THE FOUR QUESTIONS #7: What Is Your Next Step?

Trite, but true: Every journey begins with a single step.

(7 minute read) 

Okay, you big dreamers, procrastinators (moi!), those who are stuck (oops…me, too!), and people who need it all figured out before they do anything, listen up! Question #2 can be even more important that Question #1!

Question #1, What is your greatest vision for (insert-your-heart’s-desire-here), is a great exercise for going big. Especially for those artists -who have been noticeably absent in art history, art galleries, and art museums, who don’t see evidence they, too, can be successful artists: Women, minorities, other cultures and ethnicities, etc. (Well. Women do show up a lot in art, but usually as subjects, and thus without clothes.)

But for us to “get big”, it’s not enough to just have a dream.

We have to do the work to make it happen. Or at least possible.

That means figuring out a path, no matter how vague, or improbable, to head in the general direction of our goals.

This can still be hard to wrap our heads around. “How the heck do I know what I should do next??”

Consider the following strategies, and hopefully, one will resonate with you.

1)    Eliminate the all-or-nothing approach.

There’s nothing more daunting than an ultimatum. 

The person who dreamed of accepting an award for a movie? They had stopped their film-making. They couldn’t figure out a way to support themselves with it, so they took a well-paying full-time job for a national service corporation.

But they were so exhausted by their day/desk job, they didn’t have the time or energy to create films. Since they simply couldn’t quit their job, obviously they had to give up their dream. Right?

The problem with this approach is, life rarely gives us the perfect opportunity, and all the breaks we think we need to move forward.

Sure, we all hear about people who took the big leap and landed it. They left their job, struggled for a couple years, and now they’re making six-figure incomes doing what they love.

The problem with this thinking is, in our hearts we recognize how rare this is. The older we get, the more responsibilities we take on: Family, aging parents, mortgages, preparing for retirement, health issues, etc. The reasons why we shouldn’t move forward can feel overwhelming.

A small solution to this problem is to carve out a place in your life (if you haven’t already done so) to acquire the skills, the experience, and the joy that comes from making your creative work.

This wonderful little article on how to move forward when we don’t even know what we want shows the importance of making room for doing what you love. It restores us to ourselves, so we can dream bigger.

The film-maker realized making a small, intimate, low-tech, very personal film around a major issue in their life could fit the bill. No expectations of greatness, fame, money, etc. Just something they’d dreamed of doing for awhile. And the scale made it highly doable.

2)    Start small: One action step in the next 24 hours.

What is one thing you can do TODAY to move you forward? 

One small step gets you off your…er…chair…and into active mode. I cannot emphasize how important, how empowering, even a tiny action can be.

First, you have to get out of bed. Not kidding!

I’ve been in a funk the last few months. Family issues, health issues, money issues. It’s consoling to let my art-making slack off (“I don’t feel like it!”) and feel sorry for myself.

I thought the issue was unsolvable. If a huge part of my work’s attraction is seeing it in person, even touching/holding it, (just ask my editor!) then how do I use the internet to market it?? If only a tiny number of my potential local audience ever even sees my work, let alone comes to my studio to experience it, how will I ever grow an audience large enough to support it?

After journaling about this, I realized that representation by a very few, but “good-fit” art galleries and museum stores could help me achieve this.

And instead of slogging through the hundreds or even thousands of potential galleries I could research, I could simply ask my community—those familiar with my work, and me—if they knew of such places.

I reached out on my blog, and Facebook, with my criteria: Would my work fit with the gallery’s aesthetic (and therefore, their audience?) Are the venues close enough that collectors could visit my studio here in Northern California? Is the gallery’s clientele willing to pay my prices? (I know with the right demographic, my prices are actually extremely reasonable for what I do.) Are the galleries close enough I can actually approach them in person with samples? Etc., etc.

Yes, a few people responded with well-intentioned but wild guesses. But a savvy few are responding appropriately.

Now I can use the internet, to research these galleries! Then decide which ones to visit in person.

The beauty of this small step is, even if none of these galleries work out, I’ve found that if the gallery owners/managers like the work (even though it doesn’t work for their customers), many are willing to suggest more appropriate venues—which will save me hours of research and legwork.

If your goal is so big, or so far beyond your imagining you can’t even begin to imagine how to get there, then Strategy 3 might prove helpful: 

3)    Work backwards from your goal.

