THE FOUR QUESTIONS #5: The Rules

Don't miss Luann Udell's next topic "Rules" in her series, "The Four Questions".
Don’t miss Luann Udell’s next topic “Rules” in her series, “The Four Questions”.

THE FOUR QUESTIONS #5: The Rules

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

Safety, and privacy, first!

 (5 minute read)

The biggest rule for your artist support group is, what happens in group, stays in group. So….

 Rule #1Safety and privacy.

They are “one rule” because they so closely relate to each other.

What people share in your group, especially during these sessions, it’s personal. Sometimes painful. It may feel embarrassing to share what holds you back, what we’re afraid of, sharing our failures or set-backs.

Hard enough to share, without worrying about it being shared with others.

It should remain private.

This means you must ask permission from that person to ask a question. You need permission to comment. You even need permission to talk with them about what they’ve shared, while you’re together. (“May I get more information on that situation you brought up earlier?”) And even when you’re not in the group! (“So, what you shared last week—may I talk with you about that?”)

And it means you should not be discussing it lightly with anyone else in your group, and definitely not with anyone outside your group.

Most of the time, people won’t mind giving you permission, especially if you’ve shown that you’re a good listener who consistently asks good questions and offers sound feedback.

But don’t assume. Ask.

Safety and privacy also mean, closed meetings. The only time our first group had a guest was, we hired Deborah to do a mini-observation of one of our sessions, to ensure we were doing it right. Her small but important course corrections were invaluable! But we all had to agree to that beforehand.

Rule #2: Smile!

Body language and eye contact are important for creating an atmosphere of comradery. When my adult son was very, very young, I noticed he often had a frowny face. I actually said out loud, “Why does Doug always have a frowny face when he’s thinking about something?” I happened to be near a mirror, and looked over.

Gulp. I had that same frowny look on my face! 

He was imitating how I looked when I was thinking. 

When we’re listening, deeply, many of us have the habit of the frowning, thoughtful face. Some of us have “resting bitch face.” (Look it up!) (Okay, never mind. Some people’s relaxed faces just look….grumpy. It’s just a thing.)

But when the speaker/person in the hot seat is talking, when they look around the group, the last thing they want to see is frowning faces. Especially if we’ve been raised to be highly attentive to signs we’re “doing it wrong”. A frowning face, a bored face, a face looking out the window, are all subtle signs that others are not interested in what we’re saying. Not exactly conducive to doing this work!

In fact, Deborah Kruger urged the speaker and the questioner to stand at the front of the group, facing each other. Holding hands. And the questioner’s goal was to keep their face open and welcoming, smiling. Not a big fake grin. Just a smile as if you were welcoming someone into your home.

 Which, if your home is a safe place, a haven, is actually a good metaphor for your group! All should feel “at home”, and welcome.

For the questioner, it also helps to nod in agreement as someone describes their perfect studio, their ideal customer, their markers of success, their professional goals, etc. Yes. Yes! Yes!!

I still treasure these beautifully formed little pit-fired pots from a member of my very first artist support group! Thank you, Bobbye! 

Rule #3Don’t rush to comfort.

This doesn’t mean no empathy or sympathy.

It simply means, when things get hard, when someone gets overwhelmed, when they cry, don’t rush to soothe them. Don’t try to stop them.

Just let the tears come. Let them cry.

I learned this in hospice, too. When people cry, WE get uncomfortable. We feel we need to do something. We rush to get them to stop crying.

But that simply puts pressure on THEM to make US feel better. We are asking THEM to take care of US.

So sit with the discomfort. Don’t rush to action.

Be a witness.

And from last week:

Rule #4: Listen

The premise of peer support groups is to empower each member to solve their own issues. We achieve that by learning to believe in ourselves, and by learning to listen to –and trust–our own heart.

Just….listen. Listen carefully, respectfully. Don’t interrupt. Don’t jump in. Don’t offer opinion, unless asked for one, or given permission to offer one. (See Rule #1)

Above all:

Don’t tell the speaker their reality.

Don’t tell them what you think they should do.

Don’t tell them what YOU would do.

Don’t tell them what someone else did.

