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.

GOALS OR GOAL-LESS

I’m still not done “processing” my session with life coach Quinn McDonald of QuinnCreative. But today I found a blog post by another good friend and jewelry artist, Kerin Rose. In her essay My 2 Cents, she shares her thoughts, based on her long teaching career, on the dangers of artists setting goals.

All I’m gonna say is that Quinn’s insights led me to a similar place. Which led me to my story about Will and the Mermaid.

As I fiber artist, I have to be amazed by the different threads that are already weaving my life back together.

TIME LIKE A RIVER

Two weeks ago, a switch got flipped in me.

I realized I’d become a couch potato again. (Another injury side-lined me in martial arts.) I went on a healthier eating plan and ramped up my exercise regime (which had dwindled away to “not much” the last few months.)

I knew this before then. But I decided to really do something about it.

I’ve been wondering why it took so long to simply start eating better. We all the know the benefits of working out and eating more veggies. Why do we put it off?

Because it just seems like a huge commitment. We’ve all known people who are relationship/commitment phobic. Well, I am diet-and-exercise/commitment phobic.

For me, the diet road is a long, dusty, boring highway. It seems to stretch on forever, with no fun food in sight. Saying no to a burger when you eat out. Choosing fruit instead of peanut butter fudge for a snack. Foregoing General Tsao’s chicken for hot-and-sour soup and some steamed rice.

Choosing that road seems like a very big deal. Not a very enjoyable one at that. One that will last a long, long time. (No more Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Chunk Fudge ice cream? Forever??)

And regular exercise is the same. Choosing years and years of swimming, walking, Pilates, lunges, weights. All that time to switch into workout clothes (instead of getting dressed once for the day and staying there.) All that time to walk somewhere (instead of just jumping in the car and driving in five minutes. And ending up running one errand instead of six.) Washing and drying my hair after a workout or a swim (which takes forever once your hair gets beyond a certain length.) Getting sick after snowshoeing because it’s so damn cold in January, in New Hampshire, for any exertion that makes you breathe deep and hard.

Did I mention I’m allergic to chlorine, too?

Making a commitment to actually start that journey just seems like too much. It’s much, much easier to say, “I’ll start tomorrow.” Or next week. Or after New Year’s.

Which never really happens.

I keep seeing that bumper sticker, “One Day at a Time”. Well, I get that, but it still didn’t help much. Seems like one very long hungry/achey/sweaty/coughing/itchy day after day after day….

Til I had a revelation this week.

Time is like a river.

Not an original idea, I realize. But the usual metaphor is we cross time like a river. And it’s never the same river twice, since “different” water is flowing each time we cross.

Nice image, but not helpful for starting that new practice.

But what if we are standing in the river?

Facing upstream.

And time itself is moving all around us. Constantly flowing toward us, and around us, and past us, as we stand.

There is only the power, the energy, the beauty, the potential, the miracle of a brand new day coming to us.

We don’t move through it. We inhabit it. It flows to us.

And all we have to do is deal with the water that engulfs us this day.

Then there is no long highway to walk. No exhausting effort to make day after day. Only choices. Plucking a different option out of a stream of possibilities.

I don’t know if this is making sense or not. I know it baffled my husband when I tried to tell him about it. “Sounds like that movie Ground Hog’s Day“, he said.

To quote a Wikipedia entry, “The main character (played by Bill Murray) is forced to relive the day over and over again until he can learn to give up his selfishness and become a better person. In popular culture, the phrase “Groundhog Day” has come to represent going through a phenomenon over and over until one spiritually transcends it.”

“No, it’s not like that!” I protested. “It’s not punitive. It’s not repetitive. It’s…opportunity. A new beginning, every single day. Tomorrow doesn’t exist. Yesterday is gone.”

It’s like we don’t have to go to it. It comes to us. Very hard to explain….

