Here’s a link to today’s article at Fine Art Views, LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Blessed Clarity”.
Looks like I accidentally wrote “Blessed CHARITY” instead of ‘CLARITY’. But both work.
Here’s a link to today’s article at Fine Art Views, LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Blessed Clarity”.
Looks like I accidentally wrote “Blessed CHARITY” instead of ‘CLARITY’. But both work.
A few years back, I had a vision for my next body of work. Shadow boxes are not ‘new’, but I envisioned them to display not only my sculptural work, but my jewelry, too.
I was already a box collector. (Okay, no comments about all the stuff I collect.) I had some great little boxes I thought would work beautifully, except for one thing. They were from a tool manufacturing company, and they were black with smelly oil and grease.
I showed him a stinky box and asked him if I should use shellac to coat the wood.
He suggested I clean it thoroughly instead. “But I love the waxy black look!” I exclaimed. “It’s just the smell I can’t stand.”
Patiently, Gary explained why that was not a good idea. Now I can’t remember why. But I believed him.
“Once you clean up the gunk, there are better ways to get that old dark patina you love,” he said.
“Teach me stuff?” I said, a la Susan Sarandon in that great old movie, Atlantic City (See the quote in this clip at 54 seconds.>)
And an apprenticeship was born.
For the next four months, I was a guest in Gary’s woodworking shop. We worked out a rough gentlemen’s agreement, where in exchange for small sundries and chores, I would work on refinishing my vintage and antique wooden boxes as he guided me step by step on how to clean them up, repair them and restore them.
I have no idea what Gary gained from the synergy, except for someone to yak with during the day and who happily did the shop dishes each afternoon. (Why is it always more fun to do someone ELSE’S dishes??)
But I benefited hugely. And not just in how to work with antique boxes.
And so starts a new series, LESSONS FROM GARY’S STUDIO. In fact, I got the idea because I’m setting up my new studio based on certain principles, as much as possible, that I observed in Gary’s studio.
I was going to jump right in about that. But then I remembered the first thing I learned: “Do it right.” Don’t take shortcuts. Start at the beginning, and build from there.
And so I am.
(Actually, I guess the VERY first thing I learned was, “Ask”. Ask someone who DOES know. But I don’t want everybody calling Gary to ask him for help. Although I’m pretty sure he would. Help you, that is.)
I’m struggling with a lot of issues and thoughts lately. This big move is unsettling. We know more than ever that we need to move. And we know we WANT to move. But when, and where, and what to do with a very few but oh-so-precious companions and fragile, vulnerable loved ones, confound and confuse us.
Layer that with questions about how to keep our hearts open and loving, while protecting ourselves from the people who would destroy us by gentle nibbling or explosive bites….
With the feeling that it’s truly time to dig deep into issues of compassion and forgiving, while still protecting ourselves….
Trying to let go of the people who aren’t there for us (when we were there for them) while graciously accepting help from the people who are…
Well, it’s been a bit of a jumble.
As always, listening and writing help. And actually sitting down and making things helps, too. In the midst of donating, selling, giving stuff away, it’s even more important than ever to honor my creative spirit. That’s easy to forget while working on the ever-growing to-do list.
As always, someone speaks magic words. And for a brief moment, there is clarity. Clarity that gets me through another day.
Last week, I complained to a friend that she and a very few people were helping me a lot, more than I felt comfortable with. While other people were doing very little, if anything at all. It felt out of whack, unbalanced. “But it’s your turn!” she said. I still didn’t get it, so she explained. When we reach out and help others, whether it’s helping them move, helping them with information they need, helping them by simply listening, we will “get it back”. But not necessarily from that person.
“Your good energy goes out into the universe,” she said. “And when you need that energy–when it’s your turn–it comes back. But it usually comes back through other people, not the people you feel ‘owe’ you.”
Well. That just shut me right up. I had to stop and think about it. It made so much sense. I am getting everything I need right now. And it’s coming from all over the map of my friendships, some from very old places and much from very new places.