You can’t win the lottery unless…..

One of my favorite all-time jokes is a minister whose church is in need. Every single day, he prays earnestly, “Oh Lord, please help me win the lottery!” This goes on for months. Until one day, the clouds roll, the lightning flickers, the thunder rolls, and a great voice speaks: “Do me a favor. BUY A DAMN LOTTERY TICKET!!!!”

Years ago, I attended a conference called Craft in the Digital Age. One of the speakers shared a linguistically unique way another culture expresses intention can have wonderful insights our own:

The first panelist was Lynn Martin Graton, Traditional Arts Coordinator for the NH State Council on the Arts… She spoke about living in Japan for some years, and her difficulty learning a language so different than the more familiar Romance languages.  She spoke about having to learn totally new concepts dictating how ideas were expressed, different expectations of the culture.  One example was how the English statement “I need to finish warping this loom today” would be expressed as “If the loom is not warped today, then nothing else can happen” in Japanese.  Part of learning such an unfamiliar language is to actively embrace the different cultural traits that spawned it….

For an expanded take on how this can work, read A Review of the Re-Do of the To-Do List.

Again, the way we tend to frame this feels like an ultimatum: “I have to do this!” Reframing it (“For the cloth to be woven, the loom must be warped”) makes it possible to happen.

To put this into practice, think what your ideal outcome is. Perhaps it’s “win an award at a prestigious art show.”

What would have to happen before you win? “Create an astonishing new work of art.”

What has to happen before that? “Start working on a new body of work, then pick the best one in that series.”

Before that? “I need more canvases!”

Or maybe your steps go (in reverse order), “Be accepted into that show”, after “Apply for the show”, and beginning with “Get the prospectus for the show”.

Why do such simple little “first steps” help so much?

In a series of goal-achieving blog articles I wrote awhile back, I talked about “micro-steps”: Why does something as simple as putting on your work-out shoes increases your chances of actually going to the gym?

People: It’s science! Studies showed that even that tiny step of putting on our sneakers can increase the likelihood we’ll follow through with our intentions.

It’s back to that old saw: How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

For the person who is asking the questions, when you and the speaker get to this question, your job is to keep asking, “What has to happen before this step?” (“For the cloth to be woven, the loom must be warped.”)

And for the person who thinks they had to clean their entire studio to get weaving again, remind them: You only have to clear off the loom.

I don’t have to clean my studio (today.) I just have to clear a little space.

Stay tuned for next week’s next question! It’s a doozy! Bring your hankies!

Rethink on the Reboot

Sometimes a “major change” is simply many tiny changes in outlook.

img_20160905_170647

I have to admit, simply HOLDING something I’ve created is often enough to reconnect me.

For everyone who wrote me asking why I’m walking away from my art and writing, let me reassure you, I’m not!!!!!

am at what my dear hubby calls “an inflection point”. I’d never heard of that before, except as a math term. But one dictionary describes it as

  1. 1.
    MATHEMATICS
    a point of a curve at which a change in the direction of curvature occurs.
  2. 2.
    US
    (in business) a time of significant change in a situation; a turning point.

That’s what it feels like. A “change” is coming, but I don’t know what it is.

What I do know is, my story hasn’t changed.  I’m not done telling that story! And so my art itself, and my propensity for writing about my art (and what I’ve learned from making it), will not change.

I got lost in trying to pinpoint what was going to change. Stuck in trying to figure that out, because sitting with that has been hard.

Because when we choose not to move forward until we’re sure what that looks like, we lock ourselves into the present while fearing the future. (Perfectionism, thy name is “Luann”….!!)

I had fallen so low in my self-esteem in this flux state that I broke my own rule about giving away my work.

I don’t give my work away to people who expect it to be free, or those who demand I give it to them.

Such a simple rule, and I broke it. To the tune of agreeing to do free work worth thousands of dollars. And to be grateful to the person who said I should do it.

No worries, I walked it back! I’m only out $200, and I consider that a lesson I will never have to learn again. I hope!

I was in the middle of a health crisis (not life-threatening, but life-style threatening), a state of physical and emotional exhaustion, a state of living with uncertainty so long, I couldn’t see the gifts I already have: A home, a family, a loving partner, my health in general, the beauty of the California landscape and seascape, my studio, etc. I’ve been focusing on how close we are to losing many of these gifts, obsessed with security, and my struggle to control our future. (Ha!! Good luck with that, human!)

