New Journey: The Ninth Step

Class is over, and now the real learning begins.

I really need to start renaming how I number the posts in this series, or someday I’ll be up to “The Hundred-and-Fifteenth Step”….

Yesterday was my last hospice volunteer training class. I’ve been gently, quietly freaking out. The time for talking the talk is over. Now it’s time to walk the walk. And I’m not sure I can.

I thought I was the only one that felt this way. But of course, a little talking among my classmates quickly overturned that little paranoid delusion. We all felt anxious about actually doing what we’d signed on to do.

This week, we had current volunteers as guest speakers. They were relatively new, having completed their training only a year or two ago. And they had this to say:

The first time is scary. You want to do a good job, and it feels like there is so much to remember! But it changes into what it needs to be….

You’ll get your cues about what is needed. The patient will let you know if they need interaction, or quiet, to be touched or left alone.

The things you thought would be easy, might be hard. What you thought might be hard, will be easy.

Try not to anticipate what will be needed. Don’t be a “fixer”. Let go of that need to jump in and take over. Hold that part of yourself down.

And open yourself up.

Center yourself. Get quiet. Be peaceful. Observe. And be present.

We also had a hospice nurse talk with us. His final words of advice: You are all ready for something different in your life, or you wouldn’t be here. Don’t consider yourself a gift to others. Don’t worry about that part. Just consider the gift you are being given…. (to be with someone at the end of life.)

And now I can I see where my anxiety is coming from.

I’ve been working too hard on giving.

That sounds silly, I know. Here me out.

Lately, it feels like my gifts aren’t needed or wanted. Neither my art, nor my self, nor my intentions feel honored lately. My artwork sales are falling, the galleries say no, the memorial service I felt I was not welcome at, my artist friend who did not enjoy the article I wrote about him–one of my best, btw!–my son who does not want my mothering right now. All feel like failures, failures in what I do, what I don’t do, who I am.

And when I ask for help, I worry I’m asking for too much. It feels like I’m constantly asking for too much.

Now I see that in my search for the perfect exchange, that perfect moment when what is given is exactly what is needed, when what is needed is exactly what I have to offer, I have actually been selfish.

I’ve been trying to control the outcome. I have been driven by the need for gratitude.

And I cannot control the other side of that transaction. I have to let go of that. I can only control my actions, my intentions, my offering.

If my presence is not wanted, then at least I showed up. If my article caused anger, then at least I wrote out of love and respect. Doug may not accept it right now in this angry teenage phase, but my unwavering love for him is the greatest gift of all. I choose to give it freely, and he is free to not want it right now. Or rather, he is free to choose not to show he wants it right now.

And so here is where my real journey will begin. Next week, I go back to interview for my first volunteer assignment. It may be days, or weeks, or months before I am placed. I’m scared. But I’m going to do it.

I will show up, and see what’s there.

And I will be grateful.

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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

NEW JOURNEY: The Third Step

Change is always hard, but learning to recognize when it’s TIME to change, gets easier.

In my last two posts, I described two big fears in my life. The first was knowing a change was coming. The second is not knowing what it is.

The third is being afraid I’ll get stuck in the new change.

Now, if this isn’t anticipating trouble, what is? Right?

But I’ve seen many people leave the art and craft biz, trying to take their experiences to draft a new career for themselves. There are drawbacks to leaving that source of knowledge and passion.

Some did it beautifully, and have given much back to the community. Others had “steam” for awhile. But eventually, driven again by the need for fame or fortune, or fear of changing what works, their contributions become stale and rote. Like a burned-out teacher two years from retirement with two kids in college, they slog away, feeling they are simply in too deep to quit. They grind on for “just a few more years.” And making life miserable for others around them. (I don’t mean to pick on teachers, it’s just something I witnessed once that wasn’t pretty, and it stuck.)

I dreaded ending up in the same boat.

But once I recognized this for what it is–anticipated fear of failure–it was easier to put it back in the box.