It also gave me an insight into letting go of resentment. Friends are not a balance sheet, where I tally up what was given and what I’m owed, and vice versa. Do the truly good work you can do. Put it out there. Trust that it will come back when you really need it. In fact, as I look back, that is exactly how we’ve been helped through excruciating circumstances the last few years. (Probably forever!) Chance meetings, acquaintances, total strangers often gave us exactly what we needed, to help us take the next step. Almost every day, a miracle occurred. It still astonishes me. And now I can relax, and see them right here under my nose. (Thank you, Roma!)
Of course, being human, this heart of mine, trying to be so gentle, soon got all gritchy again. Last night, over a glass of wine, I complained to another friend that all the joy seems to have drained out of our decision to move.
When I try to remember what moved us to do this, it feels like a dream. Now, we feel dominated by the harsh realities of a job search, determining the actual destination, recognizing the costs involved, dealing with the disruption to our lives.
At the same time, I’m highly sensitive to the fact that this isn’t “awful, hard stuff”–no one is dying, no one is injured, no one is forcing us to do this. I’m embarrassed to complain so much. And our dream of California, which made so much sense a year ago, now seems a bit frivolous.
She said that when we’re in a state with so much upheaval and confusion, it can feel awful. Because it IS unsettling.
It’s not possible, nor even advisable, to think logically about the move right now. We’ll make assumptions based on information that isn’t certain–perhaps even wrong.
And it’s even more important to remember the dream.
“I think of ‘dreaming’ as light-hearted,” she said. “There’s no attachment. It’s…creative. And deeply spiritual.” She commented that all the aspects of the dream that mean so much to me–the light, the ocean, the big sky, the climate–all speak of deep connections to nature. She believes that connection is fundamental to all people, but especially creative people.
Assumptions, on the other hand, are heavy, and negative, and too attached to outcome. It is the antithesis of ‘the call’.
I realize that is exactly what this desire feels like. A call, for something we couldn’t even articulate at first. As we tried to define it, we attached certain aspects to it that made sense: More sunshine and richer professional connections for Jon. I don’t know what for me. I hesitate to even name it for myself.
But we both felt that call, before we even had words for it. Despite us trying to nail it down, make it concrete, apply logic and reason to it, it remains largely indescribable. In many ways, not logical.
And we both still yearn for it deeply, in a way that’s still hard to articulate. That moment of us discovering the other felt exactly the same way still astonishes me when I think of it.
I’ve felt this call a handful of times in my life. I answered it, every time except once. Each time I responded, my heart has grown larger, my life has grown richer.
My only regret? The time I didn’t answer.
Erika explained, telling me about Joseph Campbell’s description of the hero’s journey. There is the call. There is the challenge–the obstacles that get in the way. You must conquer the challenge. Your reward? The gift you bring back to your people. (Erika’s version was simpler and eliminated the ‘woman as temptress’ thing which is unnecessarily obnoxious for me right now.)
She gave me just what I needed right now.
I’ve decided to take a mental vacation as I work on my giant to-do list. I’m indulging in a little “California Dreamin'”. Oh, I’m still here, packing up winter clothes, clearing out a box or two, running to the library to donate yet more books. Trying to clear a space in my studio to work.
But last night, as I drifted off to sleep, I would not let myself worry. Or plan. Or even think about my to-do list. I set aside my thoughts of Doug, and Robin, and Bunster.
Instead, I thought of huge rolling waves.
A beach filled with shiny pebbles.
Golden light from a big, big sky.
A sense of coming home.
Not as silly a title as it sounds. Okay, it does sound silly.
I’ve reprinted an article I published nine years ago, and it still holds true today…
Today’s comments are in boldface.
RE-DO OF THE TO-DO LIST originally published October 1, 2004
I start most mornings with my schedule book (a student composition book with daily to-do list) and my journal. I try to start with my journal, because as I write, the process helps me sort through the to-do’s and establish real priority.
A to-do list is great for making sure you accomplish what you set out to do in a day, but they have a few drawbacks.
First, it gets cumbersome to constantly move unfinished tasks to the next day. It doesn’t allow you to easily set daily goals vs. weekly, or even longer-term goals. Everything seems to have the same urgency. “E-mail Tiffany about wings” (Note–this one TOTALLY baffled me today–Tiffany? Oh, she’s Teo now. Wings? Wha….?) until I read through.) seems as crucial as “mail past-due insurance premium.”