So I made a few more bad decisions.

But I also made some very, very good decisions.

Like reaching out to family, good friends, old friends, new friends, readers, supporters.

I reached out, and found people who listened, deeply.

I overcame my main worry, that I only reach out when I need help, others will  judge me on my own selfishness (“She only calls when she’s stuck!”)–and found they were genuinely happy to help. Not only that, I found everyone was going through similar stuff, themselves. And they welcomed my help/feedback/support! (“Reciprocity” is a word that’s been resonating with me lately, and I was delighted to engage in it.)

They walked me back from the next bad decisions I’d made. And although I’ve been in a deep funk about who I am, they’ve been holding the memory of who I am, when I’m at my best.

And even better, they shared how much they love and respect me even when I’m at my worst. 

Which gets me to where I am today: Tiny steps forward, and for the first time in months (many months!), holding a tiny bit of hope.

How I got there in a few hours yesterday is what I want to share with you today.

There’s an online class offered by Yale University, and anyone can take it if you can cough up $40. (And if you can’t, there are grants available!)

It’s called The Science of Well-Being, a class based on brain science and scientific evidence, developed and taught by Laurie Santos. It’s been in the news since the course wen’t online in March. It’s quickly become Yale’s most popular course.

The short story is, we don’t really know what we want. We don’t really know what will make us happy. And if we don’t understand what really will, or won’t, make us happy, then our pursuits in life won’t result in happiness.

The first video talked about “A ‘Good’ Job”. When you ask people what they want from a job, it’s often things like “a big salary” and “opportunities to advance”, and “prestige”, etc.

But it turns out those can be misleading goals that don’t necessarily make us happy in the long run. Yes, a livable income is important. But not at the expense of other goals that will actually improve how we feel about life. Like work that appeals to our strengths and values, work that challenges us in a good way, work that provides us opportunities to be “in the zone” or what is now called a “flow” state.

So how do we do that? How do we identify those unique strengths, our important values? How do we learn to nurture them those strengths and values? Because doing so will nurture us, will increase our sense of well-being and happiness.

This isn’t the old 90’s thing about “follow your bliss and the money will follow.” It’s more evidence-based, and doable. This class shows what works, and how to do it right.

After a few hours of work yesterday, I read something that gave me a glimmer of hope that I, too, can figure this out.

One evaluation survey showed that after taking the course, and implementing the (very simple) exercises, almost every student showed an average 30% increase in their sense of happiness.  That’s nice.

But what blew my socks off was this statistic:

On average, every single student also reported a 70% DECREASE in depression.

Think about that.

We all know there’s no such thing as “happy all the time”, or a life filled with constant joy. I think we all shy away from anything that promises that. After all, I’m following my passion in life, and I still struggle with insecurity, a sense of not-doing-it-right, not being able to even pay for my studio rent with my art, and not being able to pay for much of anything from my writing. (A friend was gob-smacked when I told her how little I am paid for my one paid writing gig. And that’s just “the new normal” for free-lance writers.)

So “being happier” was something I’m always a little suspicious of.

And I already know some of the more obvious, popluar goals, like “make more money”, won’t fix everything–especially if I sacrifice integrity and what makes my work powerful. I know fame and celebrity can be a shadow goal, and potentially a self-destructive pursuit.

But the promise I could be less unhappy? Significantly less unhappy?? Bring it on!

That tiny ray of hope, the realization that things really could be better, inside, with a shift in perspective, was enough to raise my spirits.

And the way that happens–aligning key character traits and values with my life mission–is already giving me a wee bit of clarity of what that “inflection point” might be.

As always, I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

And in the meantime, I hope you check out the course, especially if you are also struggling with what would really make you happy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE FOUR QUESTIONS #6: The First Question: “What is your greatest vision for your art?”

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.

Start with the biggest dream you can imagine!

(6 minute read)

We’ve explored the potential need for an artist support group in your life. We’ve covered the purpose, the roles, the ground rules, and the privacy thing.

And now the rubber hits the road!

The speaker and the asker (because I’m tired of typing “questioner”) are present and ready, the scribe has pen poised and notebook ready, the audience is ready to listen. Here we go!

What is your greatest vision for your art?

I’m not going to kid you. This is a big question. Bigger than most of us can even manage our first time here. No worries! Start where you are, and we’ll go from there.

