LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Change: The Movie (The Move continues)

Even tiny changes can reflect big ideas.

My head’s been in a whirl the last few months. I think I’ve entered that stage in a move where it feels like my life feels like a dream. Not the great glow-y kind. The kind where I find myself picking up dog poop and I keep finding hamburger patties in the dirt and I think, “Geez, this is weird. Wait a minute…..Am I dreaming?!” (I was.)

On one hand, there’s all the wonderful, heady stuff that comes from a major life change (the good ones, that is.) We go for a drive and suddenly remember this is an incredibly beautiful area, and the ocean is half an hour away. There are the marvelous moments, like learning our resident hummingbird darts into his nighttime resting spot in our little tree in front of our front porch, at exactly the same time (relative to sunset) every night. We sit and watch for him almost every night, and get a tiny frisson of joy when we catch him in the act. (It helps that he sits in exactly the same branchlet on the tree, too.)

On the other hand, there is the sudden realization that there’s no one to call up and say, “Hey, let’s go out for a drink!” Not that I could, anyway. Since we’ve been here, I can barely stay up past 9 p.m. Sooo…no one to call up and say, “Hey, let’s go to Happy Hour for a drink!”

I miss lakes, and rivers. There are lakes and rivers here, but not so much after four years of drought. I miss thunderstorms.

(OTOOH, I don’t miss mosquitoes, black flies, humidity, nor the season of funny smells.)

A few days ago, I had the scariest change of all.

I should preface this by saying my “year” tends to begin and end at my birthday. That sounds pompous, and I don’t mean it that way, really, I don’t. It’s just that when I realized the cave of Lascaux was discovered very nearly on my birth date, and other big events that cause me to stop and gasp (my birthday is 9/11), I often have reason to stop and take my measure. This month has been the same.

I was making a ‘batch’ of horses, as I usually do. Over the years, I built up to making my animal totems in batches of up to, oh, a couple dozen or so at a shot. It made for real efficiency, shaping them all, doing all the manes at once, all the eyes at once, all the markings, etc. (Even in a good sales year, I average about $2 an hour. Maybe I should go work at McDonald’s…..) (Nah.)

Lately, the batches have gotten smaller, down to one dozen, then half a dozen.

This time, I stopped at one.  A feeling of revulsion overcame me. I was overwhelmed with this awful, awful thought:

I didn’t want to make any more batches of little horses.

That stopped me dead in my tracks. WHAT??!! What…is up with THAT??!!

But instead of panicking (what would I do without the heartstone of my work??!), I got quiet. I asked myself, where is this coming from? And what do I mean by that?

And thank the powers that be, it came to me:

I want to make one little horse at a time.

And so I did. I made two little horses that day. Each one, totally one at a time. Each got its own shaping, then its mane, then its eyes and nose, etc.

I then made other artifacts that take less ‘soul’, if you will, easier work, and popped the whole bunch in the convenction oven in my home studio.

This may not seem like a big change to you. It sure started out as a big change, but ended up being a very small change.

Or is it?

My horses have always ended up as completely individual and unique. For years, I’ve been telling folks how collectors look for ‘their horse’ when shopping.

I don’t know how to explain this, except that this, for some reason, feels even more important than ever. So important, I felt the need to slow down, to get calm, to get centered. To really see the power, and the blessing, inherent in everything I do.

There’s something growing here in California, something big. When people are attracted to my work, they fall hard. The things they tell me about it, are powerful. My internet sales are growing, from people back in New England who are either missing my work, or have recently discovered it. More and more people are telling me about how the work feels, on many levels.

It’s scary. Someone asked me why, and I couldn’t say. It’s something about, with my work having that power, comes great responsibility, something I don’t know how to handle personally. It feels like the time a bigger-than-life visitor exclaimed, “You’re a shaman! You’re a shaman!” when he first saw my work–like my work is bigger than I am. I’m not putting that right, but it was exciting, and wonderful, and scary at the same time. It was a powerful experience, and propelled me forward in ways I could not have imagined.