Also, no matter how much you accomplish, there’s always something you didn’t get to. So you never feel you really “finished.”
And then there’s the feeling that tomorrow, it starts all over again.
This morning I wondered if I instead I could view the day as an opportunity to fill certain “cups” of my life that need care and attention.
One cup, “family”, was easy. Jon and I had had a great morning. And I needed to make sure I spent time with my kids later after school. “Make chili with Doug and Robin” (they love to help me cook) and “movie night!” went at the top of my list. (You know you need to cook more often when you make a pot of soup one weekend and both your teenage children THANK you profusely….how embarrassing!)
Under “friends”, I made a note to e-mail my friend Tiffany to see if she could meet for wings and a beer (oh, those wings…!), our weekly Friday ritual. And to call another friend I hadn’t seen in a few weeks, to see if we could get together.
“Professional” cup next. “Clear a space so I can do card project for Katherine’s book”.
Breaking down “Clean the studio!” into a smaller step (“Clear a table”) was a good strategy. But I needed something else today. Life’s been overwhelming lately, and I just wondered if there was another way to look at all this.
I remembered the “Handmade, High Tech” conference (see the article CRAFT IN THE DIGITAL AGE from April 2004.) One of the speakers, Lynn Martin Graton, Traditional Arts Coordinator for the NH State Council on the Arts, talked about how differences in how language is used can reveal fundamental differences in culture.
She said, “If I want to say, ‘Warp the loom’ in Japanese, it actually translates to something like, ‘In order for the cloth to be woven, the loom will be warped.’ It’s a totally different way of viewing the action needed and the person who acts. The loom has its own importance, its own part to play. It’s not just about YOU, the artist.” (paraphrased greatly)
If I say “Clean my studio”, it’s a huge task that lies on me and me alone. I must accept total responsibility for doing that. There may be very American, can-do solutions: I can suck it up and do it myself. I can get friends to help (barn-raising!) I can hire someone else to do it, putting a value on my time and/or deciding how I want to spend my time. And my favorite, ‘you can accomplish anything–even eating an elephant–by taking many small bites one at a time.’ It’s how I’ve accomplished everything I have in the last five years, breaking every monumental task down into more manageable little steps.
But what if we’re in a place where even these strategies just seem too overwhelming?
What if we could speak Japanese sometimes? What if we could tap into an even softer, Zen, wholistic, mindful approach occasionally?
What if I recognize that, if I do my part, then the creative “thing” will do its part? What if I could trust that process?
I rewrote the task: “If the cards are to be made, a space must be cleared.” (Even better, “If the cards are to be made, the space will be open…”
It’s still the same action resulting in the same conclusion, but the perspective is different.
It’s still up to me to take the action that makes it happen. That table won’t clear itself! (Oh, I WISH!!) But now I have a partner in the process, so to speak.
I started with the analogy of a baby, but that got too labored (ouch! Sorry…) But like a baby, certain things have to happen in order for the baby to appear. Once started, the baby pretty much develops and grows on its own schedule, and appears in its own good time. But certain things have to happen, and a place has to be made.
Martha Graham’s famous quote, in part, acknowledges this: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost.”
Blocking the creative act can be as simple as not making a place for it. The creative process is a dance between you (a conduit and a source of action), and a partner (the creative force that needs to appear). The result, whether its a card project, a song, a poem, a garden, a painting or a child, comes from that dance.
Once that creative thing is in the world, it takes on a life of its own. It can be seen and experienced by others in their own unique way. Some people will be inspired by it, some will be angered. Some will be moved to tears and others will wonder what all the fuss was about. That’s why the rest of the quote goes on to say it is not the artist’s place to judge it, just to make sure it gets out into the world.
So take another look at that to-do list. Look at the ways you may have unconsciously taken on more than you need to handle with your art. Start with the small but critical step of making room for it, literally and figuratively. Then step back and see what happens!
I’m off to clear a table now. (And on that happy note, I am off to help a table be cleared.)
In the turmoil, I barely found time to write, let alone come up with something cohesive enough to post.