Pull out all the “dream big” platitudes you’ve ever heard to get going: What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail? What brings you joy? What is the measure of your success? What do you want to accomplish with your art? What is your greatest goal in life, with your art? What could your legacy be?

Sometimes these dreams are just in us, waiting for a chance to be called forth. When people are in this stage, not much encouragement is needed! It comes pouring out.

One person dreamed they were accepting an Academy Award for their groundbreaking documentary. One person envisioned creating ceremonial garments for spiritual ceremonies. One simply wanted an art space of their own. (More on this….)

Me? My first vision was to make small dolls and animals, tiny enough to fit in the palm of your hand, for children, but also for grownups, from recycled materials. (My first artifacts were about a year away.) Something that would bring joy, and happiness. (Still true!) Something that gave comfort and encouraged resilience. (True, too.) Maybe something I could share and teach. (Found a different way to do that, too!)

I thought about how this made ME happy, and how much I wanted to keep doing it. I didn’t want to sit in a garrett (I love how “garret” is a miserable space that inherently suggests its use by an artist!) alone and unknown. I wanted my work to be out in the world, making others as happy as it did me.

It’s not about what it is, it’s about what it can become.” (From The Lorax.)

So, it was easy for me to talk about that, and how big that could become.

Other people? Maybe not so much.

Some people are swollen with self-doubt. They are filled with restrictions and conditions, with self-judgment and denial. And who they are may surprise you!

So, the spirit of answering this question, when it feels difficult, is to “act as if…”

Act “as if” you are already an artist. Make up a story about it! Add all the ingredients that would make your heart sing. Dream big. Pretend. Fake it ‘til you make it.

They’re making a movie about a famous, successful artist, and it’s a movie about YOU. Tell us about it!

After all, we aren’t asking you to “fake” being a brain surgeon, and then expecting you to go out and perform a surgery—which is where “fake it ‘til etc.” might prove dangerous to others. (And where it gets its bad rep re: inspiration.)

So gentle encouragement can help these folks through the question.

Strategies:

Give them time.

If they stop talking, refrain from jumping in right away. Simply wait. We are so NOT used to saying our truth, we are trained to see what others say.

So… sit with the silence.

If after a couple of minutes or so, there’s still no more story, then tell them we will sit with that for the rest of the 10 minutes. It’s their time! DON’T cut it short—leave it open.

It’s surprising how that’s often enough to encourage them to add more.

Give them a chance to get out of their own way.

From my artist friend/shrink/reader Susan Delphine Delaney, a professional in counseling/therapy. (She says she’s also been called “The Praying Shrink!)

“If you think the speaker is stuck, please assume that “the thing that lights up the world”, however you think of that, is PRESENT. Truth is, the speaker and the “light” are the two that need to commune. So, ask a question: “You seem to be stuck at x. What ideas do you have to get unstuck?” Then shut up and let the speaker and the light shine together. They will figure it out as you wrap them in your smile and your love.”

Susan also shares this with us: “When I lived at the Pecos Benedictine Monastery for six weeks, studying Spiritual Direction, the monks told us every day that when two people (or more) are problem-solving, the Holy Spirit is there. I used to light a votive when problem solving with my then-teen-aged daughter to remind me that the Spirit was there, helping us. A group could light a votive to help remember that a benevolent Force in the Universe is present to help.”

A benevolent Force is present…. I like that!

Frame it.

“What would that look like?” “Describe an especially satisfying day in this vision.”

Eating an Elephant/One-bite-at-a-time approach.

Do they seem overwhelmed? Encourage them to take smaller bites: “Okay… What does your studio space look like in this vision?” “What body of work are you working on in this vision?” 

Are they still stuck?

A very few people can be incredibly resistant. And a very, very few, in my experience, actually seem to relish the role of “You can’t make me dream big/be an artist/admit there’s hope!!” “You’re not the boss of me!”

“How do I know what I want? I have no idea! What does my studio look like?? I dunno, I should I know?! I don’t believe I can sell my work/exhibit/connect with others/have a vision! I just want to make my stuff and be left alone!”

I am a flawed person. I don’t have the time or patience for this.

I am NOT a trained professional therapist. I’m just a friend who’s been there, lost in the proverbial woods. Someone who learned a process that can work in powerful ways to help us move forward. Someone willing to share this, so others can, too.