Something like that may be growing now. All I can do is listen. Pay attention.

The past year was all about realizing the harm brought into the world by people who don’t know what they don’t know.

I wonder what this next year holds for me.

WHAT IS THE STORY ONLY YOU CAN TELL?

I’m often asked to speak about my art. I’m good at it, too. It’s been a long journey, but I’ve become extremely comfortable sharing what is in my heart.

There is one frustration I sometimes encounter, though.

That’s the people who come up afterward and ask, “Can I make horses, too?” “Can I combine fabric and polymer, too?” The woman who exclaimed, “Oh, I love that idea! I paint gourds, and I’m going to make cave pictures on my gourds, too!”

Or the people that don’t even ask. They just start making cave ponies.

It’s not that they took my idea.

It’s that they got the wrong idea.

I know we all “copy” to some extent. I consider it a spectrum, just like any other human behavior. It ranges the gamut, from being inspired by someone else’s work (“I love that shade of blue! Hmmmm…I could make a necklace…”) to outright hacks. (Like finding your design on a shelf at T.J. Maxx or Target, and yes, that has happened to artists.)

I know I don’t own the idea of horses, the Lascaux horse, or even ancient images. It would be preposterous of me to say no one else can use these images.

I DO own my story.

And if you’ve ever listened to, or read my stories, and really heard them, you know I’m not just making little plastic horses.

I recently had a visitor to my studio, a delightful person who collects my work. We talked about her work. It’s an unusual profession, and one where many people would pick up the “hero” aspect. (I haven’t gotten her permission to write about this, so I’m being very circumspect.)

Her take was different. Deeper. More sensitive. Profound.

And when she spoke, I felt that ring of truth, that recognition of passion, that little shiver that goes down your spine when you hear deep knowledge expressed by someone from their heart.

It was her story. And it was astonishing.

If you know my story, you know my little horses represent many things to me–a childhood desire to run free, to fly, to feel the wind blowing my hair as my horse and I course across a plain together. You know it’s about the beauty of horses, the thrill of watching an animal born to run, run with all their heart. Doing what they were meant to do. Being what they were meant to be.

But they also represent choices. The choice to be the person you were meant to be. The choice to overcome fear, self-doubt and the weight of adulthood, and try something you’ve always dreamed of doing. To step into yourself, to take up your dreams, and live them. To follow the call.

And the choice to create beauty and embrace hope in the face of despair.

It boggles the mind to think that someone can hear my story.

And then copy my work.

Not just because my work is so personal and so important to me.

But because they missed the whole damn point of the story!

It’s that in YOU, is a story that only YOU can tell.

Because it is YOUR story. It happened to YOU. And it changed you–how you look at life, how you look at yourself, where you fit into the world.

Your story creates a place where, when you stand there, you are powerful. And you are beautiful, and you are whole.

How…..can anyone want to ignore their own powerful, wonderful, incredible story? And try to substitute someone else’s??

Even when your story is not about something you do, or something you make, it is still a place that YOU came to, a crossroads, YOU found yourself at, a journey YOU find yourself on.

Example: Anyone can do hospice work. It doesn’t take a “special person”. It just takes someone willing to be there. Anyone could do what I do.

But only I can tell the stories that come to me by doing it.

I know a woman who translates for the rights of an indigenous people in Brazil. She has even spoken at the United Nations. She insists she does not speak FOR them–they speak THROUGH her. She is their pipeline to a world that needs to honor their cries for help.

But the stories she tells about how they found her are incredible, and powerful.

That is why envy, and jealousy, are so destructive to creative people. To ANY of us.

Because it means we cannot see the power of our own stories.

What is the story that only YOU can tell?

And how will you tell it today?

September 11, 2009…and life goes on.

I meant to write this on my birthday, September 11. But I spent the day with my family.