But suddenly, the choices I make today seem a little easier.

ps. This Wiki entry has a list of the ground hog’s prediction results for the ten years. And a good explanation for why spring always comes six weeks after Ground Hog’s Day, whether it’s sunny or not. (I’m feeling very smart because my husband didn’t know this.)

pps. Is this too Zen today? If so, just go eat a salad and worry about it tomorrow.

ppps. I just swam for an hour.

TURNING THE TABLES

You’ve probably realized by now how much I constantly second-guess myself as an artist.

Like countless others, I’ve struggled the last few years in a poor economy, with galleries and artists alike going under like rocks in a lake, trying to imagine a success that’s no longer defined by dollar signs. After all, making lots of money is considered a pretty good definition of success.

It’s hard to keep your good energy going when your work isn’t selling like it used to. It doesn’t matter that NOBODY’S work is selling–it still feels personal.

So what do you do?

Do you get bigger? Or smaller? Keep doing the big, expensive shows, even though they’re no longer a sure thing? Take a break from doing big, expensive shows, because they look like the ONLY thing?

Work your current customer list? Look for entirely new customers? Do you change the work? Or hold fast to it, working even harder to find the right audience?

I’ve looked for answers everywhere, in books, on the internet, seeking wisdom from friends and fellow artists, consultants and columnists.

I’ve tried to keep my spirits up, and my focus sharp. Sometimes with more success, sometimes less.

It’s funny–but what really got me fired up was encouraging someone who’s in the same boat. Actually, someone who wasn’t even in the same room with me.

I was at a party. I was asked what I do. I said I was an artist and writer.

I was asked what kind of writing I did. I said, “I write about why I make art. What inspires me. And I write about how making art has made me a better person. And how the things I’ve learned in life–from trying to be a good parent, trying to be a better martial artist, learning how to ride a horse and climb a wall, and do yoga–have made me a better artist.”

I was actually starting to feel better already.

Well, someone in the group has a daughter who yearns to be an artist, too. But she hates her job, and she can’t figure out how to support herself as an artist.

And the next thing you know, I was on fire with what I call my “Be the artist you were meant to be” speech.

I said, “Tell your daughter not to focus so hard on how to make a lot of money. Focus on doing what she loves. That has to come first.”

She asked about doing little local shows and fairs. I said, “They may or may not work well for her. But she could try them. She’ll learn a LOT about how to display and market her work. And she’ll learn a LOT about how to talk to people about her work.”

She lamented that where her daughter lives is an economically-depressed area (translation: “Nobody buys art”) and not really her customer base. “ALL artists say that,” I countered. “It may be true, but there’s this thing called the internet that can help a lot. She can research galleries in other places, find other shows and marketing opportunities, and even sell online.”

She said her daughter wasn’t good at the marketing/selling thing. I said again,” MOST artists feel this way. But that’s no excuse to sit on the bench and not get out there into the game. She can learn those skills, just like learning to play the piano or parallel-park.”

She brought up other obstacles, and I had an answer for them all. All of them.

Because I’ve heard them all before. Heck, I’ve told them all to myself before.

It boils down to this:

It gets tempting to give up. It’s too easy to say that being “successful” with your art is an all-or-nothing proposition. And then step back and say ‘all’ is too hard.

It doesn’t have to be ‘all’. It doesn’t have to be 100% successful. It doesn’t even have to be someone else’s definition of success. It doesn’t have to always be only about fame or fortune. Plenty of mediocre artists have both, and plenty of talented artists have neither.

It has to be about what is creative and worthwhile inside you. Something that, when it is fully expressed, makes the world a better place.

Maybe the world is more beautiful because of it. Maybe the world is more peaceful because of it. Maybe someone else is happier because of it, or more thoughtful, or more inspired.

And yes, it can also be because you are richer for it, whether in spirit or in your bank account. It’s okay to make money from your art.

Now, maybe I came across as just another artist who hasn’t figured anything out for sure.

But what I suddenly realized was, I had some pretty good advice for her. AND myself.