I can’t help people whose only mechanism for engaging others is to constantly appeal for sympathy.

We all struggle with something. We all have wounds, burdens, losses, and hardships.

In spite of that, we also have the power of our choices. And if you’re reading this, I’m gonna assume you already identify, or want to identify as an artist. A creative force for good in the universe.

Don’t waste it!!

When someone gets into this mind frame, my first instinct is to think, “Man, I really messed this up!”

But my second thought is, “I can’t waste MY power!”

After all, they CHOSE this opportunity. They SAID they wanted more clarity, more direction. They AGREED to try this process, because they SAID they wanted their art biz to grow.

And here they are, wrapped up in being difficult and obstinate, wearing it with fierce pride. OY!!

They can still heal. But I can’t help them. They need that highly-trained professional. This is not the right place for them—yet.

And so, they don’t get invited back. 

Because the corollary to this question, the whole premise of this support group is this:

Protect your creative vision, your dreams.

Protect your creative space.

USE this particular sacred, creative, protected space to grow, as an artist. 

Don’t get pulled into “helping” people, especially those with the potential to be a “black hole”. We’re learning how to help ourselves. Stick with the people who “get that”.

Next week: The Second Question!

Exploring Galleries & Museum Stores in Bay Area!

Reaching out to folks familiar with my work, who are also familiar with the Bay area: San Francisco, East Bay.

I’m exploring a very few galleries to approach with my work.

Do you have any recommendations? Gallery/location/reason(s) why it might work, website link if you have it, or I can look that up!

Some samples in photo album, just for reference, OR check out my Etsy shop for examples:

https://www.etsy.com/shop/LuannUdell

I don’t automatically fit in “fine art”, “contemporary fine craft”, and price often doesn’t mesh with places dealing with lower-priced work. Some museum shops might work. Some galleries/museum stores won’t want work that isn’t made by actual indigegnous/First Nation people. Some might, I just don’t want to “compete” with their work & interfere with their income.
THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Stories We Tell

Our stories can be a force for good in the universe, or a source of darkness. Choose wisely!

The day I found my “first story” was a powerful day.

I was at loose ends in my life. I was in my late 20’s, and had already met my life partner. I wasn’t sure I wanted to have kids. But I put together a few key concepts that were important to me: I love to read, and I believe reading expands our minds, and our world.

And I liked kids.

I realized the best gift I could be to the world was to share my love of reading with kids.

With the support and encouragement of said partner, I had the courage to apply to graduate school, and get a master’s degree in elementary education.

It was a powerful time in my life. I was fully focused on my goals, and my studies. I met people–fellow students, professors, supervising teachers–who changed my life. Getting my degree was the first time I’d ever pursued a goal I’d picked, a goal that had called to me.

Years later, I realized, for various reasons, I couldn’t be “just” a teacher. (There’s no judgment there about the profession, I mean that literally: In terms of me, I needed more.)

I believe this helped me, when I hit rock bottom (for me) regarding my art, decades later. I told a new story: “I have to be an artist, or I’ll die. And I don’t even care if I’m a GOOD artist, I just have to do it.” And pulled on that success I’d achieved years before, and worked just as hard, with just as rich an attitude, and succeeded.

I started to write “stories” about my journey. Every time I hit a high note, or a low point, I wrote about it. I shared what I’d learned, how I framed my experience, how I realized I could CHOOSE what it would mean in my life.

It’s a powerful thing.

I also remember I shared a story someone else told me about their conversation with another family member. It was beautiful, and sweet. I was actually envious of said F.M., because they got a lot of kudos in the story. It reflected well on them.

And then F.M. called me in a fury to tell me what I’d written was a sack of lies.

They were embarrassed by what I’d written. And of course, I’d was immediately embarrassed I’d written it.

But when I asked for clarification from them, I was confused. It turns out the sense of the story, the heart of the conversation, the spirit of love, the intimacy and power of long-unspoken dreams revealed, all these true.

The “lies”? There were what any writer would consider “minor” details in exactly what words were used, and in what order. “I didn’t say I wanted to do that! I said I’d THOUGHT about doing that!”

I was baffled anyone would take offense, and I was distraught that people think “stories” are “lies”. This was not a “news event” or the records of a city government meeting.

Whenever we tell a story, there are elements that could be marked a “lie”.

First is our memory. Our brains are not tape recorders or DVDs. Our memory is affected by our emotional state at the time, the context of the situation.

