LESSONS FROM THE MOVE Part Deux: Count Your Blessings!

In case this is news for you, we are moving. Again.

We’re not going cross-country this time, thank heavens! Just a mile or so away. Our rent was raised to where we simply can’t afford to stay here.

This was scary on many levels. We have pets, which is increasingly a total shut-out when it comes to renting here. The new house is much smaller, and I still have a lot of stuff. We don’t have a big circle of friends to lend a hand with the physical end of moving. I don’t have an audience for the stuff I have to let go of, like I did in Keene. And it’s even harder to let go of the stuff I chose to bring with me.

Fortunately, old friends of Jon’s recently bought a house here in Santa Rosa, and offered to rent it to us until they move up here themselves. The critters are okay, too.

But even as we breathe a sigh of relief at our good fortune, we’re still putting in a lot of sleepless nights filled with anxiety and fear.

Will my knee hold up?? (It’s been getting steadily worse.) Will the pets adapt to a smaller space? How are we going to move all this stuff?? We have to sell our washer and dryer, and the fridge we bought less than three years ago for THIS house. (I know…how can a rental not have a refridgerator??)

In the midst of this, I gave up that great display space a fellow artist offered to share with me, and though I am excited to have been in two shows this month, in a few days I have to bring all that artwork and display back home.

No room. No room. No room!! OMG, there is NO ROOM!!!

In the midst of this frenzy, I sat down with my journal this morning, with one intention in mind:

What are the GOOD things about this new house, and this move?

And soon I was able to consider 30+ things that will be better.

I felt better. I showed the list to Jon. He feels better, too. He even had something to add to the list.

I’m not saying there’s a happy side to every hard thing life throws at us. That would be thoughtless and without compassion.

But when we are trying to unwind our brains to cope with the stuff that’s just not as hard as the really hard stuff, we give ourselves more bandwidth, more oxygen, to deal with it.

Do you have a happy side to a tough life moment? Please share–I need all the happy-ness I can get!

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I even added some Noddy-chewed cardboard bits for your amusement! We have a jillion of them. NODDY!!!!!!

THE FIG TREE

The fig tree, doing its best to feed everybody. EVERYBODY.

The fig tree, doing its best to feed everybody. EVERYBODY.

We were so excited about the orange tree in our new backyard in Santa Rosa, we almost overlooked the fig tree. The orange tree had reverted to less appetizing oranges, probably from a failed graft, though one branch continues to product delicious oranges. The blossoms are sweet, and the oranges that are edible are wonderful. They ripen all at once, though, so there’s a feast of oranges for a day or two, and then….nada. (Although the orange tree also keeps its leaves all winter, so there’s that.)

The less-romantic fig tree, though, is quietly becoming more important to us. And I’m amazed by the also-quiet, yet deep life lessons it’s teaching me.

It loses its leaves in the fall, then leafs out again in the spring. I don’t remember the flowers. We had to learn when to pick the figs, though we’ve also learned that some people like figs at any stage of their ripening-ness. One friend even likes the withered ones that fall to the ground. He pinches out the insides and cooks them down a bit to make a jelly spread. I like the idea that the fruit of this tree can please so many people, all along its timeline.

It produces figs for well over a month or two, and lots of them. Every morning, I venture out to the back yard to harvest a small bowlful. Then a large bowlful. Now I’m at the grocery bag phase.

So the fig tree is generous with its fruit.

I give them to our neighbors, to friends of our neighbors, and to the crew down at Atlas Coffee Co.. Atlas Coffee was the first place we stopped on our first visit to Santa Rosa, in the heart of the city’s art district ( SOFA Arts District)long before we knew we’d be moving there. It was also our main station to look for our next home. We could hang out, chatting with the owner, James, and Sean, Cody and Ian, the coffee meisters. It was were we saw a sign in a window on the alley leading to the coffee shop, saying a studio space was available for rent. It was availabe soon, which is unusual for these popular spaces. I jumped at the opportunity, and I’m so glad I did.

So the figs are a wonderful way to say ‘thank you’ to all the people who first made us feel ‘at home’ here.

There are some drawbacks to a fig tree. But there are lessons there, as well.

