WE CAN ALWAYS USE ANOTHER HERO

We all need a hero.

And we can all BE a hero.

Although I love that Tina Turner song from the movie Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, I have to disagree…

We do need another hero. Lots of ’em.

I’m often asked how I got started making my art, and I’ll share it here.

I was the typical “class artist” throughout grade school, drawing at every opportunity. (Mostly horses, come to think of it.) Then drawing for other kids (“Draw a dog for me!” “Can you draw a mouse?”) Then cartoons for the school newspaper (and writing a funny column, come to think of it).

I couldn’t wait to go to college, so I could learn to be an artist. (Our school’s art programs constantly fell victim to budget cuts, so I had very little access to making “real” art.) That didn’t happen, for a lot of reasons, none of them very good in hindsight.

And so I left my art as a young person. Mostly because I believed so many MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS.

I backed away from it later because when I stayed home with my children, it was so very very hard to make time for anything beyond trying to be a good wife and a good mother. (Raise your hand if you’ve ever introduced yourself as “(your child’s name here)’s mom”. I still introduce myself to some people as “Doug’s mom” and “Robin’s mom”.)

There was barely time to knit a hat or finish a project before I had to clear the table for lunch, or dinner, let alone take on any serious or involved ventures.

I actually got to the point where I decided to simply focus on good wife/good mom, and wait til there was more time/money/opportunity to do differently.

I thought it was the right thing to do. There was some relief in “letting go” of that dream.

But something in me was sad, too. I pushed it down and tried to forget about it.

Shortly after that, as I watched my darlin’ three-year-old daughter at play, I found myself daydreaming about her…

What would her life be like? It seemed to spread before us like a tiny brook, growing into a mighty river.

What kind of person would she be? I hoped she’d be the same person she was now: Quiet but deep-thinking; shy but fierce in her beliefs; talented in so many ways; loving yet independent; quirky, different, her own person, comfortable in her own skin.

What kind of work would she do? There were so many possibilities.

Who would she love? Would she marry, too? I hoped she’d find someone who would respect her strengths and encourage her dreams. I hoped she’d find a loving partner who would let her shine, who would let her simply be herself.

And then an epiphany whacked me right over the head. Three big questions tumbled into my brain. In big glowing capital letters.

1) Did my mother want that for me when I was young?
(I still don’t know the answer to that one. I was the oldest of seven, there may not have been time to spend daydreaming!)

2) How could I want that for my daughter, and not want that for myself?

3) How will my daughter know what that looks like–to be all she can be–if I didn’t model that for her?

I knew I had to be a hero for my daughter. And for me.

I knew I had to be authentic for my daughter. And for me.

That was the day I knew I had to be an artist. Or die.

That was the day I knew it didn’t even matter if I would be a good artist. I just had to do it.

It’s a perfect inspirational story for parents. These are powerful questions for breaking through the barriers we erect between ourselves and our dreams. It’s amazing to see the look of shocked enlightenment on the face of something who “gets it”:

“What am I teaching my kid??”

Are you actually teaching them to NOT live their dream? (Because you’re not?)

Are you showing them they shouldn’t try if they think they might fail? (Beause you’re afraid to?)

Are you telling them that someone else’s needs always outweigh their own? (Because that’s what you always do?)

Ow. Ow. OW!!

If you don’t have kids of your own, maybe this would be helpful:

“Someone–somewhere–is looking to you to be a hero.”

Maybe someone we care about deeply. Maybe not.

Sometimes it’s easier to be brave for someone else we care about, braver than we would normally choose for ourselves. Hopefully, as we grow older/wiser/more evolved, we choose to follow our power because that’s the right thing to do. (See the Martha Graham quote here.

But til then, altruism can be a force for good that’s also good for us.

Be someone’s hero. Be your own hero.

THE POWER OF TINY CHANGES

I had surgery last week, and am only starting to feel back to normal now.

It was much, much more exhausting and debilitating than I’d thought or planned for, starting with the hospital stay.

My room was across from the nurses’ station, and I could hear EVERYTHING going on. I had a talkative roommate who never quit. She was very nice, but the last straw was the “Are you asleep?” queries at 2 a.m., 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. Between that, and the almost hourly nurse visits (alternating between me and my roommate) and I was a basket case by 6 a.m. When my husband showed up the next day to take me home, he asked brightly, “Did you catch up on your sleep?”, I dissolved into a puddle of tears.

I couldn’t wait to get home and sleep, sleep, sleep. After the two-hour drive home, that is.

Finally, I was home, sweet home. And I DID sleep, off and on, almost all of that first day.

By the second day, though, I had a most unwelcome visitor. Racking back pain, sciatica, brought on by inactivity and too much bed rest. The powerful meds I was on couldn’t touch it. It was so violent, I could only find relief by walking or standing—NOT what my exhausted body, already nauseated by the strong meds, could cope with so soon after surgery.

I was in major pain, and I was terrified. I imagined every single worst case scenario: blood clot, slipped disk, permanent pain.

I felt totally out of control of my situation.

Absolutely nothing gave me any comfort, or interested me, beyond the pain.