There is the fallacy of “the shared experience”. Five people at an event may all have vastly different opinions on what just happened. There’s an amazing episode of the 80’s TV show “Thirty-Something” that shows the two lead couples in a restaurant, from each person’s point-of-view. As the scene replays, over and over again, we see it from each particular person’s POV. Including the totally oblivious, “What the frick just happened??” version from Michael’s seat. (He can’t figure out why everyone else is so upset, because he’s not paying attention.) If I can find it, I’ll put a link here!

There is what we bring to that event: Our filter. How we feel about the other people involved. What our mental and physical state was. What our history is with the other people involved.

There’s also what we DIDN’T bring! What we don’t know, behind the scenes. What we don’t know about the other people involved.

There’s the incredible effect of hindsight–realizing what was going on behind the scenes, etc. Our own personal growth since then. Our own “evolution”, or our own bitterness.

And finally, there’s the simple art of telling a story.

This is where some people are when they accuse us of “lying”.  They think every story is literally, excruciatingly, true. Or it has no value.

A good storyteller frames the story.

They create a context.

They share what it means to them, and what it could mean for you.

They might eliminate details that slow down the narrative, or segues that detract from “the message”. Awkward sentences get edited (unless that would dilute the “message”.)

Some writers would keep the quotes in dialect, because it adds authenticity. Some would leave it out, because maybe it’s harder to read “the message”. Neither is “wrong”, or “lying”. It’s an editorial decision.

Some would record every single sentence and statement, no matter how repetitive, because that’s what happened. Or it’s funnier that way. Others would edit out the repetition, because that gives the story more clarity. That’s not “lying”.

Many people consider the Bible “literally 100% true”, when the fact is, if you are a believer of its faith, it is “figuratively true”. There are plenty of contradictions, if you look for them. As one source says, “…written over 1,400 years, 66 books by 46 authors….” And written by HUMAN BEINGS, to boot. Deeply flawed, deeply earnest, deeply devoted, deeply conflicted, deeply prejudiced humans, just like you and me.

I myself am sooooooo frustrated when I write an impassioned plea for people to set aside their fears and follow the work of their heart, and write (what I hope is) a powerful story to illustrate that, and someone writes to say, “Great article! There’s a typo in the fourth paragraph, VERY distracting!!”  Oh, THANK YOU MR. LANGUAGE PERSON!!!

I can understand the lack of understanding by non-writers. It must be a cognitive dissonance for them! But to take grace, and minor editing, and reworking to create clarity, power, and truth as a “lie”?  As a “lack of integrity”??

I don’t get it.

But….that’s THEIR truth.

Here’s where a lie is evil:

If someone tells lies to manipulate you, to attempt to have power over you, to cover up deeper evils, then it’s bad.

If someone lies to make themselves look good….That takes some deeper thinking, and evaluation. We ALL want to “look good”, and as human beings, we do that constantly. It’s understandable. But not always excusable, especially if our major goal is to make someone else look bad, who doesn’t deserve that.

Making a story more clear, more powerful, is “lying”? Not so much, in my book.

Go for integrity. Go for your truth. Go for compassion, understanding, ultimately forgiveness, if that helps you move forward, if and when you’re ready, on your own terms.

Speak your truth. And let others speak theirs, in their own time and space.

 

 

 

 

 

GROWING

How do you know when it’s time to move forward? When nothing else is possible.

If you follow my blog, you know I’m writing about a series of steps to create your own artist support group. It’s harder than I thought it would be, though I’ve done it many times. Even though I took the training not once, but twice.

I am obsessed with doing it right, hoping this “I’m not in the room to show you” approach will translate and transfer. I can’t stop thinking there’s someone out there who really needs to hear this today.

Today I finally realized that person is me.

I’ve been trapped in a whirlwind of my own emotions, my self-doubt, my inability to figure out what “the universe” is telling me. On top of the difficulties of melding with (relatively) new surroundings, trying to rebuild an audience for my art (and writing!), dealing with difficult family matters (I almost said family “members”, but have to remember they might describe me the same way!), I have been in a tsunami of allergy-related health issues. I am achey and ill-at-ease, exhausted, and I sleep round the clock. A friend said, “When allergies hit us, it feels like the universe is attacking our body.” True dat.