I’m slightly allergic to the sap, which is milky. So after a round of fig-picking, I have to wash off my arms and face, anywhere I’ve had contact with the fruit or the leaves. It also drops a lot of overripe figs, which have to be picked up before the ants and flies go too crazy. And what’s really frustrating is, the best figs are at the very top of the tree, way out of reach without a ladder.

I’ve learned a little itchy is worth the quiet, calming pursuit of fig picking. It reminds me not to take blessings and gifts for granted.

The ants and the flies, well, they have a place in the world. (Just not in my house, please.) And the birds can have the figs at the top, because they’ve been so good about not eating ALL the figs.

And here’s the incredible thing I’ve learned about fig trees:

At first I used a small ladder to try to get more figs. But after a couple near-falls, I realized I was risking a lot just to gather even more figs than could be eaten in a day! I gave it up.

But those branches I can’t reach? As the season progresses, the tree branchs actually begin to bow down, a bit more each day. Soon, the figs that were out of reach, are close enough to snag. The branches are often small and supple, too. I can use a hooked stick to pull some of them down even further, and gather those last ripe figs.

It takes my breathe away, that the tree actually bends to my desires. Yes, it could be the weight of the figs, of course. Except that not every fig-laden branch lowers itself.

Here we go with my fig tree metaphor. You knew it was coming, right?

As my brain buzzes with fears of lack (“I’ve lost my best, most faithful customers!” “I’ve lost most of my income, even the other things that brought in a steady bit of money!” “I have to PAY for a studio space now, what if we can’t continue to afford that??”), I think of the fig tree. Simply doing what fig trees do, growing into its space, adapting, and making enough figs for everyone I care about.

When I’m worried I’ll never achieve my dreams of fame and fortune, I think of this single fig tree, hidden behind a modest little house in an old neighborhood, giving us, and other creatures, shade, food, beauty, every single day. (And to be truthful, I know now I don’t WANT fame.) (Although a LITTLE fortune would be nice.)

When I envy the success of others, and when I think my slice of pie is smaller because theirs is bigger, I think of how the tree makes enough figs for everyone.

When I feel like I’m not in synch with the universe, when I’m anxious because I can’t figure out what I’m supposed to do next, I think of how that tree brings its branches just a little lower, so I can pick more figs. Just like the universe has a way of bending just a little, to meet me halfway. Or, in the case of this California move, bending more than just a little! That generous nature astonishes me. It lifts me up when I stumble, and soothes me when I’m fearful.

I don’t know how old our tree is. Our house is just over a hundred years old, in a neighborhood originally settled by Italians. So its probably been around awhile, and hopefully has many more years to go. It’s surely been here before I was born, and be here long after I die.

I hope its lessons will continue to ripen, like its delicious fruit.

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Voices in My Head

Holy cow, where did that last month go?? Into the land of forgotten things, apparently. And so, to get back in the swing of things, a very tiny thought for today.

I have not one, but TWO chests of printers’ type tray drawers. The second one is special to me for the main reason that my son offered to refinish it for me. He did a beautiful job, too.

This is the printers type tray chest my son Doug refinished for me. Didn't he do a good job?!

This is the printers type tray chest my son Doug refinished for me. Didn’t he do a good job?!

Except for the drawers, and I don’t blame him for not going there.

Someone had started to restore it–half the drawers have their original type dividers. But half have been removed. And although the outside looks great, the inside is dirty/dusty/oily as only a type tray drawer can get from dirty/dusty/oily metal type.

When I moved into my new, tiny studio here in Santa Rosa, I decided to use this piece to store my inventory of polymer clay beads–animal artifacts, shell and tiny bone artifacts, and all sorts of beads in different shapes, sizes, and colors.

Yep, my artifacts inspired by prehistoric fox teeth are in there. Somewhere.

Yep, my artifacts inspired by prehistoric fox teeth are in there. Somewhere.

Visitors are amazed when I tell them to open the drawers. And they love to look through all the tiny treasures, and pick them up and hold them in their hands.

The only problem is, over time, those same beads are picking up the dirty/dusty/oily crud. And it’s hard to get it off. So it really wasn’t such a great idea to store them that way.

In the 8 months I’ve been in that space, I’ve agonized about what to do. Remove the polymer clay items? But it’s such a great way to have people interact with them! Use Q-tips and gently clean each tiny little section? That would take years. I mean it. And several bushels of Q-tips, and it wouldn’t completely clean them. And I hate cleaning stuff like that, and I don’t have time, and it will therefore never get done.