First, I have no idea that’s where I’ll go next. Being afraid of something that might happen from a new career direction I might head in seems awfully silly.

Second, I realized it just won’t happen. If I’m paying such close attention to my changing desires now, I always will. That’s who I am. I will always be questioning, and rigorously testing my motivation.

Several readers mentioned this in their comments to my last few posts. It’s a journey, with more than one destination. More than a few travel plans will change. We never get to one single place and then plop there for the rest of our lives. “Got mine, get in line,” is no longer a justifiable or sustainable model for the self-aware. Change is always just around the corner.

Which reminds me of something a friend told me years ago. It was at a dark time in my life, just before I realized I was being called to be an artist. I was so fearful of everything in my life, and especially for my child. The world seemed to dark and full of evil. I said I couldn’t figure out how to protect her and keep her safe.

“You can’t!” exclaimed my friend. “That’s not our job. Our job is to teach them to be themselves, and to believe in themselves, so they can handle anything life throws at them. I want to teach my children to dance on the edge of the universe!’

Her words sent shivers down my spine. Here was a fearless mother who knew a good way to truly protect her children–teach them to adapt gracefully and beautifully to the inevitable challenges that come their way in a fully-lived life. She showed me how to drive that debilitating fear right out of my heart, and put love and faith and courage in its place.

So who do I want to be? An anxious whiny person, determined not to risk what I have in order to move forward?

Or do I want to dance on the edge of the universe?

ps. Years later, my friend had more difficult pregnancies, resulting in children with debilitating special needs. Emotionally exhausted, financially overwhelmed, the family made the decision to move across county to be closer to family and old friends for support. The night before she left, I took her some gifts, told her how much her friendship had meant to me.

“You led me out of a very dark place, and I will always be grateful”, I told her. I repeated her words back to her.

“I said that??” She couldn’t remember ever being that fearless and sure.

It was then I realized the real reason she’d told me those words was so I could repeat them back to her when she needed them most.

They had been held in trust for her.

SCARY SHADOW ARTISTS AND ME

Over the last few weeks, a mini-drama has played itself out behind my blog.

I received a “fan mail” from a person who wanted to buy a necklace. By the second exchange, the person wrote an email that sounded like she’d copied my work and had changed her mind about the necklace.

I ran the exchange by several people whose professional opinion I respect and trust. All read the email the same way, and all were outraged by it.

I wrote an article about how this issue affects artists. To make a dramatic point, I published some of the email exchange between this person and me. I felt I had something important to say about the people who–innocently or not–cause artists such misery. It happens to us all the time–the “fan” who says, “I just love your work, and I’m going to go home and make something just like it.”

I didn’t publish the person’s name or any contact information, but her words were out there for all to see.

The person wrote back, deeply hurt and claiming she’d meant no such thing. She insisted I retract the post. She said it was a personal attack on her, and not fair.

She said I was as much to blame as her. And though she said she was sorry things had gotten out of hand, it felt more like, “I’m sorry you’re so sensitive.”

I pointed out that I had a right to my feelings. I said I still didn’t know what her real intentions were. I said MY intentions were not to humiliate her, but simply to write about how much these incidents hurt, and how I got past it.

She responded again, insisting I remove the post, and saying again it was a huge misunderstanding.

I got angrier and angrier. I was determined to stick to my guns. I knew I was right. Most of my community supported me. A very few didn’t.

Then something happened.

I noticed that it just didn’t feel right.

Why?

Several issues came to mind, and they are convoluted. I’ll spare you the tangled workings of my mind there!

I decided to give the person a chance to show they’d acted in good faith.

I emailed her one last time.

Send me one of the little horses you made, I told her. I’d like to see it. Give me the name of the animal rescue organization you were going to give them to, to raise money. Let ME donate a horse necklace to them. It does sound like a good cause, and I’d be happy to help.

Do this, and I’ll take the post down.

Now, I haven’t heard a word back since then.

But I felt much, much better.

