THE RUBBERBAND: Snapping Yourself to Awareness

So I’m wearing a sporty piece of wrist gear these days…

A rubberband.

In a neutral, tan color, just like my new palette for 2016!

I’ve read about wearing them. I always thought snapping the rubberband was sort of negative feedback when you indulged in a habit you wanted to eliminate . A little smack on the wrist for ‘my bad’.

Turns out it doesn’t work that way. It’s just a way to bring your attention to what’s happening, to take notice of what you’re doing, or experiencing.

In my case, it’s when I diminish myself. When someone compliments me (“Love your hair color!”), I always say, “thank you!”. And then, “Obviously, I owe it all to modern chemicals!”

It’s an unusual color not normally found in nature. But why do I feel I have to apologize for that?

Self-deprecation. I excel at it.

Unfortunately, while modesty can be an admirable trait, I tend to carry it into the dark side. As one online dictionary puts it, “Being self-deprecating is usually considered a good trait, a quality of someone with a wry sense of humor. When being self-deprecating goes too far, it can become self-loathing and self-sabotaging, which are less amusing forms of putting yourself down….” And I’ve turned ‘taking it too far’ into a life practice.

As I said in my mission statement for 2016 I learned early in life not to get too full of myself. Either those around me let me know I was out of line, or the universe seemed to smack me down a bit. I learned that every expansion of my spirit, my confidence, my expertise, was quickly met with a contraction. Eventually, I could do it myself, perfectly, without a second thought.

The habit remains. But it doesn’t serve me anymore, if it ever did.

It was my friend Sheri Gaynor who saw this, and challenged me. “You say something amazing, and then you put yourself down. You don’t even see who you truly are, what you are already capable of. Why is ‘being full of yourself’ a bad thing?!  Full of….yourself. Your true, unique, authentic self. Isn’t that a good thing??”

And so the ubiquitious rubberband.

It’s hard. It’s hard to say, “I can do this!” without “maybe” following. It’s seems too much to say “I want this for myself” without “But I’m not sure I can handle it” tumbling out.

I still find it hard to say, no more, I’m done with that. I was going to say, “I sure hope I can make this change.”

A little snap of that rubberband helps a lot. I don’t need to do anything other than notice what I’m doing. But that’s enough. Just seeing how often I do that to myself–and how often I let others do it to me–is appalling.

I was always stymied by people who challenge me with, “Who do you think you are?!”

Now I can respond, “Who do I have to be?”

The better answer is, “Do you believe I need your approval to have my point of view?” And depending on your answer, we may or may not see much of each other anymore.

As Rabbit says, “I may be a fearful creature. But I have a place in the world.

So much wisdom, from a fellow traveller, and from a lowly rubberband…..

 

6 Comments

Filed under art, living with intention

MANIFESTO 2016

Oddly, 2016 also looks like a year of not-color. I'm exploring the power of white, and other neutrals. Thank you, Patty Tulip!

Oddly, 2016 also looks like a year of not-color. I’m exploring the power of white, and other neutrals. Thank you, Patty Tulip!


I’ve been thinking about 2016 for awhile now. I revisited my Manifesto for 2015 just now.

It still works for me.

The only difference is, other big changes are in store for me.

I can’t talk about them now. I’ve found that sometimes, me writing and talking about ‘next steps’ can feel like I’ve already done them. The talking replaces the doing. Not good.

This past year, an entire year apart from everything that’s gone before, has been strange. Unsettling. Exciting. Powerful. If only from the fact that we took a huge step outside our comfort zone, left familiarity behind, embraced something new. Because we believed we could, and so we did.

With this distance has come the gift of space, space to contemplate, space to heal.