Which is the way it should be.

And by waiting a day or two to post, I found that same ol’ three-of-a-kind thread thing goin’ again…. (I mean, sometimes an idea I’m mulling shows up in two or three or four variations in my life, which means I have to deal with it/write about it/ponder it.

I always think about THE 9/11 on my birthday, of course. Not because 9/11 makes me special–terrible things always happen on someone’s birthday.

But when something awful does happens on your birthday, I think it’s natural to think about your birthday in a different way.

I usually I keep my thoughts on that day to myself. I don’t want to sound glib about all those people dying so I can have little “aha!” moments at their expense.

This year, I did want to say something. And I wasn’t sure I could say it in a way that would sound right. So I waited.

Then yesterday I found this lovely article on a friend’s refrigerator. That was the second thread.

And today, once again, I found out that someone who seems to be making my life a little harder, is actually struggling with the same circumstances themselves. Proving once again that when someone says “it’s about YOU”, it’s usually about THEM. (And I say this with compassion today, because I get that sometimes they’re hoping you will figure out what to do about it, so you can teach them.)

So sometimes someone who’s giving you grief has their own bugbears that have nothing to do with you personally. This is the third thread, which ties in so nicely with that second one.

And so all three threads come together.

Because the first thread–what I wanted to say this year on 9/11–is that life….goes on.

Life goes on, even when innocent people die in an unfair attack. Life goes on, even when terrible things happen to us.

Life goes on, even when beautiful things happen to us. I look at my tall, handsome, silent teenage son, and wish I could have one week of his sweet childhood back (and knowing what I know now.) Oh, I would hug him, and do whatever it took to hear his beautiful, bubbling laughter again. I look at our dog, halfway to adulthood, and marvel that only a few months ago, he was small enough to carry in one hand. We want to hold on to the beautiful times, wishing, hoping life will pause, that time will stop. We swear we will never forget.

But life goes on. And we do forget.

Life goes on, whether we are brave enough to apply to art school, ask for that job, introduce ourselves to that lovely person across the room, join that tae kwon do class, learn to ride, climb, drive, sing….or not.

Life goes on, whether we stand up for something, or whether we remain silent.

Life goes on, whether whether we do the right thing…or not.

Life goes on, whether we have the courage of our convictions…or not.

For better or worse, for richer or poorer, we get our chance and take it (or don’t) and life goes on.

We have our turn, to be here, to do the good work that is within our grasp, to love the people that are in our care, to take care of the issues in our path. We are given that turn, every day, and the next, and the next.

And then our turn is over.

We know….WE KNOW….the good that is in us, the art that is in us, the music that is in us, the love that is in us.

And we also know so very well the fears, the resentments, the anger, the hurts, the weaknesses we carry, that hold us back.

That’s why Mother Theresa/Dr. Keith’s words resonate in my heart this weekend.

Ten thousand years ago, someone, somebody painted hauntingly beautiful images of horses, bulls and deer on a cave wall in what is now France. We know almost nothing about them, except that they must have had a compelling reason to do that. We only know they were people like us, who had their turn. And then they were gone. All that’s left (and we are lucky to have that) are the paintings.

Hard as it is to imagine, thousands of years from now, we’ll be fortunate if a handful of names–Charlemagne, Confucius, Mozart, Einstein–and hopefully more of those will be names of WOMEN!!–survive as anything more than a hero’s tale, a mythical creature. Maybe we leave a bigger footprint in the sands of time now. But maybe not.

So do it.

Be kind. Love. Do good. Forgive. Make stuff.

Just do it. Just do it anyway, no matter what. If it’s important to you, if you know it’s the right thing to do, just do it.

When you have a teensy glimpse, as I did this year on September 11, the tiniest little glimpse, that what matters is not how we love, or what we love, but that we love…..

That it’s not how good our making/singing/dancing/loving/caring is, but that we do it….

