsy shop does not guarantee success.

We dream of getting into “that great gallery”, sure we will be successful if they would only represent our work. We dream of finding “the perfect show” where we will find all the buying customers we need. We know if only we had a great website, we would be flooded with orders.

In reality, there is no “perfect venue” or “perfect strategy”. There is simply another opportunity to try.

Maybe e-commerce will work for you. Or maybe your yarns would sell better “in person”–at small local shows, or certain events. (We have a big “Wool Tour” here in New Hampshire on Columbus Day weekend. People come from hundreds of miles to tour small farms, see llamas and sheep and angora goats and bunnies, and buy fleece, roving and finished yarns.) Maybe people need to touch your yarn to fully appreciate it first, and then you turn those customers into online customers with reorders.

Maybe a “new product release” about your yarns to a knitting or spinning magazine would bring interested buyers to your Etsy store.

3. We may be trying to sell to the wrong people.

Etsy is the biggest and best-known venue for handcraft. But it’s also a huge venue for vintage goods and craft supplies. And it’s a big shopping venue for other artists. So you may be inadvertently trying to sell to people who can make it themselves.

At a friend’s suggestion, I used Etsy as a way to sell to my current customers. I didn’t actually think I could join an already established, close-knit online community (no pun intended) and create a strong presence there.

Even so, I didn’t have a single sale on Etsy. I’m exploring other ways to sell online, and will use Etsy to offload my old supplies.

4. It just may take more time than you think.

Another reader posted a reply to the original comment, and it’s a good one. (In fact, I just realized I’ve repeated a lot of what Kerin said!! oops…)

And see item #1 above, where things taking time can be a good thing.

5. And sometimes it’s just hard.

It’s true–it’s just hard sometimes. There are days when we just feel like the universe is saying “no”.

But what does your heart say?

Because if you give up, there is only one thing that can happen: Nothing!

If you persevere, anything can happen. Including failure, but failure is not necessarily a bad thing. (Go back to the knitted sheep thing.)

#5: What is “success”, anyway? What does it mean to Y*O*U?

Right now you haven’t had any sales. Is that your only measure of success?

Have you learned how to spin and dye beautiful yarn? You’ve successfully developed a product.

Have you learned how to photograph it? Have you successfully uploaded images to a website? You’ve successfully done something millions of people have no idea how to do. (Since I lost my photographer, I’ve had to work on developing a whole nother skill set, and that learning curve is steep!)

Have you learned how to talk about it, write about it? You’ve learned how to pitch your product.

And have you learned how to create a unique product? Which leads us to….

#6. Are you telling your real story?

Sometimes, especially when we first start out making stuff and getting it out into the world, we focus on the surface of the process. When you hear artists say, “I just love color!” or “I just love knitting!”, we are listening to someone who has either a) not bothered to dig deeper; b) doesn’t know how to dig deeper; or c) or is afraid to dig deeper.

What is it about hand-spinning and dyeing that excites you? What does it mean to you? Don’t say, “Oh, it’s fun” or “Oh, it’s relaxing.”

Tell us why.

Here’s a perfect little example that Bruce Baker tells in his seminars.

A potter makes tiny little pots with lids, very charming. But so what?

She explains that her life is so hectic, so harried, that when she takes time to make these tiny wonders, she envisions she is creating a little moment of serenity, of quiet. “And then she draws up the tops, and makes a little lid, and there is a little moment of time preserved….”

Doesn’t that make you want to own one of her little pots? And when you are harried and frazzled, you can lift the tiny lid….and there is your own little moment of quiet and peace.

She told us the “why”. And when you purchase her product, you can have a little of the “why”, too.

7. If it brings you joy, you should not–cannot–stop doing it.

It’s hard when it feels like the world does not want our beautiful work. But remember when I said, “I have to do it anyway, or I’ll die?” That’s what got me through.

Yeah, I know I wouldn’t drop dead if I never made another little horse. But I know something inside me would wither away. And the world, whether it knew about the loss or not, would simply be a sadder place for it.

I want to believe in my heart that somehow, in ways I may not see or could even possibly imagine, that the world is a better place for me making my work. For me being in the world. I have to believe that. Because to believe otherwise is to give in to self-doubt, and eventually, despair.

And whatever we believe in, whatever our religion or creed or ethics, if we are creative people, then we have to believe that creativity makes the world a better place. That anything we make–a lovely skein of yarn, a useful pot, an inspiration movie, a beautiful song, a warm and loving home for those we care about–the world is a better place for that.

Or what are we here for?

So keep making your yarn, because it makes you happy. Don’t give up, but be open to where it leads you (because it may not take you where you think you’re going!) Take the opportunities you find. Let go of the ones you miss, and move on. Think about the deep “why?”, and don’t be afraid to share it.

And know that whatever happens, it’s all good.

DON’T MISS IT!!

Focusing on what’s going wrong could make us miss the thing that’s going to be oh-so-right.

It’s been a very difficult last few weeks. In fact, yesterday was hellish. I won’t even dwell on what happened, that’s not important.

What IS important is the lesson I’ve learned.

When weird things happen, my brain (and your brain, perhaps?) leaps forward to figure out WHY.

Why did she say that? Why did they do that?? What else should I have done? What did I bring to that situation? Was it my fault? Their fault?? Your fault???

In the end, some things cannot be “figured out”. People will overlook your good intentions, life will not be fair, hard times will come no matter how much we try to protect ourselves.

But if we let our brain continue to spin and fret and fuss, the real tragedy will overtake us…

We will be focusing on the bad stuff, trying like heck to figure it all out.

And we will not be facing the right direction for the next blessing that awaits us. The next “namaste”, the next recognition of the miraculous in other people or in our lives.

I don’t want to miss that.

So I’ve had my little hissy fit. I’ve cried and felt sorry for myself. Good friends listened and sympathized. And after a little while, they delivered a very gentle but very firm kick in the pants.

And now I’m ready to see the blessing already in my life, and be grateful for them.

I’m ready to turn in a new direction. And see, with an open heart, where the next blessing is coming from.

Thank you Ruth, Ted, Kerin and as always, Jon. Thank you for loving me when I’m feeling very unlovable. And thank you for assuring me that it’s entirely possible for 312 other people to be very weird, and of course it has nothing to do with moi.