But a simple lesson I’d forgotten about raised it’s pretty little head last week.
And suddenly, something post-able appears.
Someone asked about affirmations. Popularized by The Artist’s Way by Julie Cameron, it’s a morning writing practice of stating what you wish for, as reality, here and now. It’s a way of making room for what you want, in the moment.
Now, I’ve been writing about life lessons and museum studies, hospice and art-making. And I’m very good at writing gratitude lists, where I remind myself what’s good about my life, instead of dwelling on the bad.
But I haven’t done affirmations for ages.
I wrote this morning about how overwhelmed and anxious I’m feeling about rearranging/repurposing/renovating our home the past few years. We’re expecting another, potentially long-term guest in a few weeks, and we’re scrambling to make room for her. I’m depressed about our clutter (okay, my clutter), in our home and in my studio. I’ve felt down and spongey. (Is that a word??) Maybe porous–everything coming in and wreaking havoc in my ruminating brain.
I started to write, “I am moving to a less cluttered…..”
(Yes, I stopped myself in mid-word!)
Suddenly, I thought, what if I quit writing about mastering clutter?
What if I wrote about why we’re dealing with clutter?
What if I wrote an affirmation for our home?
Our home is open to people who need a home.
Our home is open to people who yearn for companionship.
Our people is open to those who need a laugh… A Yankee Swap,
a Bad Movie Night,
a pizza and beer.
Our hope is open to us aging gracefully.
Our home is open to new possibilities.
Our home is open to animals who need a home.
Our home is a haven to people in transition.
Our home provides work and income to those who need it.
Our home celebrates family, friendship, and transition.
Our home is warm and cozy and eclectic and artsy.
Our home is filled with new projects and innovation.
Our home supports both of our vocations, and our avocations.
Our home is full of good intentions, and acts of kindness.
Our home is open to reconciliation.
Our home is full of ever-changing light.
Our home can stretch or shrink.
Our home has sheltered people for over 175 years.
Our home has weathered storms and risen above floods.
Our home holds new potential, and old memories.
Our home is a blend of the old, the modern, and the ultra-modern.
Our home is gracious.
Our home amuses people, welcomes people, amazes people and confuses people.
Our home is where our kids finished their childhood, and it’s where they come back to when things get hard.
Our home is a place where there’s always room for one more. Or two. Or three.
Our home has many sofas, and warm blankets.
Our home even has a fireplace that works–twice!
Our home has many attics and a dry basement and a good roof.
Our home can handle all our needs and desires, our ever-changing pasttimes and our hopes and dreams.
Our home can change to suit the needs we have today.
Our home has a kitchen that can hold many cooks–as long as it’s just one or two at a time.
Our home is a haven.
Our home is filled with love and wistfulness,
with love and angry words,
with love and slamming doors,
with love and reconciliation,
with love and new respect,
with love and laughter,
with love and sadness,
with love and gratitude,
with love and healing.
Our home is filled with love.
So here it is, for you, today.
A different way of looking at things, today.
Now, please excuse me while I drop of two more bags at the thrift shop, a couple to the garbage, and an errand to Home Depot for more closet organizers.
As I clean my studio, I find my solace in a blog post I wrote six years ago on August 27, 2006. (I accidentally typed “1006”–ah, yes, my musings before the Norman Conquest….)
THE BEAUTY OF STUFF
I’m a highly successful hunter-gatherer. My home and studio reflect that.
I love yard sales, antique stores, thrift shops, craft galleries, hardware stores…you name almost any kind of store and I can happily shop in it for hours. I always find something that calls to be taken home. The bumper sticker “I brake for yard sales” could have been written for me.
It helps to know I’m not alone. Quilters hoard fabric, gardeners hoard seed catalogs and flower pots. Cooks collect exotic spices or recipes or kitchen gadgets. Woodworkers have barns full of wood and tools. Want to see my yarn collection? Ya got a few hours?
We collect stamps, coins, rocks, books and duck decoys. Even thrifty folks collect coupons and grocery bags. I’m told the new collectibles are those colorful cloth bags that are supposed to eliminate the need plastic bags.