Because yes, there will always be someone to criticize it, to judge it, to sneer at it, to make fun of it (and sometimes that someone is me, I’m ashamed to say. Oh, I am merciless about bad singers. Move over, Simon Cowell.)

But you must do it anyway….because yes, it matters

Then suddenly, and for a moment, it doesn’t seem so very hard after all.

p.s. Yes, I know today’s column is a lit-tle incoherent. But hey, it was my birthday! :^)

9/11 Redux

The older I get, the more often music–the right song at the right time–threatens to drown me in a flood of poignancy.

I was driving to our state capital this morning for a board meeting, searching for a radio station signal strong enough to get me through the next 15 miles. I came across a spate of commemorations for 9/11.

One station played Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You”. It seemed powerfully appropriate. You can listen to the song here, and read the lyrics here.

Sarah is one of my favorite performers, whose emotional interpretation often wrenches my heart. This song, at this moment, nearly forced me to pull off the road.

But I was late for a meeting, so I kept driving.

I cried for miles.

I remember it was an achingly beautiful day, just like today. I remember the shock, which felt like a physical blow and the anguish as each unbearable new detail was revealed.

I remember wondering how I would talk to my kids about it. What was their legacy going to be?

It seemed they would inherit a vicious world filled with hate and terrorism. How to you teach a child to live in a world like that?

And yet something good remains behind, always. We can still choose how to act, how to think, how to flourish.

And here we are, years later, ‘still kickin” as an old Yankee friend of mine used to say. It’s another achingly beautiful day, one that makes you feel happy for no particular reason at all.

Winter’s coming, though. Oddly, now our greatest fear is that the cost of oil will soar, and we don’t be able to pay for heat. Wood pellets are already in short supply. We fear we’ll run freeze to death this winter. We may not get our new wood-fired heating system approved in time to install before the harsh winter predicted by the Old Farmer’s Almanac. (We know we’ll manage, but there are many, many people who won’t be able to.)

And I always wonder if posting my thoughts on achieving yet another birthday (my 27th 29th birthday!) seems trivial in light of our great loss on that day seven years ago.

Whatever. Life goes on. And I think the world is big enough for both threads.

Enjoy the day.

Remember.

Try to make decisions from love and strength, not fear.

Hold your loved ones close today, no matter how bratty they are. Tell them you love them.

And send me birthday cake! (Lots of frosting, please.)

WHAT WERE YOU DOING?

I’ve been reading slowly through Martha Beck’s book The Joy Diet, a guide for leading a happier life. I’ve always enjoyed her columns in Oprah magazine, and the book is just as good.

I came across an interesting passage that got me thinking….

People can have a hard time identifying what’s really important to them in life, and discovering what they really want to do in life. Ms. Beck, a therapist, says sometimes clients find it hard to dig through the layers of rationalization and obligation we pile on our lives to find the answer.

I’ve got a good “cut to the chase” question for that: “When you were in first grade, what did you want to be when you grew up?” This sometimes helps people get back to the simple joys and desires they had, before shoulda/woulda/coulda took over.

Martha has another great question to ask yourself:

“What were you doing on the evening of 9/11?”

Her point is, the morning of 9/11, everyone was doing the same ol’ same ol’, taking care of what they thought they should be taking care of. But by the end of the day, people were doing something drastically different. They were desperately hold on to, or reaching out to, the things they felt were really important.

The evening of 9/11, I was out having my birthday dinner with my husband. The only other people out were other people having their sad little birthday dinners, too. But what cheered me (a little) that day was that despite what had happened, we were still determined to celebrate the small, important milestones in our lives.

And by the next day, I’d written this essay called An Ancient Story for Modern Times.

Reading Martha’s passage, I realized several things.

My first real response to 9/11 was to put it in context for my children, and hold my family close.

My second response was to go to my studio and make my art.

My third response was to write about it in context with my story. And to retell that story to others.

I guess I’m more on track in my life than I realize….