I’m Still Here!

 A single act of kindess,

Like a stone thrown in a pond,

Sends rings of ripples outward

That travel far beyond;

And joining other ripples

Flow outward to the sea;

A single act of kindness

Affects eternity.

–author unknown

 

I never thought that life AFTER the worst of the pandemic would be just as weird as DURING it. But here I am, having a rough summer and a crisis of faith.

Earlier this year, I walked away from my longest paid writing gig, 12 years of writing for FineArtViews.com. It wasn’t my highest paying gig by a long shot. But the weekly deadlines encouraged me to get regular in my writing habits, and my goal was my highest purpose:

  • To encourage creative people to keep making the work that brings them joy/solace/restoration rather than focusing on fame and money.
  • To not let others judge them on their medium, their process, their skill, etc. To embrace what helps them deal with everything else in life, whether they earn a living by it or not.
  • To persevere no matter how much, nor how little recognition they receive from it.

Because like a pebble in a pond, when we share our work with the world,  someone else’s heart might be lifted, too, though we may never have the privilege of knowing that. I also know that the most powerful connections created through my artwork, come from in-person contact (shows, studio visits, etc.)

When that goal was superceded by the financial goals of the company, I knew it was time to go. Yes, I believe in social media and social media marketing, for many reasons. It allows ANY creative person to share their work with the world, whether that leads to fame, fortune, or simply recognition for the work they do. As my favorite comic strip put it so powerfully, making the work of our heart isn’t about having an audience. It’s about having a voice.

It’s not about having an audience, it’s about having a voice.

 

But I cannot let someone else stifle my voice, either. (In their defense, that’s a normal practice in almost every biz, and they still support my website.)

Walking away from that gig felt like I’d lost both my audience and my voice.

And of course, knee replacement surgery in late June, complicated by a debilitating fall in my studio just before my surgery, has resulted in chronic pain and discomfort for months.

It didn’t help that I’d finished my year-long shrine-making series just before. Or rather, I reached a place where the next step was rather daunting, and I still haven’t figured out how to move forward. It had gotten me through the entire pandemic, but now I’m stuck again.

So I’ve been mopey, tired, constantly uncomfortable physically, whiney, and lazy for months now.

But now I can see a little light at the end of my tunnel.

What started the light was making “thank you” pearl earrings. It’s been a thing with me for years. I LOVE real pearls, and I LOVE making pearl earrings. But they hardly ever sell. So I usually give them as thank you gifts to people who are doing good work in the world, or as a thank you for something someone has done for me. I’ve donated three dozen pairs to volunteers who work at a local art center’s gallery shop, folks who work at a wonderful coffee shop back in New Hampshire (because we still mail-order coffee from them, and one person always sends a lovely, uplifting handwritten note in our package), etc.

A few months ago, I went on a pearl earring-making rampage. And it’s not gonna end anytime soon.

First, I checked in with a homeless shelter a few hundred yards down the street from my art studio. Their shelter, the largest in Northern California, is the first step towards getting a homeless person into permanent shelter and supportive services.  I asked what kind of donations suited the needs of their clients. (Now that I think about it, THAT inquiry began when I offered some food and medical supplies left over after we lost our dog Tuck a couple years ago, and offered it to a vet. They said they couldn’t take them, but that there are plenty of homeless folks with dogs who could use them. And this shelter actually lets their clients keep their dogs, an issue that’s often a deal-breaker for homeless people.)

Turns out their greatest need is individual personal hygiene items: Small packets of shampoo and conditioner, toothbrushes and toothpaste. This was harder to accomplish than I’d thought, as individually packets are being banned in some states due to massive use of non-reuseable plastics. They suggested a work-around for the former, which worked. But I was stumped by the dental care thing.

So I reached out to our family dentist, asking where they purchase their toothbrushes/toothpaste sets we get at our appointments, and could I piggy-back an order (paid) on their next order.