Sometimes I think I have too much “stuff”. I know I could work more efficiently if my workspace were streamlined. I know my home would be easier to keep clean if it were more spare. I know there will come a time in my life where I’ll HAVE to cut down on the responsibility of owning so much stuff. And I know my relationships with people are much, much more important than anything I own.
But I still love, love, love my STUFF.
I had a delightful conversation about s*t*u*f*f a few
daysyears ago with the owner of a flower shop here in Keene. In the Company of Flowers is a beautiful store, with lovely floral arrangements and potted plants. The owner, Mary, also offers an eclectic assortment of gifts and home accessories, all beautiful and unusual. (Note–still true!) I always enjoy browsing there and often leave with a trinket or two.
I’d just discovered a strand of unusual beads, like nothing I’d ever seen before. I could not take my eyes off them. My budget brain fought with my primitive hunter-gatherer brain, and the budget brain lost. The beads were soon mine. They sit by my keyboard even now as I write so I can enjoy looking at them. (Note–Now I have no idea where I put them.)
I asked Mary what she knew about them. She told me about the bead dealer she’d bought them from. I told her about my own bead collection, especially my strands of antique African trade beads. She told me about her collection of “kissy pennies”, antique metal pieces with enigmatic shapes. They’re used for money in some parts of Africa. “I just love how they look, so organic, so spiritual,” she said, her hands moving to illustrate their shape. “There’s something about them that moves me deeply.”
As we talked about our unusual collections, she told me the story of a good friend who had recently died. He’d amassed an amazing collection of objects. When his estate was dispersed, it was broken up and auctioned off in bits and pieces.
I made a little whimper of sympathy. No, she said. Instead of feeling sad, she felt elated. At peace. While he lived, he’d enjoyed his collection so much.
And now it was disassembled and put back out into the world. For many, many other people to see, to be collected and cherished all over again.
She said, “I’ve let go of the idea that we actually ever own anything. We just have the keeping of it until it finds it’s way back into the water again.”
What a beautiful sentiment!
There are people who claim they hate shopping, or who periodically purge their belongings. We all go through periods of de-cluttering, letting go of certain things. After all, it is just “stuff”. And in the end, we all know that relationships and people are always more important than any “thing” we own.
But being attached to stuff is NOT just a nuisance, nor a character flaw. Nor is it self-deception about true priorities or our own mortality.
Collecting stuff is a deeply human activity. It tells us so much about who we are and who we’d like to be.
People come into the world as unique individuals. We feel connection to certain kinds of things.
We accrue those things, or collect them. These items aggregate around us. We pull them from the stream.
When we die, that aggregation is released again, like a dandelion’s seeds blowing into the wind. They return to the stream. And other people find those same pieces, find joy in them and gather them. The cycle continues again, over and over, century after century.
Each collection is unique. A stamp dealer once told me that in over 50 years of selling stamps, she never met two people who collected exactly the same stamps.
Certain objects speaks to us. And they speak for us.
From the collectors of the finest art in the world to the hoarder of string and rubber bands, what we collect says something about who we are, what we fear, what we value and what we yearn for. Our stuff helps us remember a certain time, a certain place, perhaps even a certain person. Our collections can give us solace and amusement, curiosity and knowledge, beauty and joy.
Yes, there is a spectrum, as in any human behavior, from one extreme to the other. I secretly fear my kids will nominate me for the show “Hoarders”….
But it is still a process that I find heart-breakingly human.
So go ahead and enjoy your stuff. You have my permission, as my friend Diane recently gave me hers. (Permission, not stuff.)
If it bothers you, sort out whether that comes from how you feel about it or how others feel about it. If others, how much do you care? Find your own balance point between the convenience of having less stuff and pleasure it brings you.
As another friend quipped years ago, “I love my stuff, and I’m not getting rid of it! I don’t care what they do with it after I’m dead. They can burn it or give it away. They can build a pyramid above me and fill it to the top with my stuff for all I care! I’ll be gone!!”
I can still see her face lifted to the heavens as her hands formed a giant pyramid over her head….
Laurie, you go, grrl!
You can see more pics of my stuff from last year’s open studio here.
Watch for new photos from this year’s open studio soon!