Do look for places where the speaker gets stuck. Make a mental note of that. An assumption they’re making that could be tweaked.

You may be given an opportunity to ask your own question about it. You may be asked to share a thought or experience.

But don’t assume you will. Sit with that, okay?

Remember: Hopefully, this group will grow, and repeat this process. There is plenty of time to sort out the inconsistencies between what people say they want, and what they do. (Part of the human condition, actually, and it won’t be fixed in ten minutes!)

Rule #5: Focus, and be present! 

You chose this. You chose to try this, you chose to show up.

Embody that decision.

Heaving bored sighs, acting distracted, staring out the window, checking your phone, etc., etc., all indicate you’d rather be anywhere but here. This isn’t fair to the others in your group.

Cross-talk refers to carrying on a conversation on the side. So easy to slip into! So distracting to the rest of the group! Take notes of what’s on your mind, and share it later.

Beyond being unkind and disrespectful, you are missing a chance to learn something.

Take the opportunity to learn from someone else’s experience, their assumptions, and their mistakes–and discover their insights and solutions!

If you are truly bored to distraction, then this group is not for you.

Do yourself, and your fellow group members a favor. Let them know they should find someone else who will be more engaged.

Did I miss anything? If you’ve been in any kind of peer support group, you’ll recognize the playlist.

Feel free to suggest additional thoughts I may have overlooked!

Click here to see the original post on Fine Art Views.

Mercy Now

Need to just cry for a few moments?

Mary Gauthier’s heart-achingly simple and beautiful song “Mercy Now”. That violin! Tania Elizabeth nails it with sweetness and restraint.

It’s been a hard month so far. Family matters, hard and sad stuff with our kids, impossible to solve. “Nobody died”, has been our way of framing things for Jon and I over the past 30 years. Still hard. Health issues (I now have not one, but TWO inhalers). A runaway pet. (Of course, the one who panics once she gets outside, and figuratively goes crazy.) Listening to people blame those dealing with hardship on…guess what? The people going through those hardships.

Where is the kindness?

Many people confuse “nice” with “kind”. I’ve learned to tell the difference.

So I pulled up that video on YouTube and played it loud, three times in a row, this morning.

For the first time, I noticed its date: 09/09/10.

Nine years after 9/11. Two days before my birthday.

And yet, the lyrics could have been written today.

Today, I’m going to donate to three causes. One will be for immigrant children separated from their children at the border. (Of course, there should be mercy, too, for the immigrant woman who was denied entrance because even though her husband KILLED HER TWO CHILDREN, it’s been determined spousal abuse is not a valid reason for entrance.) And btw, I often sign up for very small monthly amounts. Even $5/month adds up.

Today, I’m going to mail presents to my kids. One will love them, one will resent my “pity”.

Today, I’m going to do some journaling, something I tend to forget now that I have a regular writing gig.

Today, I’m going to schedule horse therapy time. I thought the horse needed love and acceptance, & I’d being doing HIM a favor. Doesn’t work that way.

Today, I will look for every opportunity to be kind.

Today, I’m going to take exquisite care of myself. Because like so many others even less fortunate and privileged as I, I need some mercy now.

noddy and nick

Noddy, please come home!

 

 

 

 

 

THIN SECRET FOR SUCCESS No. 2 Thin People Have Thin Parents

My column on February 17 on Fine Art Views.

(5 minute read)

There’s the family you’re born into, and then there’s the family you choose.

Thin people have thin parents.

The original series on weight loss included a discussion of the genetic components of good health. But what about those of us who aren’t fortunate to have healthy parents? Er…Successful parents? How is this useful for our discussion today??

Obviously, it would be difficult to claim that artistically successful people have artistically successful parents. It’s much more likely we are the only artistic person in our family history.  So are we totally without hope for artistic success??

Let’s start here: What do we mean by “artistic success? Or even “success” in general?

“Successful” parents might mean people who have achieved “financial” success. But it could also mean parent who balance work with family life. Parents who make decisions to create a stable home for their family. Parents who love their work and do it well and with pride. Or it could mean parents who encourage their child to pursue the work of their heart, no matter what that is.

There were no artists (that I know of) in my family. My parents didn’t even have hobbies (except for my dad, late in life, after retirement.)

