WHAT MARTHA SAID: Staying Creatively Centered When Creativity Changes Things

My series on Lessons from the Move has touched some nerves. Turns out many people have encountered the sometimes wonderful, sometimes confounding experiences a major life change can trigger–in ourselves and in our community.

Someone wrote a poignant letter, describing the lack of response or support from their community, now that they’ve embarked on their own art career. Here was my response:

I’ve been pondering your email since it appeared in my in box.

You are just starting out with your creative work. And you’re finding that some people–friends, even–are not very enthusiastic. Not very supportive. Not even very interested, looks like.

Ouch.

You are not whiny and “small”. You are sharing your new-born creativity to your circle, and they are not reacting well. (Or at least not as you imagined they would.) Of course it hurts. Your sharing your new baby to the world, and the only response you’re getting is, “Cute shirt.”

It brings back so many painful memories. And I don’t have any answers, especially not easy ones.

The easy reply is, there are many kinds of friends. There are ones who come around only when things are going well. Others who come around only when things are NOT going well. Some people who can only give so much, and only at certain times. People you can call at 4 a.m. to bail you out of jail, and people who will never pick up the tab, or even split it fairly. People who love you on Tuesday and hate you on Friday. People who are grateful for your help, and then expect you to help over, and over, and over, and over and over again. Others who find it very difficult to accept help in any form, and those who would never even think to ask for help.

A friend once told me that even Oprah, who “knows” thousands and thousands of people, has only a very few that she can share her deepest self with. And this friend, who was very very good to me for years, couldn’t bear it when I became more successful with my art than she was.

Shadow artists are a subtle complication in life. Are you familiar with Julia Cameron’s books? These are people who can’t find their own creative life, whether from self-doubt or fear, or simply lack of talent. Some of them use their inner yearnings to support people who do create. Some become gate-keepers, dream-smashers, and detractors ruled by their lizard-brain jealousy.

I often recite the phrase, “A reason, a season, a lifetime.” (See quote below.) It refers to the people who cross your path briefly, to teach you something (not always something good, just insightful); the people who join your life for a longer period, to explore something deeper; and those who will be in your life for a long, long, long time. The latter are rare indeed.

I could make up many stories about why your friends are behaving the way they are. Maybe they see you as more blessed by life, and therefore not “deserving” of help or support. (Though everyone was to be supported for SOMETHING by SOMEONE.) Maybe they are envious. Maybe they are takers. Maybe their non-public life is nothing like what you see, and they are suffering horribly by something you will never know about. Maybe they have no idea what it means to be an artist, and our need to recognized for our gifts. Maybe they just don’t like your work. (I hate this reason, but there you go.)

Acknowledge the hurt. Consider what role these people will play in your life going forward. If there’s a particular friendship you’d like to salvage, then yes, talk to the person. Don’t get judgy, don’t assume anything. Just say what it looks like, and ask them for clarity. Then listen to what they say. Do they blame you? Or make excuses? Or do they respond with love? When I get to this point, I figure the friendship is already compromised, what do I have to lose? But if given a chance, these people step up to the plate, then it’s worth it.

And the friendship isn’t worth it, then simply put them on the shelf labeled, “Good for a, b, c, and d but not for w, x, y, or z.” Don’t expect them to change or step out of their box unless huge changes are observed. What they are to you, is up to you. What they are to god is between them and god, as a new friend just told me. (I use “god” to mean whatever/whoever you believe is “in charge” of the universe.)

You may have better understanding til then. But until then, only share your new work with the people you know will enjoy it. (Or at least have the integrity to recognize it for your first efforts and will tell you truthfully–and lovingly–how you can get even better.) As your customer base grows, they will be the ones who will wholeheartedly embrace your creative work. That’s why shows and open studios are so important to artists, especially those just starting out–we yearn for the recognition, the support and the admiration.

I hope this helps. I could go on and on (like I usually do!) But it boils down to what Martha Graham said:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.

Do your work. Keep doing it. Get better. Bring it out into the world. Rinse. Lather. Repeat.
hugs,
Luann

Reason, Season, or Lifetime

People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.
When you figure out which one it is,
you will know what to do for each person.

When someone is in your life for a REASON,
it is usually to meet a need you have expressed.
They have come to assist you through a difficulty;
to provide you with guidance and support;
to aid you physically, emotionally or spiritually.
They may seem like a godsend, and they are.
They are there for the reason you need them to be.