Late last night, though, I realized it still wasn’t enough. I talked more with my husband, whose opinion I always respect.

My husband said, “It seems that this particular person–who sounded like she was going to copy your work–took all the brunt of all the pain in you, caused by other people who did copy your work, and bragged about it.”

And he was right.

I also realized I was afraid. By selling my work in a more public online venue, I was opening up the likelihood that more people would indeed copy me. That’s scary.

But recognizing my fear just made me more determined to get back to square one.

I believe the world can only heal from all the anger and evil in the world when we step back from being right, and focus on being whole.

I believe when we make decisions based on fear, we are not acting in our best interest, nor the best interest of the world at large.

My art and my writing have always been about making better choices. Maybe even better choices than I can always make in my personal life. (I can be very impatient and judgmental of people. And I’m afraid of a lot things!)

Regarding this person’s actual intentions….I cannot fully know, or control, other people’s intentions.

I can only know mine.

My intentions are to make the artwork that makes me feel whole. My intention is to write in ways that inspire other people to know their true intentions. And to make their own powerful work. To play it forward.

I got caught up in being right. I may have been right. But maybe I was wrong.

I certainly have a right to my own feelings. And I have the right to write about them. But I can do it in a way that doesn’t make a scapegoat of a person who may or may not deserve it.

I want to focus on the power of my intentions, and get to a better place in my heart.

In that spirit, I’ve removed the post, and I fully apologize for my role in this.

COPING WITH COPYCATS: Getting Past the Fear of Being Copied

It’s ultimately better (for YOU) to get out there and make MORE art than to protect what you’ve got.

An artist on a crafts forum posted about someone finding a protected image file on her website. The person had left a cryptic message on her guest book: “Thanks”.

The artist is in a panic about possible copyright infringement. Will her design be stolen? Manufactured in China? Sold in Target stores across the U.S.??

It’s a real fear for artists today, and I don’t want to make light of it. She received plenty of good advice about dealing with copyright infringement, and what you can do about it. (Precious little, actually.)

But it also brought me back to the times I thought someone was stealing my designs. And what kind of energy that built in me.

Here is my take on it, FWIW:

I know the potential for someone lifting your images is real.

On the other hand, you’ve really worked yourself up over one word someone posted to your guest book.

I do not mean to disrespect your fears or feelings here–we ALL do this! And this incident may indeed be legitimate grounds for concern.

BUT my thoughts will be a little different than those who are giving you sound advice about copyright issues:

Try not to let anxiety and fear drive all your business decisions.

Your best defense against having a design stolen is what’s actually good for you as an artist as well: Keep moving! Keep developing more work, keep your ideas coming, keep your work fresh.

I’ve been there. I’ve found myself in situations where I felt paralyzed, fearful an action would put me in the way of being copied or my designs ripped off.

But when I look back, I realize that all the energy I thought I had to devote to protecting myself, would have better spent simply getting my work out there and making a heckuva lot more of it.

I’m NOT saying roll over and play dead. Sometimes all that’s needed is a cease-and-desist letter from you or your family lawyer to put a little fear into the heart of your copycat.

I’m saying that the energy you put into controlling this possibility could be better spent on your artwork.

In fact, if you “shut down” and try to control all access to your images, and focus on protecting yourself, you will be working against yourself.

In fact, your best defense is to get your work established, recognizable, and GOOD. True, that alone may not get you $$ from the design infringement. But it goes a long way to getting the infringement STOPPED.

We only have so much time, energy and money to spend on the things that are important to us. We read in the news about people who win big lawsuits and huge settlements. It’s easy to think that could be us.

In reality, those “windfalls” involve time, angst, lots of lawyers, and yes, more money. When people say, “Nobody gets rich but the lawyers”, believe them.

In the end, even if you COULD get rich and famous from defending a design, is that what you want?

Or do you want to get rich and famous by getting your work out into the world and seen and enjoyed and bought by as many people as possible?

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!”