You HAVE to follow your heart, and believe the money will follow. Because we’re all learning a very hard lesson about where ‘follow the money’ will take you.

Don’t think so much. Just….DO.

Usually we’re very good at giving advice to others that we should be following ourselves. It’s much more fun to GIVE advice than to get it, after all.

But if I’m smart, I intend to be very, very good at following the advice I give to others.

Starting now.

CHAIN OF HOPE

As a small postscript to yesterday’s post SILENT EVIDENCE, let me share another chain story.

Our little family traveled to France soon after 9/11. We’d made the arrangements long before the terrorist attacks, and though it was frightening flying overseas less than two weeks later, I’m glad we went.

It was a difficult trip in many ways. It’s hard to remember now, but it seemed like there was a good chance we could be caught far from home if the United States declared war–and that was daunting. Til I convinced my husband with the argument that we’d all be together, in Paris, with credit cards. Where was the downside in that?

Since we were so close, we visited friends who live in Brussels, Pierre and Benedicte.

Benedicte’s father had been a doctor, and following in his footsteps, she had gone into nursing. Now she worked with a French non-profit that provided medical care to impoverished or war-torn countries. I can’t remember the exact name, but from her description, I believe it may have been this group called La Chaine de l’Espoir.

The reason this stuck in my mind, and what reminded me of it again today is her translation of the group’s name.

Benedicte spoke excellent English, but she groped for the right words. “It is hard, but in English, it is literally ‘chain of hope'”, she explained. “But that word is not good, because in English, ‘chain’ usually means…” and here she gestured, in a way that still moves me to tears, to show her hands bound. “…like ‘handcuffs?'” she suggested.

“Manacles?” I suggested.

“Yes! But this chain is a good word, because…” and here is where I cry, remembering her struggle to get just the right nuance, and again, watching her hands form links, then joining, and rejoining, in the air. “…this is what links us, one by one, to each other, no matter where we are. It is hope, these links.”

That is the chain I want to be a part of.

Does the chain save everyone? No.

Can it be broken? Oh, yes. Easily.

But it is still our best, and most powerful gift we can give to others.

WHAT?? NO SANTA CLAUS??!!

I realize this morning why I’m feeling stuck.

I just found out there is no Santa Claus.

Part of my muddle comes from reading an odd little book called The Awful Truth About Selling Art by Dan Fox.

Mr. Fox shows us one way artists can be successful–I paid $15 for this book, which took me about 20 minutes to read. To be fair, you can probably get it second-hand.

Fox’s book is caustic and cautionary, explaining why most of us will never get into a major art gallery and why most of us will never be a rising art star. (For one thing, I’m now too old to be an emerging artist….) He also explains why we shouldn’t want to get into a major art gallery.

He goes on to tell us how none of the other ways of marketing ourselves and selling our art will work, either. We’re left with perhaps having some modest success as a “local” art-in-the-park level artist, or teaching or suicide. (Just kidding, there are a couple of other choices available.) (Oh, wait, no, there weren’t.)

It’s incredibly discouraging, yet pretty much what I already knew about selling art.

On the other hand, I didn’t become an artist to become rich and famous. (Okay, I was hoping to become a little bit rich, and a little famous….) I do crave some kind of success, even if I’m not sure what that looks like right now–especially in this economy.

So how to have wild, audacious, fabulous dreams and goals for our art, knowing that in reality, most of them will never come true?

How do you avoid letting this become an excuse for not making art? (“I’ll never sell my work anyway, why make it??”)

How do you let go of outcome, and yet still have goals?

How do you figure out what it is you want to achieve, and then accept you might never achieve that?

And then go make art anyway?

It’s sort of like when I first found out there was no Santa Claus. I remember thinking I knew it was too good to be true, but it had been fun to pretend it might be.

Just because there is no Santa Claus, that doesn’t mean we should quit striving for goodwill, peace and love in the world.