I kid you thought, I’ve thought about this every single day I’ve been in that A Street studio.

So the last two days, I’ve been moving into my new NEW space, into the larger, brighter, cooler (temperature-wise, but yeah, cool cooler, too!) space just vacated by my studio mate. Exactly one week after I realized my own teeny-tiny space was a bit claustrophobic for most visitors, she announced California was too hot for her (temperature-wise) and she was going to move a thousand miles away.

I felt very sad to lose her (she’s been wonderful!), but secretly elated I could now have her space.

So this is the third studio I’ve had in 10 months.

Setting it up feels just as daunting.

“Don’t worry,” say my artist neighbors and my coffee shop neighbors. “These things take a little time. Then it all comes together.” I know this is true, and for a moment, the panic ebbs.

It ebbed a little more tonight, for a funny (funny-odd) reason.

I remembered my friends in Keene tonight.

Today I heard a woman talking, and I thought, “Oh, that’s Julie!” But it was our new neighbor Jackie, who for some reason sounds like Julie today.

A hour later, I saw a woman walking to a car, and I thought, “Oh, there’s Jennie!” But it was someone who looks like Jennie (who is three thousand miles away).

Later I smelled the coffee my husband was brewing, which happens to be Prime Roast Demon Roast coffee, and I thought, “Oh, I’ve got to get Jon more coffee from Judy today.” But Judy has already mailed us the Demon Roast. It’s sitting on the counter, waiting for me to find a jar for it. And suddenly, I could hear Judy’s voice, too.

And tonight, after taking a wall clock apart to glue on a second hand that kept falling off (don’t ask), I heard someone else’s voice, in my head. Someone who, when I told them three years ago that I loved the look of old, worn, oily-black wood boxes, but hated the smell, and what could I use to seal the wood so it wouldn’t smell yucky, said, “Luann, you can’t do that. You need to WASH those boxes first.”

So at the very end of today, I also heard Gary’s voice, giving me the good adivice on restoring wood boxes that eventually led to a six-month informal apprenticeship for me.

Gary had one place for every tool in his shop. I'm trying. But it's hard.

Gary had one place for every tool in his shop. I’m trying. But it’s hard.

Now I know how to clean those type tray drawers. It will take half a day, or perhaps just a couple of hours and some time in the dry California summer sun.

Soon those drawers will be clean and dry, and able to safely hold my precious artifacts: horses, bears, otters, birds, antlers, stones, shells, and stones.

Someday, we’ll realize we’ve made deep new friendships here in California–because we always do. Change is hard, but change is good, and eventually you learn that change becomes normal in its own good time. We will laugh and cry with new voices, and make new memories, even right now.

And visits ‘back East’, and phone calls and emails,Facebook posts and pictures, will help keep those lovely, loving voices of old friends and good memories, alive and well.

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Blessed Clarity

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.

Enjoy!

CATCHING YOU UP On My Fine Art Views Columns

Once again, I’ve neglected to post links to my columns at Fine Art Views, an art marketing blog. So I’m putting all the links since April 24, 2014, here in one place.
David Letterman counts down from 10. Me? I have a lot of catching up to do.
Pace yourselves!

21) April 24, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: It Gets Easier
Insights gained while preparing for a life-changing cross-country move.

20) May 8, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE OPEN STUDIO: Send Me A Postcard!
Advice on how to build your mailing list.

19) May 22, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE OPEN STUDIO: My Customer Base Isn’t Local!
Dispelling some of the myths surrounding open studios.

18) June 5, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE OPEN STUDIO: People Around Here Don’t Buy Art
You know who says this? EVERYBODY says this!!! Hint: It’s not true.

17) June 19, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE OPEN STUDIO: For Heaven’s Sake, Accept Credit Cards!!
It’s easier than ever to take credit cards, and it WILL increase your sales. Here’s how.

16) July 3, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE OPEN STUDIO: Timely Time Payment Plan
Trust me, this tip is worth its weight in gold.

15) July 17, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE OPEN STUDIO: Don’t Say No!
When you and your studio say “NO”, your customers will say “NO” right back.

14) July 31, 2014
TEACHING 101
Tips for improving your teaching skills.