But they did provide me with a powerful meme that has stood me well in life:

Both of my parents made major life changes in mid-life:

My mother, a stay-at-home mom with six kids and a seventh on the way, went back to college in her 40’s to get a teaching degree.

My father sold the family restaurant around the same time. He was unemployed, and under-employed for a few years. But after a lengthy and varied job search (including working in a factory and running for public office) he found a new career, one he loved.

Those were scary times for our family. But as kids, we hardly knew it. Looking back, I see now how courageous (and contained!) my parents were.

I believe their example gave me courage to do the same.

Yet whatever successes our parents have, I would still revise this “secret” for artists. Especially because sometimes our parents and families don’t support our decision to make art. It’s weird, it’s scary, or it seems frivolous to them.

Let’s talk instead about the family we create for ourselves. Let’s say this instead:

Successful artists create networks and social circles for support.

Successful artists surround themselves with a “family” of people who believe in what they do.

Successful artists take note of what successful artists do.

And successful artists decide what “success” means to them.

When I teach professional development workshops for artists and craftspeople, I always end the final session by saying this:

“Okay, long after we’re (the ABI team) are gone, you’re still going to need the support, the inspiration, and the sharing of resources you found here today.

Look around the room. These are your peers. They are artists who have SELF-SELECTED to come here this weekend. They came to learn, to get resources to grow their business, to learn how to be successful.”

 “Look around. Who did you talk to? Who did you bond with? Share your contact info. Call them up when you get home, email them, and meet them for coffee! Meet up with a small group once every few weeks, or once a month. Research and share ideas and resources. Inspire and support each other!”

“If they don’t live close to you, friend them on Facebook, or e-mail them! Some of my closest professional friends live across the country from me.”

What do you look for in your new professional “family”?

You can do this right now. Right now, as you read this, you are (or can be) a part of the FASO community, full of artists who have self-selected to grow their art biz: creating their own websites, creating an online presence in the world, creating email newsletters. Artists who are reading this email newsletter! Artists who write here, or comment on what others have written, artists willing to share their own experiences of what works for them.

Look for people who support your vision for success.

Remember that success can be different things to different people. Some people need to a little extra make money. Some need to make a lot of money, fast. (When you figure this one out, please let me know!) Others seek prestige, respect, and recognition. Some are looking for a better balance between home, life, art, and work. Some are looking to simply better their craft or product, or their business skills, so they are working smarter. Some are looking for their big Oprah break. (Good luck with that.) (No, really!)

Understand that you can support someone else’s vision even if it is not your own. This gets hard for me, when people dream small. But it’s okay–as long as they respect MY dream, which is not small.

Look for positive-thinking people. We all have enough nay-sayers in our life to last…well, a lifetime. Let the naysayers babble on, but don’t let them wear you down. We all carry one in our head, too. No matter.

Look for people that believe success is possible–because that belief helps make it possible.

Look for people who understand that life may intervene, that our dreams may go to go the back burner temporarily (or longer!)

But look for people who will always remember that you are an artist. They will let you turn down the back burner so your artistic “pot” can simmer, but they will not let you turn it off. (Oh, I knew a cooking metaphor was in there somewhere!)

Not everything is possible. Not everything is going to come up roses.

But making your art, and sharing it with the world, is a good start. Finding people who encourage you to keep doing that?

Priceless.

The Story You Tell and the Power of Your Tribe

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

 A month ago, my husband was cycling on a bike path, when he ran over a stick. It jammed in his derailleur and broke it. Fortunately, I was a phone call away and retrieved him (and the bike) quickly.
Yesterday, the exact same thing happened AGAIN. (He swears it was the same damn stick, but I don’t believe that.) Unfortunately, I am thousands of miles away, in Keene, NH. And he had to walk home, in his bike shoes.

Life has a lot of sticks just waiting to jam up our derailleur…er, life. And in the last month, we’ve run over a lot of them.