If I can figure this out, maybe I’ll have a place to rest my brain while the rest of me makes wall hangings this year.

I have a funny feeling that, if I work on my artist statement, that may give me a clue.

P.S. Actually, I think I just found everything I need in the January 2009 issue of Oprah magazine….

STARTING OVER AGAIN Part Trois

I’ve been responding to the great comments people left when I blogged about leaving the martial arts.

I kept going back to how much I’ve learned from studying Tae Kwon Do and kickboxing. The martial arts helped me be stronger and healthier. It taught me perseverance and focus, and self-discipline.

I’ve been afraid of how far I will fall without it.

Suddenly, I remembered something a friend told me years ago.

I was at another decision crossroads.

I’d been doing a little show, part of a growing arts tour. I never did very well, but each time I did it, I’d sell enough just work to pay for the next thing I needed to do. (I was pretty small potatoes, so we’re not talking much money at all.) I would make a good connection, or learn something new.

On the other hand, my role in that show shrunk more every year. And it really wasn’t a good fit for my work. It took up a lot of time and energy, too.

Should I do it again?

My friend suggested I list the pros and cons of doing the show. When I pointed to how many “intangibles” I’d gotten from the show, she said, “You’ve learned all you can from this situation. You don’t need to keep repeating it to learn the same thing again and again.”

Oh. Yeah. Got it!

Now I’m wondering if the same thing could apply here, too.

Although there could be so much more to learn from these martial arts–Tae Kwon Do, Thai kickboxing–perhaps I don’t need to continue these particular ones. Or to keep learning the same lessons over and over.

A lot to think about….

I’ll keep you posted.

THE QUAGMIRE OF CUSTOM ORDERS

I’m struggling to finish my last custom order from my big big retail show in August.

On the surface, it wasn’t a difficult order. The customer, new to my work, fell in love with my aesthetic. She asked me to create a necklace featuring a treasured natural artifact.

We discussed colors, style and price range. I took all her contact info. I promised to have it done within a month, at the most six weeks.

It’s been a heckuva lot longer than that.

I’ve had a difficult fall–a death in the family, new injuries, not a few distractions. Enough to bump things like this custom order a little further down the priority list each week.

Fortunately, I must have sensed the potential for trouble, so I didn’t take my normal deposit for the work. At least I haven’t taken money for work I haven’t done (though I do have her precious artifact in my care.)

And fortunately, I’ve found my creative jones again. I’m slowly envisioning what this piece could look like, and I’m halfway through the design process. I’m hoping that free express shipping, and a healthy discount on the quoted price will help offset the customer’s frustration on my lateness.

But I’m struggling with the why. Why do custom orders so often throw me for a loop? Why do they seem so difficult?

I’ve written about possible pitfalls with custom orders (the Design Diva scenario, for example.)

I know the drill on how to make sure custom orders go smoothly: Decide if you’ll charge for the actual design process. Get as much input from the customer as possible (size, price, color, etc.) Get a deposit upfront (to ensure the customer is committed.) Get them to sign off on the design stages, even sending images, if possible, of the work in progress. And get everything in writing.

And I’ve enjoyed success with most of my custom orders. Customers seem to be thrilled with the finished products, and often come back for more.

But there are still sticking points. Today, in the wee hours of the morning, I woke up with a better understanding of what those are, and why I struggle with them.

When a customer falls in love with a piece I’ve already made–at a show, in my studio, in my new Etsy shop–that emotional connection is palpable. And immediate.

They see it, they react to it, they buy it–and they’re happy. Instantly.

There is that astonished moment of recognition–“This is the one!”–a moment that is the culmination of my creative process. I made something I think is beautiful, and someone else agrees. They trade their hard-earned money for my time, my energy, and my vision. The transaction is complete.

I love that moment.

With a custom order, we both get partway there. But then that final moment is postponed. It becomes nebulous.