13) August 14, 2014
TEACHING 101: It Gets Better If You Try
You tell your students to practice, right? You should, too!

12) August 28, 2014
TEACHING 101: Crabby Students Part 1
Encountering the difficult personalities in your class.

11) September 11, 2014 MY BIRTHDAY!!!
TEACHING 101: Crabby Students Part 2
Managing the difficult personalities in your classs.

10) September 25, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: It’s Not as Hard as You Think
Most of the things you’re afraid of, aren’t going to happen.

9) October 9, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Settling In, Getting Centered
Things I wish I’d thought of before the actual move….

8) October 23, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: You Can’t Get There From Here
We need a plan to help us get where we want to go. But as our needs change, the way we get there changes, too.

7) November 6, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: I am Blind (er….Lame) and My Dog is Dead
When the blues hit you, mix it with a little green to make turquoise!

6) November 20, 2014
WHEN THANK YOU ISN’T ENOUGH
When you get a compliment from a customer, don’t stop with “thank you.” Turn it into a conversation.

5) December 18, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: California Dreamin’
It turns out my heart knew we were California-bound before my head did.

4) January 1, 2015
YOU ALREADY KNOW WHAT TO DO
Time for some tough love!

3) January 15, 2015
BIG EFFIN’ FENCES
What you make, how you make it, and why you make it, matters. Don’t let anyone talk you out of that.

2) January 29, 2015
300
Who’s missing from the history of art?? Everybody but dead European white guys. Let’s change that.

1) February 12, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Hard, Harder, Hardest
When you realize it’s not gonna really be over for a looooooong time…..

A SHIP IS SAFE IN HARBOR…

Suitcases, anyone?

Suitcases, anyone?

A ship is safe in harbor. But that’s not what ships are for.

Well, we heard “the call” again this weekend. Right in the middle of our huge yard sale. (Our yard sales are funny. No matter how much or how little we sell, we always make about the same amount of money: $350. And we always seem to have even more left over than what we started with.)

This “call” was an offer on our home.

With a closing date of August 27.

Yep. You read that right. We have one month to get everything outta here and get ourselves to California.

Four. Short. Weeks.

My sense of anxiousness and ennui has been totally replaced by a sense of panic.

Fortunately, an old friend came to visit that night. We’ve known Ben since the days when Jon worked at BYTE Magazine. He has always been “a friend in need and a friend in deed.” That is, the first time Jon was laid off with 2 days’ notice, Ben was the guy who traveled over from the coast to spend time with Jon, listening to his fears and worries, encouraging him to believe in himself, and also bringing lots of rum. Really good rum. He and Jon sat on our beautiful porch on the second floor, and helped the sun set.

Ben is an artist, too, and you can see his lovely watercolors here

As always, Ben brought good cheer, funny stories, fond memories and new hope for the future. And just before he left the next morning, just as the numbing reality of what lies ahead hit us, he gave me the exact words I needed to hold in my heart for the month ahead.

Ben has always been a sailor. He and his family spent a number of years on a sailboat, traveling around the Canary Islands and later the Caribbean. He still pilots a research vessel for UNH in Portsmouth, NH. And he knows about ships and harbors.

“There are two really hard things about living on a boat,” he said. The first is mooring. “You arrive at a new place. You don’t know the harbor, you don’t know the rules, you don’t know the protocol, you’re not familiar with the moorings.”

But even harder is the un-mooring.

“There’s so much to do before you leave port,” he explained. “I gotta do this, I gotta do that, I gotta dump this, I gotta pick up that…. The list is endless. It’s really daunting.”

So daunting, he said, that soon come the excuses for staying: “It’s not so bad here. Maybe we should stay a little longer.”

And so many folks never leave.

We were silent a moment. Once again, just when things seem really really hard, someone crosses our path and tells us exactly what we need to hear to take the next step.

It is uncanny. It is surprising.

It is a gift. No, more than that.

As my friend Melinda LaBarge would say, “It’s an effin’ miracle!”

Quietly, I said, “Ben, thank you.”

This morning we awaken to yet another thunderstorm, a wet and cloudy day. We find it hard to get out of bed, but finally we do. We create a flurry of posts on Facebook and Craigslist: Canoe for sale, hot tub for sale, kiln for sale. Cat and dogs? Nah. Just kidding.