Their response? They donated…DONATED…a bundle of them.

So I made earrings for the dentist and their staff.

After delivering the items to the shelter, I realized I could also make thank-you for the shelter staff. A few days later, I delivered a few dozen earrings for the staff and volunteers there.

I shared this with a fellow artist. (I’d made several pairs for them, because they’d done something very kind for another artist.) They said, “OH, I have a friend who’s a dentist, I’ll see if he can donate that stuff, too!” (I just realized I should let her know I can make earrings for that office, too!)

We also rescued not one, but two oppossums this spring, and delivered them to a county wildlife rescue shelter. (One survived it, one didn’t.) It was so wonderful to find an organization dedicated to this, and it turns out they are overwhelmed with injured/abandoned baby critters this year.

So I also delivered several dozen pearl earrings to them, enough for the entire staff, interns, and their volunteers. (We also donated $$$ because that’s just as important as pearl earrings!)

Then the fall, then surgery, and now, major ennui.  I’ve been in physical therapy for my knee for almost a month, but I still have to wait several weeks for physical therapy for my fall. I’ve been achy-breaky, down in my mood, not-so-hopeful, and totally uninspired.

And yet….

I realize I really, really like recognizing our unsung heroes in life.

Recently, I learned a friend back in NH was going through a terrible loss of a loved one, and it broke my heart. On an impulse, I reached out and offered to make them something, a small fiber piece, and they reacted with great enthusiasm.

So I’ve been in the my studio several days this week, almost 3 hours a day. (That’s a record-breaker since my surgery!)

As I worked on it, I realized they were one of the folks who showed up during a very hard time in my life. Yes, I’d gifted them something back then. But it still felt great to be able to alleviate their pain in a tiny, tiny way.

As I worked, I realized I’ve also been in a position to help another good friend back there, who was also there for me during that time.

Ironically, this particular person also had great words of wisdom for me during that time.

There were people I’d gone above and beyond for, in our almost 30 years in NH. But there were a few who were NOT there for me during that difficult period, even as I had been there for them. I complained about that to this friend. And they told this powerful thought:

When we help others during their hard times, the universe sees it.

When we need help, it may come from those we helped. But it may not.

The universe, however, will provide that help, through other people, and other means.

I’ve learned over the years that hard times are….well, HARD. And when we’re in them, it’s not easy to see the good things, the gifts.

It’s only when I look back that I can see the people who did show up, the passing acquaintance, or even complete strangers  who crossed my path with a story that helped me take one step forward. The people whose wisdom helped me stay grounded, if only for a day, or even just an hour.

They are the people who helped me make a tiny shift in perspective, what I now know is an effin’ miracle.

And today, I had to share that with you.

Being grateful for the people who help us move forward. Other people being grateful for us helping THEM move forward. Others joining in. It’s a beautiful cycle that restores me to my better self.

Rambling, I know. It’s how I roll. I could shorten this, but as I wrote, more and more insights popped up.  Plus I write to get MYSELF to a better place, and this is how I do it. For example, I can’t wait to get to my studio today, because I’m am THIS CLOSE to finishing my friend’s project.

If this helps YOU today, well, that’s a gift, too! If not, no worries, I’ll be back soon with useful info, good strategies, and thoughts for hosting a successful open studio event.

But I feel a little bit better today, and I am grateful. And Garfield supports my theory that it doesn’t matter how long it takes to get our 100% out there.

UPDATE: I just found out this condition of “blah” is called languishing! And here’s a good article about it in the New York Times.

One day, or ten days…It’s ALL good

PROBLEM-SOLVING FOR CREATIVES #4: Your Team Is Bigger Than You Think!

I don’t create in a vacuum, and neither do YOU.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your Team Is Bigger Than You Think!

We have a lot of people who support our art, if you know where to look!

 (4 minute read)

 In my Fine Art Views column last week, I shared how our experience, expertise, and perseverance with our art, helped us get to where we are today.