The already sky-high rent on our home here in Santa Rosa, CA was raised, eating up almost half our income. We now have two large dogs and three cats. The rental market here is as tight as it is expensive, and it will be impossible to find a landlord willing to rent to us. As former home-owners for 27 years, it’s embarrassing to find ourselves here. (We did find a place, a much smaller place. As soon as I get back to California, we have to pack up and move.  My art will be on hold for awhile. Again. But bookmark this, I’ll return to it later.)

My husband’s employer’s company has 3-4 months of funding left, and there will be no more in the pipeline. All sources have been exhausted. The tech industry does not readily employ people in their 60’s.  Jon’s best option is to strike out on his own. But this is an expensive place for our second reboot in three years, and it’s a little scary.

My art sales have slumped. (This is not unique to me, I know, and not entirely of my making, but there you go.)

One of our children is struggling here in Keene. It sounded urgent enough for me to book a flight out here, to see what I can do. It is cold here. Really, really cold. Like 10 degrees when I woke up, and more snow, with winds gusting to shove that snow right up my nose.

My daughter just announced she’s getting married this summer, in the middle of Tennessee (best spot for the solar eclipse).

And that wonderful shared studio space at that incredible artist enclave has disappeared. My friend and I have extremely different visions for how the space should work. To preserve the friendship, I told her I needed to step away. But it all blew up in my face. My friend is deeply hurt by my decision. With all the other setbacks on my plate, I can’t afford the oxygen to fix this, even if that were possible.

That’s one story.

But here is the other side of the story I chose to tell.

My old tribe here in Keene is holding me together in so many ways. They know who I am, they know what to do.

These trusted friends will hold my tender heart, and my huge artistic vision, in their gentle, loving hands, until I can take them up again.

Let’s go way back, to the beginning of my art career. I took a workshop from wise woman Deborah Kruger, on creating an artist support group.

The premise was, “Women can do it all. But not necessarily all at the same time.”

When life throws big effin’ sticks in our path—sickness, death, divorce, job loss, a big move—there is only so much we can handle. Sometimes the first thing that gets put on hold is the very thing that nourishes our heart and lightens our soul: Our art.

Good friends will hold that vision of you: Your goals, your process, your abilities, your path. When you are ready (even if you think you’re not), they will gently remind you who you are. And help restore you to yourself.

Now let’s look at the other story I choose to tell:

Gift #1 Though we have not built that precious network of friends here in CA, it’s in process. And a friendship of 20 years led to our next home. It will only be available to us for a few years. But that will give us the space to figure out where we go from here. They know we have pets, too. Yay!

Gift #2 The painfully broken friendship gave me clarity on a better way to be there for my child. I will not force him to take care of me during this difficult time, no matter how hard it is to listen sometimes. I need only be present, for now. If that hadn’t happened two days before I left, I would have blundered on as I have done in the past. It was a lesson that arrived just in time to be a better mother.

Gift #3 As I make time to meet up with these good friends, each one has an insight for me. I hear the exact words I need to make it through the day. As I bemoaned the fact that I’d fallen into another situation I should have recognized—again—a friend exclaimed, “I just LOVE my life lessons! I love them so much, I learn them all over again. And again. And again!” I laughed for the first time in days.

Gift #4 As I share such wonderful insights with the next friend I meet up with, it’s just what they need to hear, too!

Gift #5 We have already realized the rewards of our life reboot. Jon’s got his game back, reconnecting with old allies, and finding new ones. The work he’s doing is the work of his heart—collaborating with users to create the tools they need to make their own work easier. The projects are timely, extremely relevant, and deeply-rooted in bettering our culture.

As we consider our next steps–as our reboot is rebooting–Jon and I realize it will be easier this time. For example, we are only moving across town, and we can break it down into small loads. And the new neighborhood will have all the features we treasure in this one.

Gift #6 My art will go on hold again, though hopefully not for long. OTOH, if we should have to leave Sonoma County down the road, I’ll only have to walk away from a few years of audience-building here. Not three decades, like our first move!

Gift #7 My Keene tribe is still here!

Gift #8 I’m passing on the gifts! When I was living in Keene, I never thought of connecting my tribe members! (I know, I know—“DOH!!”) Two of my meet-ups organically overlapped yesterday, and two friends met each other for the first time. The synergy was astonishing. One had the exact information the other needed to take a step forward in a new career. The other recognized not only a new, rich resource in the first friend, but an ally. Both were validated anew to themselves as they recognized the same qualities in each other: Passion, integrity, professionalism, creativity, emotional maturity, and a wicked sense of humor.