We take a deep breath and plot out our day. The thunderstorm cools the air somewhat. A good time for me to split stuff the barn attic into two piles, “keep” and “let go”.

I find myself thinking about what we’ll leave for the new family that will live in this beautiful house. The antique flag. The original brass house keys. Maybe the wooden doll house?

I’ll be sure to tell them where the pets are buried, behind the garage in the back yard. Rex, beloved collie of the family before us. Leia and Puffy, our hamsters. Gus and Max, our elderly cats. Mavra, the sweetest rat in the world. Various injured beasties that came into our care for a short while, as we gave them a safe place to die in peace.

I am so thankful for the years we’ve had in this town, in this house, in this safe harbor.

I am so thankful another family will fill the rooms with laughter, and tears, and joy.

I am so thankful for the miracle of a few well-chosen words, at just the right time.

And as I work, I calm the frantic thoughts and the powerful beating of my heart. I say over and over to myself….

A ship is safe in harbor. But that’s not what ships are for….

Me, Melinda and Stacey Herlitz, manager of the the Craftwear exhibit at the League of NH Craftsmen's Fair.

Me, Melinda and Stacey Herlitz, manager of the the Craftwear exhibit at the League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair.

FINDING YOUR PLACE IN THE WORLD: The Story of the Pusher

No, not that kind of pusher. Let me explain.

Years ago, I came across a collection of science fiction stories, one of my favorite literary genres.

One story really grabbed me. It’s stayed with me for decades.

An alien ship is stranded in space. Its crew is an assortment of life forms, all serving in extremely specific roles: There is a Brain, who oversees the mission; the Eye who charts their course, the Ear that listens for messages from other ships and planets, and so forth.

It turns out its Pusher–the life form that actually makes the ship go–has died in an unfortunate accident. Unless they can find another Pusher–fast–they will all die, too.

Fortunately, they discover they are very close to a planet of rogue Pushers–Pushers who have cut off for so long from their fellow Pushers, they don’t even realize they ARE Pushers. Having no knowledge of their true place in life, they vent their frustration and and anxiety by waging war on one another. This horrifies the crew. But they know they have no choice but to try to enlist one of them to Push.

They find a lone Pusher and somehow get him on the ship. He’s a human being (of course) from Earth.

He’s terrified of the strange creatures on board. He’s angry he’s been kidnapped. He can’t believe what the aliens are telling him–that his true calling–humanity’s true calling in life–is to “make spaceships go”. He can’t believe that war, conflict, murder, violence among his people are all because they are not able to do what they are meant to do. That humans are deeply unhappy and feel misplaced and unbalanced, because their purpose in life has been untapped for ages.

The aliens beg him to consider their offer. Turns out there isn’t much keeping him on earth-no family, few friends, hates his work. It might be an amazing adventure! They can even bring him back to Earth, if he desires. Or he can explore the universe with them. They assure him that there are many other planets of (ushers, so he will have lots of company. They will reward him if he signs on.

He begins to feel at ease with them. He sympathizes with their plight. He wishes he could help.

But he still protests. He has no idea how to “push” a spaceship.

They guide him to his post. “Just try,” they plead.

The last sentence? “Slowly, the ship began to move.”

I’ve never found that story since, and I have no idea who wrote, or when. But every time I think of it, a little shiver goes through my heart.

Now, I don’t really believe that my main purpose in life is to push a spaceship. At least, I’d hate to give up my art and my writing to even push a car. (Now, if they had needed someone to hunt-and-gather lovely objects from thrift shops, beaches and antique stores…..)

But I love the concept that there are reasons for us to be here, even if we cannot always see the reasons, or understand them.

I love that this story is one way of explaining that.

And I love that even if we don’t think we know how to Push, it is in our nature to recognize when we need to Push.

I know when I finally stepped up to being an artist, something in my life began to move.

I know when I overcame my fears and became a martial artist, something in my life shook loose.

I know when I realized I was not too old to learn how to ride a horse, something in my life became richer.

I know when I became a hospice volunteer, something in my heart expanded.

Now it’s California. I don’t know what that’s about yet. I think I know, but I really don’t.

But I know when it’s time to Push, I will.

P.S. I just found the story! (I love the interweb….) It’s called “Specialist” by Robert Sheckely, and was published in 1953–one year after I was born!