I thought it would last forever. That’s what it felt like.

After a few phone calls to my doctor and some adjustments to my medication and regime, I was able to get some relief by the next day.

But I was STILL exhausted. And worse, still depressed. The worst of the pain was gone. Hallelujah! (The blessing was, by contrast, my incisions felt great! But I still found absolutely no interest or comfort in anything. Not my family, not my home, not the beautiful June day. I felt exhausted and used up.

My studio and the orders waiting for me there felt like a burden more than anything.

I tried thinking of the simplest pleasures—coffee and chocolate (can’t have any for two months); alcohol (can’t have any for two months); sex (OW! I don’t even want to think about it!); yard sales (What?? Bring home more junk? No way!); movies (can’t sit that long). Even reading, usually my prime escape, seemed dull and sad.

The list grew longer. This scared me almost as much as the pain. I went to bed last night feeling pale and wan and futile.

But then something happened.

I woke up this morning.

My first thought was, “I could make the bed.” (I don’t know why, but I always feel better when the bed is made.) That thought felt pretty good.

My second thought was, “I could fold some towels.< That wouldn’t be too hard.”

I did. That felt pretty good, too. (I was sure to not think too hard about the other baskets of laundry sitting there looking hopeful.)

I felt better.

My third thought was, “I could clean the rat’s cage. That wouldn’t be too hard.” Mavra is the sweetest animal on the earth, but she is a bit smelly in her old age.

My fourth thought was, “Maybe I could just do one or two things in my studio today. Maybe just get one surface clear.” I knew I would feel better if I could accomplish that.

My fifth thought was, “I can’t believe how much better I feel just doing these tiny tasks!”

My last thought? “I should blog this!”

So here I am, before I’ve even made the bed or had breakfast. Before the thought fled my mind, which so many do with frightening frequency lately.

Why do making these small changes to my environment make me feel so much better??

I think this is another version of the micro-tasks I’ve written about before. The one where, if you are trying to exercise more but can’t find the time or inclination, you just put on your work-out clothes. Because just committing to that tiny action often leads to the bigger commitment, to actually work out.

There’s something good about realizing you can make tiny changes and achieve small—very small—results. Results that make a difference.

There’s something empowering about those tiny changes, in themselves, that can make you feel much, much better about yourself. BEFORE those changes can even really make that difference.

Oh, yes, and getting some sleep.

The next time you find yourself overwhelmed about life or your work, first take care of yourself.

Focus on getting through it, even if you can’t see the end. Know that it WILL get better, eventually.

And as soon as you can, make some teensy, little changes for the better. Even if you can’t see where they fit in the bigger picture.

Because just CHOOSING to make those changes is a good thing.

And making even TINY changes is a better thing.

They WILL add up. And you will quickly move on to even bigger and better changes.

But even more importantly, they will change YOU.

CLIMBING THE WALLS

Climbing walls teaches me about taking risks and having fun doing it.

A few weeks ago, on a whim, I visited the wall climbing class at our local Y.

I found a small group of avid, enthusiastic climbers. Before long, I found myself strapped into a climbing harness and scrambling up a wall.

It’s exhilarating. Exciting. Exhausting!! After two days of climbing, my hands and forearms feel like jello. No, scratch that. Jello bounces. Let’s make that limp, cooked spaghetti.

Here’s my big breakthrough moment while climbing the walls:

It’s okay to fall.

I obsessed at first about picking “safe” holds, making sure my feet were firmly planted before I made my next move. When I couldn’t find the next spot to move to, I’d panic. I worried I wasn’t making good decisions.

Was I doing it right??

I was terrified to fall.

But my coach finally convinced me it’s okay to fall. “Everyone falls!” she exclaimed. (She’s 65, by the way, and would look better in a bikini than most 20-year-olds I know.)

In fact, you SHOULD fall. When you get to a tricky bit, try a little jump up. Try a hold you’re not sure of. Reach. Leap. Go for it.

Because—and this is important:

You’ve got nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

Because the point of climbing, oddly enough, is NOT to avoid falling. It’s simply to get to the top–any way you can.

You can dash up, you can scramble, you can go slow and stop and rest. You can go up sideways, you can stretch off to one side. You can even just jam your foot against the wall, and push off against that. If you’re stuck, you can simply decide to take a little leap of faith. Take that big step up and lunge for that handhold you’re sure is just out of reach….

Because even if you peel away from the wall, you are perfectly safe.

You’re in your harness, your spotter has a rope on you, and you’re not going anywhere until you say you want to come down. (Which is pretty darn fun, too!)

As I went up the wall for the third day today, I actually felt my brain unlocking.

I thought of that saying: “What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?”

Because when it comes to taking chances with our climbs, with our ambition, with our art, failing does not kill you.

Oh, your pride may be ruffled a little. And I’m sure there are some nasty souls somewhere who will take pleasure in your little downfall.

But I would rather focus on those enthusiastic voices below, the ones who are taking real joy in your efforts. The ones who really want to see you make it, all the way to the top.

And the rewards are so great.

“Beautiful climb! Good job! You made it!”