A commenter must have read my mind! They wrote:

“While this article was very interesting, it kind of perpetuates the whole artist as lone individual toiling away. In addition to all the mindset attributes you mentioned, the reality is none of (us) work alone. We do have a team and it is helpful to remember it. It may be those who encourage and support us literally and figuratively. It is certainly other creatives who are willing to share ideas, techniques, and resources. It is all those who help us, whether it is FASO support, the suppliers and shippers we use, or those who share their experiences. We all have a team. No one creates alone.”

 To which I replied, “Amen, sister, and stay tuned!” (Thank you, Nancy Allmand!)

My intention was to share my next column, “Call in the Experts!”, including all these ‘team members’ Nancy mentioned. But I realized there’s a step in-between, including many NON-experts:

We do not create art in a vacuum. Many, many people have helped us along the way.

Some are obvious, and some may be ‘hidden’ until we look back at our own ‘creation story’ and see those crucial influencers.

Obvious: That art class we took, and its inspiring instructor. The art degree we attained, with many, many more classes and instructors. That online workshop we took that expanded our horizons. FASO web-hosting for artists, and their AMP/Art Marketing Program, available even to non-subscribers. The books, magazines, newspapers, websites, etc. that featured us and our work, and helped us grow our audience. And of course, as Nancy mentioned, our customers, who support us by actually buying our work. The gallery owners/managers who took on our work and market it to their audience. Even the calls-for-entry/exhibition proposals that give us opportunities to share our work with a new audience.

A little less obvious: That person who always saw the artist in us, and who gently encouraged us, even as we constantly heard family members exhorting us to “get a real job”.. Our audience, who many not have the money nor the room to collect our work, but who truly appreciate it—and constantly let us know! The people who taught us how to make, market, and sell our art. The people who share our work, our words, and help us grow our audience. The art supplies store that struggles to still serve artists during the shut-down orders, and the on-line retailers that fill in where they can’t.

The hidden: The people whose hearts have been lifted by our work, our painting/jewelry/music/teaching/creative work, who we may never hear from. (But when we do, what a gift!) Our partners, who may graciously lift the burden of making tons of money from our work (or at least allow us the time and space to get there!) The challenging instructor who doesn’t pull their punches, who tells us exactly what we’re doing wrong, and shows us how to fix it.

In her comment, Nancy even mentioned the companies who ship our work. So true! In one of those oddly-synchronistic moments, I met a new artist in our complex last week. She was packing a huge wood crate in our shared parking lot, and I asked her about it. She said, “Yeah, it’s a huge order of glasswork. But I didn’t make the crate, my partner did!” What a great team member her partner is! And whatever shipper will deliver it, yes, that’s part of her team, too.

The more deeply-hidden: The people who told us we weren’t good enough, who pissed us off enough for us to finally see them for what they are: Unappreciative, simply unkind, or who were envious of what we have. I’ve had many incidents of people, some with good intentions, some not so much, who caused me pain in my art career. But when I look back, I can even see their gift, in a positive way.

They made me realize that the only person who can prevent us from making the work of our heart, is US.

 Next week, inspired by my latest shrine-building project, I really will talk about the experts to call! But until then, I’m grateful to Nancy, because we are on the same page when it comes to recognizing our team.

And your homework, should you choose to accept it, is to take a few minutes to consider your own team. Think back to what, and who, kept you on this heart-based path to making, and sharing, your art with the world. Behind every tiny decision was a person who made that happen, even if some can take us years to truly see. For extra credit, share some that I’ve missed, in the comments!

Your shares and comments are always appreciated, and you can check out my blog on my website for more articles on creating.

 
Luann Udell, artist/writer
“Ancient stories retold in modern artifacts”
Jewelry, sculpture, fiber art, assemblage
Studio: 33Arts 3840 Finley AVE (Bdg 33) Santa Rosa
Mail address: 621 Brown ST Santa Rosa CA 95404