My first manifesto, and events in the year before the move, sparked some usual responses from readers, friends, and family. My decision to speak up, and not hunker down, caused some explosions, some ridiculing, and a lot of patronizing. A lot of this stemmed from people who are very, very sure they have everything all figured out, and see the rest of us (me in particular) as stupid/hateful/not worthy. They consider themselves experts and all-knowing, to the extent that they don’t even know what they don’t know–to the extent that they can’t even hear someone who’s experienced something different. (A huge shout-out here to Quinn McDonald, a friend whose wisdom created the space for what I learned in hospice, to come in. Her words inspired a slew of posts about perfectionism.) (And probably more, because I used to really mess up with categories and tags in my blog.)

A fellow traveler, Sheri Gaynor, came into my life late in 2015. I’ve had an intense, beautiful session with her recently, one that finally laid to rest many old wounds I was still carrying. Sheri is a licensed therapist who uses the healthy, healing properties of horses with her clients. (If you’re interested in how this works, walk calmly to the HorseTenders Mustang Foundation in Greenfield, NH and meet their horses. An amazing family, with amazing mustangs, working in partnership, with peace and intention, creating profound experiences for all of us.)

Most attacks in my life came from me expanding, emotionally, spiritually, from new experiences and insights. And most devastating were the ones that I triggered just by being myself. “You’re too sensitive!” could have been my mantra growing up. I sure heard it enough. The attacks were at times so powerful, I would retract to protect myself. This act of retraction/contraction became such a protective measure for me, I soon equated each expansion with fear. If I stepped up/forward/outward, I would be slapped down. The contraction became a habit. It held me back.

(Quick note: I always–always–take responsibility–and apologize–for my own contribution to these attacks. Maybe I took too much on myself. Maybe I overestimated the other. I could have been more calm, more measured, more grounded. But I rarely regret what I believe and say. I’m also a sucker for a good apology (and I can smell a non-apology apology a mile away. I also know, and understand, that most people who hurt us, are hurting, themselves. That’s fine. But….Not my circus, not my monkeys.)

As one of my wise woman friends, Melinda LaBarge constantly reminds me, I’m not here to “fix” anybody else. Though I love to try, I must resist. That’s their journey, not mine. (Melinda is also the person who told me, after I whined about the difficulties of transition, “This ain’t your first rodeo. You don’t have to be the clown.”)

Looking back, I see the attacks are an important part of who I am today. The pain I’ve carried has caused major shifts in my persona. But they will not define me–or rather, restrict me–going forward. (There, I said it.)

2015 became my year of healing, though I didn’t realize it til today. (I’ve always excelled at looking back than leaning forward. Amazing what a little space to heal, and a lot of time to think, can get you.)

What does 2016 bring?

Expansion. Time to step up to the plate with my gifts.

And with it: “Protection through rejection.” I heard this phrase in the context of, sometimes we don’t get what we want because it would have been bad for us. We may feel ‘rejected’, but we were actually protected. It also works both ways: Moving forward, I may need emotional/physical/virtual distance to protect myself. Facebook is my frenemy. I see it as a way to connect, to see new points of view, to learn from others. And you can post whatever you want on your timeline. But be warned–From now on, if you shit on my timeline, you are history. (And for those who embrace the ‘a few bad apples’ theory, you have to understand–Michael Jackson got it wrong. Bad apples do spoil the whole bunch, girl.  They need to be set apart from the good apples or they continue to rot, and spread the rot to the rest. You don’t tolerate, excuse, overlook, rot. (Did I get carried away with my farm metaphor??)

I hope to will practice leaving the contraction part of expansion/conttraction behind.

To all my fellow travelers in this world, to those who have helped me, educated me, encouraged me, believed in me–thank you, bless you, go with light. To those I have wronged or hurt, please forgive me. For those who have given me the gift of love, and friendship and a true sense of family, I love you. Because of you, I’m moving forward.

And I hope I truly get a pony–er, horse–in 2016.

4 Comments

Filed under affirmations, art

FEED THE BIRDS

If you build a feeder, they will come.

20150422_115838-2.jpg

I know. Birds. Bird feeders. Blogging. Where the heck am I going with this?? Bear with me….