I’ve been reaching out to people who have had my back in the past. People who know me well. People who have seen me at my worst, and still love me. Unfortunately, when I look at how far back our conversations go, I can see that some started before we even left New Hampshire!

And slowly, slowly, I’ve realized, the universe isn’t trying to tell me something.

My heart is.

I’ve always struggled with “shaman”, just as I used to struggle with “artist”. The three aspects of a shaman are intriguing and feel right. Whether I am one or not, to go “in that general direction” just felt like the right path.

Artist. Teacher. Healer.

What about my training for those facets of who I am?

I claimed my story, and my art grew from there.

Teaching? It was one of my very first “aha!” moments, when I thought/realized I wanted to be a teacher. (Turns out I DO, and I AM, but not in our traditional idea of teaching. I share what I’ve learned in my writing, in workshops, and often in conversations with people who happen to cross my path. In a classroom, 8-4 every weekday?? For 8 months??? Not so much.)

Healing? My hospice training blew my heart up, in a good way. From sitting with clients, sitting with them, not “fixing” but simply being present. Then learning to sit with clients with Alzheimer’s, not “fixing” but simply being in THEIR moment, not mine. Then I moving on to creating and leading grief writing workshops: Helping people heal from deep and/or complicated grief and loss. (ALL under the guidance and supervision of trained professionals!) I learned, and I learned, and I learned.

But though people have urged me, I’ve always edged away from actual “coaching” coaching. It would seem like a natural “next step”, but it feels…wrong.

When I work with the wrong person, at the wrong time for them (and me!), before they are ready, before they are able, and when they are in my life for the wrong reasons, it ricochets badly.

And sometimes, I just get caught up in “I know better than you!” (I call it “triangulation”–“Let’s check in on these questionable people we both know, are they just goofy, or dangerous?” But some people call it, “Please mind your own business, I didn’t ask you!” OW!!)

I feel these efforts are always sketchy anyway–I don’t feel like a healer, though I believe my art heals me, and my art can sometimes heal others.

Lately, my “coaching” efforts have been a lot more than “less than”. They feel awful.

What it feels like: The minute I assume I know what I’m doing, it blows up in my face. And because I’m vulnerable in that role, it’s devastating.

It felt like the universe was saying, “Get over yourself!”

But today I realized there’s a gap in my training.

I need more training in healing/coaching.

I still reject the notion of this aspect of my life. It still feels wrong, it still feels uncomfortable.

I need more information on how to stay grounded. How to assess the situation. How to realize when to fold, the sooner the better! (I do have good instincts for self-protection, but sometimes they kick in too late.) How to tell when someone really is “ready”.

And to acknowledge that often, when it works at its best, there is reciprocity. Not money-wise. But every time it works beautifully, there is an exchange of energy. We both walk away better for the interaction.

Hard for me to describe. I’ll think about that.

So I share this with you today. It’s why I’ve been quieter than usual. Why I’ve made myself “smaller” instead of “bigger”.

I’m at another turning point in my life. I don’t know what it looks like, and I pretty sure I’m leaving art and writing behind. (How would I survive?!)

So today I start another trail of learning. My “next step”: Today I’m contacting someone I trust with my heart, to get a thought on how to move forward on this.

Today is another “life lesson”, just waiting to be learned.

 

 

 

 

THE FOUR QUESTIONS #5: The Rules

Don't miss Luann Udell's next topic "Rules" in her series, "The Four Questions".
Don’t miss Luann Udell’s next topic “Rules” in her series, “The Four Questions”.

THE FOUR QUESTIONS #5: The Rules

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.

Safety, and privacy, first!

 (5 minute read)

The biggest rule for your artist support group is, what happens in group, stays in group. So….

 Rule #1Safety and privacy.

They are “one rule” because they so closely relate to each other.

What people share in your group, especially during these sessions, it’s personal. Sometimes painful. It may feel embarrassing to share what holds you back, what we’re afraid of, sharing our failures or set-backs.

Hard enough to share, without worrying about it being shared with others.

It should remain private.

This means you must ask permission from that person to ask a question. You need permission to comment. You even need permission to talk with them about what they’ve shared, while you’re together. (“May I get more information on that situation you brought up earlier?”) And even when you’re not in the group! (“So, what you shared last week—may I talk with you about that?”)

And it means you should not be discussing it lightly with anyone else in your group, and definitely not with anyone outside your group.