I’m now working on getting all of these core people together, if not on this trip (though we’re trying!) then the next. In between, there’s Skype and Google Hangout. We’ll figure it out.

#9 And now I’ve shared this gift with you, faithful readers.

I’ve shared how sometimes, the seeds of a new beginning are buried in the deep past, and sometimes, even in the most recent hardship. The way to your next step is not carefully hidden in the great universe; it is often right under your nose. The words you need to hear are already sitting in the heart of someone who may cross your path—today.

And when the world feels like a hard and hopeless place, there may be someone standing next to you who will offer exactly what you need to get through it. Holding your dream, your beautiful vulnerable open heart, tenderly and lovingly, until you are ready to pick them up again.

Your bonus gift for subscribing today! Here are some of the wonderful words I’ve heard, in addition to the ones I’ve already shared. There will be more!

“Breath until you’re surprised.” This came up in a conversation about an ancient breathing/meditative practice that helps people heal from trauma, grief, and abuse faster. I sense there’s something deliciously deeper here that will reveal itself in time. It’s still sitting with me, and I love it.

“It’s only blood.” In a discussion about letting go of old family conflicts that may never be healed. If the family we’re born into is difficult, we can choose to create our own family.

“This ain’t your first rodeo. You don’t have to be the clown.” A discussion about me trying to make myself smaller so I can make insecure people feel better.

“You don’t have to go to every fight you’re invited to.” No explanation needed.

 “I sit with uncertainty everyday, until Clarity makes her presence known.” Every. Single. Day.

(If you’d like to see the published article and comments, go here.

GOING WEST: The Story of the Bear

Bear beads I sold recently. Yep, I lined up right in front of my keyboard!

Bear beads I sold recently. Yep, I lined up right in front of my keyboard!

From my Animal Stories page:
Bear tells me, “Be strong when things get hard. Listen more. Think slow. Love deep.”

I haven’t written much lately because it seems like very day, the landscape changes. The things that have to happen before we can move seem obscured. Some days it’s hard to put on a happy face.

We’re wishing desperately for clarity. But getting clear on your next step doesn’t necessarily mean a clear path.

We know we want to move to California. Unfortunately, the support we think we need isn’t there. A new job to replace the one that’s disappearing in a week or so may not be so simple to find. The house has to sell, and there’s not much we can do to to make that happen. Plans in place for family members that don’t want to go with us are still up in the air.

We keep thinking those obstacles have to be overcome before anything else can happen. When they aren’t happening, we think we’ve lost our way.

But it just occurred to me that we have the real blessing in hand. We know what we want. The simple idea that drives everything for us right now–going west–is more clear than ever. Everything–everything–points us west.

Jon called from the coast today with a powerful insight: He already knows the work he wants to do. And though perhaps no one will hire him to do it, maybe it’s time he took it solo. I could hear the excitement and happiness in his voice when we spoke. Yes, it’s a risk. But no more of a risk than anything else we’ve ever pinned our hopes to.

I realized that all the doors we thought were closing, leave the hallway clear and open. The “bumps in the road” are simply streamlining our purpose: Get west. Go to the place we want to be.

Trying to fix everything, trying to put everything in place first, gets in the way of what we want: So maybe it’s time to think slow.

Sometimes looking for the “safe” way to accomplish our dreams, will actually constrict our dreams. So we will dream big.

Sometimes the people we think we need to take care of, can actually take care of themselves better if we give them the chance: Let them know we will always love deep.

So many wise people in my life have told me, over and over, that whatever I yearn for, whatever I need to know, is already in my heart. It’s true. We wished for clarity, and we already have it.

In my heart, I am singing a prayer of thanks for remembering the story of my bear spirit artifact:

Bear tells me, “Be strong when things get hard. Listen more. Think slow. Love deep.”

THESE bears' story is "Make a lot of noise and maybe some of it will be music!"

THESE bears’ story is “Make a lot of noise and maybe some of it will be music!”