I write for an online art marketing blog called Fine Art Views. A few days ago, artist Mark Brockman wrote an article about artists blogging that generated a rush of comments.

Mark shared the other reasons artists should blog, besides just generating an audience for our work. He uses it as a sort of professional journal of his process, his intention, his progress with his art–a record of his artistic journey. And he also mentioned that, to help gather those thoughts,  he actually ‘interviews’ himself in his mind. This helps him pull his thoughts together for his posts.

The comments were many, and filled with gratitude for the insights Mark shared. Almost everyone starts out struggling with their blog–what to write about? Who is it for? Where do I start? And will anyone ever read it?

Which brings up a funny story about me that became a metaphor for this.

I have a confession to make: When I first started blogging, I felt the same way. WHAT MERYL STREEP AND I HAVE IN COMMON, my very first blog post, appeared on December 1, 2002. Actually, it holds up well. (Oops. Actually, that was my second blog post. My first was HOLDING ONTO PATTERNS THAT HOLD YOU BACK. It’s pretty good, too. In fact, I should reread them both, daily.)

Radio Userland was an early blog-hosting site. It was clunky in some ways–it’s tricky to search for specific articles, there were no categories or tags (that I know of), and the only way to read them is to start at the beginning and follow the little calendar markers through to my first post on WordPress on May 25, 2007.

I had very few readers when I started out, and it was rare for a reader to leave a comment. But I’m still proud of the writing I did, and, as Mark said, it was mostly for me. I’m a writer, and I have to write. Even if it’s just for myself.

Years ago, before the 21st century began, my husband and I moved into a little apartment on the Old West Side in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was our first little home, in a family neighborhood, a rag-tag little house supposedly made from lumber salvaged from a defunct railroad car. (I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it definitely had its share of odd construction details.)

We even had a little backyard. And so, of course, I fulfilled a life-long dream of putting out a bird feeder.

It’s embarrassing to even write this, but it consisted of a bag of random, cheap, generic bird seed from the grocery store, poured into the empty lid of a garbage can. “Maybe the ground feeders will like it,” I chirped cheerfully.

I then went back inside to our enclosed porch, perched myself on a chair looking out the window, and waited for the birds to come.

Twenty minutes later, I slumped into the living room and wailed to Jon, “There aren’t any birds at my feeder!! What’s the use?!”

He didn’t laugh. He just gently explained to me that it can take days, even weeks for a new feeder to attract birds. (He forebear to tell me that a garbage can lid wouldn’t even necessarily ‘read’ as a feeder to the birds.) “They’re creatures of habit,” he said. “They have a set route they follow. It will take awhile for them to notice. But if you keep it up, eventually a few will find it, and they’ll tell their friends.” He added that it was a responsibility, too. Once they discover what you have to offer, they count on you to come through for them.

I realized it takes time to build a bird audience. The responsibility thing…well, we weren’t quite ready for that, either. Plus, it rained the next day, and my “bird feeder” turned into a lid of porridge.

But Jon’s remarks stayed with me. They became a powerful metaphor for how to blog.

You write for yourself first. You write because it helps you get your art out into the world–not the art itself, but your intention for your art. You can express that by sharing your technical process (if that’s important to you). But you can also share your creative process–how you select your subject matter, how you prepare to create something, how you feel about it, how you explain yourself. You do it because you now have a written record of your journey.

And you do it because there are plenty of birds out there who are happy to find what you share. Birds are always grateful for those who provide nourishment, for those who are kind, for those who care.

You just have to wait for the birds to find you.

And then they will come.

P.S. This also is reminds me of that old joke from Alice in Wonderland, “How is a raven like a writing desk?”, but my answer isn’t as funny.

 

2 Comments

Filed under art, What is the story only you can tell?, writing

ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE

I’ve become one of ‘those people’–people who feel sad about their art. I hat them.

Source: ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE

4 Comments

Filed under art

ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE

I was fussing and fuming in my head this morning, about how nobody wants my artwork anymore stupid stuff, when I realized I’d become one of “those people”.