Most of the time, people won’t mind giving you permission, especially if you’ve shown that you’re a good listener who consistently asks good questions and offers sound feedback.

But don’t assume. Ask.

Safety and privacy also mean, closed meetings. The only time our first group had a guest was, we hired Deborah to do a mini-observation of one of our sessions, to ensure we were doing it right. Her small but important course corrections were invaluable! But we all had to agree to that beforehand.

Rule #2: Smile!

Body language and eye contact are important for creating an atmosphere of comradery. When my adult son was very, very young, I noticed he often had a frowny face. I actually said out loud, “Why does Doug always have a frowny face when he’s thinking about something?” I happened to be near a mirror, and looked over.

Gulp. I had that same frowny look on my face! 

He was imitating how I looked when I was thinking. 

When we’re listening, deeply, many of us have the habit of the frowning, thoughtful face. Some of us have “resting bitch face.” (Look it up!) (Okay, never mind. Some people’s relaxed faces just look….grumpy. It’s just a thing.)

But when the speaker/person in the hot seat is talking, when they look around the group, the last thing they want to see is frowning faces. Especially if we’ve been raised to be highly attentive to signs we’re “doing it wrong”. A frowning face, a bored face, a face looking out the window, are all subtle signs that others are not interested in what we’re saying. Not exactly conducive to doing this work!

In fact, Deborah Kruger urged the speaker and the questioner to stand at the front of the group, facing each other. Holding hands. And the questioner’s goal was to keep their face open and welcoming, smiling. Not a big fake grin. Just a smile as if you were welcoming someone into your home.

 Which, if your home is a safe place, a haven, is actually a good metaphor for your group! All should feel “at home”, and welcome.

For the questioner, it also helps to nod in agreement as someone describes their perfect studio, their ideal customer, their markers of success, their professional goals, etc. Yes. Yes! Yes!!

I still treasure these beautifully formed little pit-fired pots from a member of my very first artist support group! Thank you, Bobbye! 

Rule #3Don’t rush to comfort.

This doesn’t mean no empathy or sympathy.

It simply means, when things get hard, when someone gets overwhelmed, when they cry, don’t rush to soothe them. Don’t try to stop them.

Just let the tears come. Let them cry.

I learned this in hospice, too. When people cry, WE get uncomfortable. We feel we need to do something. We rush to get them to stop crying.

But that simply puts pressure on THEM to make US feel better. We are asking THEM to take care of US.

So sit with the discomfort. Don’t rush to action.

Be a witness.

And from last week:

Rule #4: Listen

The premise of peer support groups is to empower each member to solve their own issues. We achieve that by learning to believe in ourselves, and by learning to listen to –and trust–our own heart.

Just….listen. Listen carefully, respectfully. Don’t interrupt. Don’t jump in. Don’t offer opinion, unless asked for one, or given permission to offer one. (See Rule #1)

Above all:

Don’t tell the speaker their reality.

Don’t tell them what you think they should do.

Don’t tell them what YOU would do.

Don’t tell them what someone else did.

Do look for places where the speaker gets stuck. Make a mental note of that. An assumption they’re making that could be tweaked.

You may be given an opportunity to ask your own question about it. You may be asked to share a thought or experience.

But don’t assume you will. Sit with that, okay?

Remember: Hopefully, this group will grow, and repeat this process. There is plenty of time to sort out the inconsistencies between what people say they want, and what they do. (Part of the human condition, actually, and it won’t be fixed in ten minutes!)

Rule #5: Focus, and be present! 

You chose this. You chose to try this, you chose to show up.

Embody that decision.

Heaving bored sighs, acting distracted, staring out the window, checking your phone, etc., etc., all indicate you’d rather be anywhere but here. This isn’t fair to the others in your group.

Cross-talk refers to carrying on a conversation on the side. So easy to slip into! So distracting to the rest of the group! Take notes of what’s on your mind, and share it later.

Beyond being unkind and disrespectful, you are missing a chance to learn something.

Take the opportunity to learn from someone else’s experience, their assumptions, and their mistakes–and discover their insights and solutions!

If you are truly bored to distraction, then this group is not for you.

Do yourself, and your fellow group members a favor. Let them know they should find someone else who will be more engaged.

Did I miss anything? If you’ve been in any kind of peer support group, you’ll recognize the playlist.

Feel free to suggest additional thoughts I may have overlooked!

Click here to see the original post on Fine Art Views.