Then, without any wrongdoing on your part or at an inconvenient time,
this person will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end.
Sometimes they die. Sometimes they walk away.
Sometimes they act up and force you to take a stand.
What we must realize is that our need has been met, our desire fulfilled; their work is done.
The prayer you sent up has been answered and now it is time to move on.

Some people come into your life for a SEASON,
because your turn has come to share, grow or learn.
They bring you an experience of peace or make you laugh.
They may teach you something you have never done.
They usually give you an unbelievable amount of joy.
Believe it. It is real. But only for a season.

LIFETIME relationships teach you lifetime lessons;
things you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional foundation.
Your job is to accept the lesson, love the person,
and put what you have learned to use in all other relationships and areas of your life.
It is said that love is blind but friendship is clairvoyant.

— Unknown

PERSPECTIVE, and ADVICE FOR NEW BLOGGERS

Two pieces of advice you should might want to practice regularly. (I’m trying to cut back on telling people what to do….)

A few weeks ago, I was talking with an artist who had just started blogging. Or rather, blogging regularly and with intent. (As opposed to, “Open Studio Today!” stuff.)

She was complaining that she still hadn’t acquired much of an audience. I’m afraid I laughed out loud.

I hastened to assure her I was laughing AT her. I was just thinking of the early days of my own blog.

It was very much like the day I set out my very first bird feeder.

My husband and I had our very first apartment with a backyard–what a luxury! We’re low-level bird nuts, so I decided I would immediately set up a feeding station for the neighborhood birds.

I found a spot where we could sit on the back porch and watch the activity. I bought a bag of generic bird seed from, oh, I can’t remember, KMart? High quality stuff, I’m sure. (NOT.)

I didn’t have a bird feeder, so I took the lid from an extra garbage can and set it on the lawn. I filled it with the bird seed, put out a bowl of water, and took my seat on the porch.

Half an hour later, I wandered into the living room where Jon was reading. “It’s not working,” I said glumly.

“What isn’t working?” he asked cautiously. (Because when your girlfriend says something like this, the ensuing conversation could go ​anywhere​.

“The bird feeder!” I said. “I’ve been watching for thirty minutes, and not a single bird has tried it out!”

After making a funny noise that sounded suspiciously like a smothered guffaw, he patiently explained to me that birds don’t just smell food and come running. They discover feeding stations, slowly and cautiously, building a routine that takes them through a circuit of opportunity. “It could take weeks, even months for them to realize you’ve provided them a new source,” he explained.

Weeks? Months?? Wow. This bird feeding thing was more complicated than I thought.

Eventually a few crows and house sparrows found our lode. Then the raccoons found it, too, and that was the end of our bird feeding ventures. (Until Jon took it up again a few years ago, with much more forethought and dedication.)

My point, I explained to my friend, is this: Be patient.

A website, or a blog, is just a billboard on the information highway. Actually, it’s more like a sign on a back road in a rural area. For awhile, the only people who will really see it are the people who happen to live there. Or people who drive by when they’re looking for something else.

Eventually, your customers and collectors will realize it’s useful for them to check in regularly. And as you find your voice, other people willing–even hungry–to listen to what you’re saying will drop in, too.

Write what is in your heart, write about the things you really care about. The people who also care about those things will find you.

Some will stay, some will move on. But your numbers will grow.

In short, these things take time. That means being patience. Sometimes, perspective helps grow patience.

I told her that, almost ten years later, my total “regular” readership is probably somewhere around a thousand. But my first few years, I was lucky if a hundred people even knew I had a blog. (Okay, I confess. I think seven people have read my very first blog post. (You can read my very first blog article from November 29, 2002 here: ​Holding Onto “Facts” That Hold You Back​

Now for the perspective.

Re: the numbers…..I try not to check my stats. It’s like constantly asking people what they think of your work. It’s tempting, but ultimately not healthy for your creative spirit. I write because I have to write. I have something to say, that I have to put out there.

My art, the same. I have to make it. I can’t stop and worry about who else will like it, I have to simply do the work. You know, the Martha Graham thing….

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.

As spoken to Agnes De Mille

The two pieces of excellent advice?

1. Read that Martha Graham quote at least once a day.

2. The next time you’re tempted to read your blog stats, if you absolutely can’t resist, then try this: In the “At A Glance” bar graph, switch from the “daily” total to the “monthly” total.

Oh, gosh, the numbers are so much more satisfying!