The whiney, self-absorbed, time- and energy-consuming, nobody-can-help-me, hugely annoying artist, drowning in a sea of self-pity and ennui. The people who start off any conversation, professional or personal, by heaving a soul-weary sigh and declaring…

“I feel sad about my art.”

I’ve been in several artist support groups in my art career. I’ve learned to duck and run for cover when someone takes this stance more than once. Especially if, when you offer feedback or advice, they argue with everything you say.

I hate it because I’ve always believed this is a cheat, a cop-0ut. A way of letting yourself off the hook, to shirk responsibility for getting your art out into the world.

And now I’m one of them.  Let me take a moment to search for a cartoon on the internet to illustrate my point. Got it!

Over the years, as I learned to supress my urge to kick these people became a better listener, I realized there are really two kinds of whiners:

There are those who unconsciously use the mud they’re stuck in to excuse their own inaction. Sadly (but true), nothing will work, nothing will help, no advice or suggestions will get through, until they’re ready to change it up. They may need a new creative outlet, a new way of thinking, sometimes even a new partner/lifestyle/career. But that’s their journey to make, not ours.

Others truly are aching to get out of the mud. We just haven’t been taught or shown how to do that.

And most of us, their friends, their supporters, haven’t learned how to really help.

We haven’t learned how to listen–deeply, patiently, fully.

That’s what a great support group does. No advice. No cheering up.

Instead, we listen. And ask questions. And more questions. We poke at that person, gently, until we understand better what it is they’re really asking, and what they really need.

And usually, what they really need? They either need better information, a little moral support, and/or affirmation for their creative self.

Sometimes our sense of failure is based on misconceptions. Sometimes we’ve been knocked down by a particularly rough spot in our life. Sometimes, we’ve just never actually thought about what it is we really, really, really want, in our life or for our art.

And that’s okay. In a world awash in information, it can be hard to sort out the bits that are right for us. In a world that’s always full of uncertainty, even danger, and death, it can be hard to create a space for peace and wonder and hope. In a world that measures success by our income, our celebrity, our website hits, our Facebook likes, it can be hard to know what really makes us feel whole.

I’ve been whining a lot lately. And fortunately, along with the silly (though thoughtfully offered) advice, there have been some wise listeners. too. They pointed out some thing that could save me from working at McDonald’s help me earn some kind of income in 2016, and would still be a way of teaching/sharing/giving back to my community.

So to all the sad-about-my-art people out there, I apologize. My friend Nicci once said, “When you point your finger at someone, three more are pointing back at you.”

I hope, if you really do want to not be sad anymore, you find the peeps who will help you do that. I hope you find people who care, who listen, who shine a light in front of you, so you can simply see your next step.

Til then, another Jessica Hagy illustration, to give you a better way to look at the mud.

2 Comments

Filed under art, I feel sad about my art, listening, liviing with intention

HOW TO KICK (bleep) SELLING YOUR ART

Today’s column at Fine Art Views, with a shout-out to Bruce Baker:

How to Kick (bleep) Selling Your Art.

1 Comment

Filed under booth behavior, Fine Art Views, selling

THE MIND OF A FERAL CAT: It’s Me

The hardest thing in life is to start over. The best thing in life is, we can.

It’s been just over a year since we moved to Santa Rosa, California. We are well into feet-on-the-ground stage of our life reboot.  Except, well….things seem to be getting harder instead of easier.

Fortunately, a little stray cat provides my life lesson for today.

Near the end of summer, Jon and I were sitting on our little front porch, waiting for ‘our’ hummingbird to appear. Every night, at the same time (relative to sunset, that is), he’d appear, and zip into our little tree lawn tree to settle for the night.

Suddenly, just as the hummer appeared, a black cat also zipped across our tree lawn, ran under the fence, and into our backyard.

