STORMY WEATHER, SUMMER VERSION: Lessons From a Bunny

Reflections from Stormy Weather, a story I wrote 8 years ago, and still can’t read without crying.

I work well under pressure…even if I have to create it myself (damn it!)

I’ve had all these visions in my head for a wonderful new body of work for months. And now that I’m on fire with making them visible in the world, I’m running out of time.

To be fair, the delay wasn’t all my fault. I really was stuck. Couldn’t move forward. Too many technical obstacles.

Simply put, I want to create displays–permanent display cases–showcasing my artifacts and animals, including jewelry. I imagine them sitting on table tops or wall hung, each one a shrine. Collectors can use them as I make them. Or they can add their own favorite objets de mémoire et le désir, as many customers have done. (You send pictures, people! I LOVE that.)

Soon I was overwhelmed with questions:
Where do I get the boxes? Okay, make that affordable boxes?
What kind of boxes will work? How do I refinish or restore them to keep/create that old, worn well-used look?
What about the mounts? Despite taking a terrific online mount-making class, I still can’t solder brass. What about using the steel stands I already have? Wait–I need more! But they’re getting to expensive to have custom-made!!

Here comes my friend and mentor, Gary Spykman, to the rescue! (Gary’s new venture is here.)

I’ve been a guest in his workshop the last four months, and he’s helped me find the answers to all these questions. I’ve learned to size up a good box candidate, determine what it needs to get the right “look”, where to find the necessary products and tools, how to order the parts for steel stands and hammer them together myself. I’ve learned a lot, and look forward to…well, soldering brass pretty soon.

I never thought the damn polymer would stymie me.

I tried to put together a magnificent new animal sculpture. I had a vision, and I knew all the techniques. Surely that would be the “easy” part, right?

Nah.

It all came apart late last night. (Literally and figuratively.)

Yes, the pic is fuzzy.  I don't want you to see how badly broken the antlers are.
Yes, the pic is fuzzy. I don’t want you to see how badly broken the antlers are.

And again, to be fair, I’m working outside my comfort zone, trying new sculpture techniques, experimenting. Always scary territory for an artist, and one that probably shouldn’t be undertaken two weeks before the damn thing is due at the exhibit.

This morning I took as long as I could to check my email and surf my tribal forms (e.g., the forum at BeadCollector.net and Facebook.) But finally, I had to admit it was time to start over with new antlers. (Oops!)

As I mixed up more clay, I saw a funny scrap of raw clay on my worktable.

It looked like….a rabbit.

Tell me I'm not crazy--do you see the bunny??
Tell me I’m not crazy–do you see the bunny??

So I made a rabbit bead.

My first bunny bead, ready to "fire".
My first bunny bead, ready to “fire”.

Rabbits and I go way back. I’ve written many times about the life lessons my beloved Bunster has taught me.

And I’ve noticed that, in the world, so many, many times, the things people write about/rant about/resent/judge are the very things they carry so painfully in their own hearts. Myself included. This astonishing article about Debbie Miller and her advice about taking creative risks and daring to be our true selves–which she never took herself until recently–resonated with me today. Beautiful,powerful words–if only we could really hear them!!!

It’s like writing about these things helps US be brave. And hopefully, helps readers, too.

And maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe we can’t hear these words until the ground is ready to receive them.

So what am I writing about today?

I’m writing about not being afraid.

But I’m actually writing about being very very afraid.

Afraid my work will be judged (again!) by unhappy, vindicative people.
Afraid my work is just a bad, sad echo of people who are much further on the cutting edge of polymer than I will ever be.
Afraid I am not worthy of making the stuff I make.

And yet I have to make it.

And so the rabbit.

Lee’s words come back to me like a prayer:

“Quit reading about the fear!” he exclaimed. “Be ordinary! You are creative—make your art!” He bent over to stroke Bunster, and his voice became gentle again. “Be like your bunny. She’s fearful—but she has a place in this world…”

I have a place in this world….

My art, my writing, my buzzing brain, my restless dreams, my searching, searching, searching for what I bring to this world…and what will be forgotten as soon as I’m gone, my best intentions and my worst fears, my generous and gracious soul and all my many, many, many shortcomings…

All have a place in this world.

Sometimes it’s okay to be ordinary….

If it gets you to an extraordinary place in your heart, eventually.

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.

NEW JOURNEY: The Eighth Step

Sometimes the hardest thing to do, is to do nothing.

Many of you have sent some gentle nudges my way. “You haven’t said much lately–what’s up?” “Is everything okay?” “Are you still dealing with crap?”

Short answer: Yes, I’m still dealing with crap. Mine.

I’m nearing the end of my hospice training. One more class, and that’s it. It’s been informative, exhilarating, intriguing.

And I still have no idea where to go from here.

I didn’t really expect to have a huge spiritual/emotional/professional/personal breakthrough, the answer to all my questions, at this point. But yes, I confess I had a sneaking little hope I might….

So I’ve been down. And embarrassed about it. Too embarrassed to even post about it.

Two things happened in the last day or so. I spent an evening with a dear friend, who simply listened. And I ran across another great article by Christine Kane on Why Your Ego Loves Airline Delays.

I wailed to my friend that I thought I’d have something figured out by now. Maybe not a new career plan, but at least a moment of clarity. Why can’t I get a head of steam going here?? Why can’t I get some traction on any of my projects?? What’s wrong with me, anyway?!?

Carol, bless her heart, reminded me that I still look like a success: My big retail show coming up with lovely new work, my magazine column for The Crafts Report, my new shop on Amazon’s 1000 Markets my blog. (BTW, she loves all the comments you readers leave, too!)

She also said I was an inspiration to her, professionally and personally. She says she sees me constantly, unrelentingly, trying to figure this stuff out. And she thinks I’m being too hard on myself.

“You’re already forming new plans and strategies,” she pointed out. “You took the setbacks and obstacles created by a few of your peers at your professional craft organization and overcame them. You have beautiful new work, and a beautiful new story behind it. You’re looking for ways to generate more reliable income for your family and your biz. You’re determined to follow through on your volunteer commitment to hospice, even though it’s terrifying you. You’re learning to set boundaries with groups and individuals in your personal and professional life, even when it’s tough. You’re doing the hard work. And you’re sharing that openly and honestly with your audience. Where…is the failure in that??!”

With a friend like Carol, I could move mountains–at least the little ones in my heart.

The Christine Kane article reminds me that what’s grousing here is my ego. The part of me that wants to figure this stuff out right now, the part that’s impatient with how slow and painful the process can be. It’s the part that wants to control and manage my life.

My ego has to accept the the parts of life I can’t control and manage… It–I–must learn to give in sometimes, so that love, and peace, and courage–yes, and faith–can come inside, and stay.

So today I’ve worked hard on my application for a little job at our local college. It looks like it’s within my skill set, and would leave me time to still make art, and write. I’m trying to face my next big retail show with peace in my heart (and nice new work) instead of anger and resentment towards those few who would like to see me fail. I’m taking it one day at a time, one thing at a time, and I’m trying not to fuss and worry.

And trying to eliminate a few of the “I” sentences that seem to predominate my life lately.

My mantra for this week: Slow down. Be patient. Listen. Forgive others. Forgive myself. Believe. Love. Breathe.

Breathe