I thought it was our rescue cat, Noddy. “How the heck did she get out?!” I sputtered. But when we went inside, there was Noddy. (aka, ‘Naughty’ or ‘Nutty’, depending on her behavior at any given moment.)

Soon it became apparent the nightly visitor was younger, and a lot skinnier, than Noddy. I finally tracked her down to the little garage in back, which we use as storage space for my booth stuff. I began to feed her in there, and within a week, she was approachable. So, not a true feral, but a well-socialized little cat–who desperately wanted to join the fold.

After weeks of trying to locate her owner (yes, I went through all the steps, offical and social), I finally got her inside. Turns out she is a lovable, loving, very affectionate cat. Can’t get enough hugging and petting. She is now fed, safe, and happy, except for one issue:

She’s terrified of the other cats, and especially the dogs.

It’s understandable. On the street, other cats are threats. And the dogs chased her every time they saw her in the backyard. Even inside, when the cats get in a dust-up, their spats and yowling trigger a massive reaction from the dogs. (I can just read their little dog brains: “Fight! FIGHT!! Let’s go get ’em, too!!”)

How does this relate to life reboots? Plenty.

I’ve convinced myself I need to partner with a few local galleries, and small fairs, to reboot my art biz. The most powerful connections are made in my studio. But in the meantime, I’d like to get my name out there. And frankly, I’d like to make a little money, to at least carry my own weight out here.

The stress of negotiating this new (or better, revisited) territory, is fierce right now. Struggling to figure out how to simply my old booth set-up, so I can do it in an hour instead of 2 days. How to manage my inventory so I can introduce my highest art, while selling the less-heavy (figuratively) items I make (vintage button, and vintage resistor jewelry.)

ButtonJewelry02

Actually, I LOVE making these! It’s pure D love of color, shapes, and history. Come to think of it, the concept of buttons is prehistoric, too.

I bombed at my first show, and now I’m freaking out about my next one, this holiday weekend. It didn’t help when a studio neighbor mentioned that a following will grow, but it will take 4-5 years.

Four. To five. Years??!!  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh……

I began to whine. But my neighbor, a cancer survivor, would have none of it.

“Life is all about starting over, Luann,” she said sternly. “And it’s always hard, and it’s never easy. And sometimes, you lose everything.  Everything...” Her voice drifted away. “But that’s what life is.” I could hear the unsaid words. Everything can disappear. Life. Love. Even second chances.

I’m used to pep talks lately. My straight-talking life buddies are three time zones away now, and I don’t get to hear their words of dead-on wisdom so much anymore. But I was embarrassed enough to realize I cannot equate fear-of-doing-it-wrong with the disruption and displacement of my fellow life travellers. And I’m sure a few billion people in the world–people who would gladly exchange their life of hazard, hardship, homelessness, nation-less-ness–would gladly trade places with me, and my meager problems, that are pitifully small, even for me.

Even worse, I cringed when I thought of all the whining I do, looking for sympathy and reassurances that I’m a good person, and a good artist. Hoping people will see how hard I’m trying, and take pity on me, and, oh gawd, like me. (OH, my skin crawls to think of it.)

That night, as I drifted off to sleep, my lizard brain kicked in again. I’m scared. I need kind words. I need promises that everything will work out. Nobody wants my work. I’m doing it wrong.

And then I thought of Bean, our newest kitty, and almost laughed out loud.

Bean’s emotional life careens between two extremes: Desperate for affection and affirmation (well, in a cat sense), and extreme fear. There’s not enough love in the world to conquer her fear. Only time, and patience, small steps to introduce her into our household, will do that.

Or her anxiety may be a permanent trait. She may never adjust to two bouncy big dogs who love to ‘play’ with cats. (God help any creature who runs from them.)

But she is still loved. She has a place in our lives. And she has a place in the world. Can’t I learn to accept that about myself, too?

So maybe my lizard brain needs a new name: Feral Kitty brain.

And maybe a bowl of kibble.

10 Comments

Filed under cat lessons, fear of doing it wrong