I go back to my studio after the show. There’s usually a significant amount of downtime. I have to recuperate, physically and emotionally, from the stress of doing the show. There is inventory to be put away, booth paraphernalia to be stowed, paperwork to be completed, sales to be recorded and deposited.

The excitement of the show dissipates. The memory of the actual encounter fades. (I’m getting older, after all!)

I can’t read my own notes on the transaction, or I don’t understand what my sales assistant meant by her notes.

The desire to make that customer happy is still overwhelming. But
the energy has faded, the details have become hazy.

Doubt and second-guessing sets in.

She said blue. But which blue? Sky? Turquoise? Baby? Cobalt? Copen? Capri? (Yes, I have all of these blues in my stash.)

She said handmade ivory beads, but not too big. What does that mean??

She said she didn’t care, she trusted my judgment. But the seeds of self-doubt have been sown. I don’t trust my judgment anymore.

I’ve become paralyzed trying to anticipate the desires of a customer who’s no longer in front of me, and whose heart is not known to me. (Geez, I struggle making things for people I’ve known intimately for years….)

I’ve moved the center of my creative energy from pleasing myself, to pleasing someone else.

I care deeply about being successful, yet I begin to question every design decision.

It’s not the customer’s fault. It’s just the nature of the process, for me. I struggle with this particular dynamic.

I don’t mean to sound presumptuous, but I sometimes wonder if God felt this way when he created Eve. “Hmmmm, yes, I’ll make him a companion, sort of like what I did with him but a little different. Dum de dum de dum de dum da….. Wow, that’s pretty good! Very nice. VERY nice. Wait….what if he doesn’t like brunettes????”

One thing I know for sure: I have to figure this out.

If I move into making bigger fiber wall hangings, if I hope to work with interior decorators or do commissions for public works, I’m going to have to get over this hurdle. Because these will all be “custom orders” in a sense–site-specific, made-to-order, the whole shebang. And the bigger the work, the more money involved. And, I assume, the bigger the risk of not pleasing the customer.

I realize it is this fear, this huge issue of self-doubt, that is holding me back from that next big step in my professional art career.

So how do I get past this?

It may simply be a process of learning to trust myself, completely, with full heart and steady resolve.

After, my customers did.

And maybe once again, my life situation and my art are closely intertwined. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, just as I’m realizing my next step in my martial arts practice, a log jam in my creative process is slowing breaking up.

All I ask is, I wish it would hurry up.

CLEANING THE ATTIC #9: Call For Backup!

Sometimes, no matter how much progress you’ve made or how strong your intentions are, you get stuck.

That’s happened many, many times throughout this process. Sometimes one thing worked, sometimes another.

This time, I simply needed another set of eyes.

Not just anybody, though. I wanted Carol. Or somebody like Carol.

Carol is an artist, too. She is kind, yet insightful and strong. She understands that some items aren’t really junk (though they might look like it to non-artist types.) She’s a good listener. She’s willing to work, if that’s what is needed.

I told her how far I’d gotten, what my goals were, and where I was stuck. She identified three key areas I could think about and act on.

1) I need work space.

I tend to fill up work space with stuff that isn’t work. Sounds stupid, but that’s what I do.

For example, my desk has all my supply catalogs on it. That makes for easy access. But it also means I can’t use my desk for writing. Was there somewhere else to put those catalogs where they’ll be accessible, but not taking up work space? Yes! I’m going to rearrange some shelves (and yes, move more books upstairs) to find a new spot for them.

Then I talked about other work spaces I’d inadvertently invaded with “stuff”. I set up nice display areas for last year’s open studios. But then I never dismantled them. Some display is desirable–I love it, and it makes the studio interesting. But if that has taken over, then no work can get done.

And I never even put stuff away from last year’s big retail show before I had to start preparing for this year’s show.

To be fair, that was the year o’ surgeries. I couldn’t put all that stuff away. Berating myself for it was unfair, and unhelpful. I was beating myself up emotionally for being messy. For buying art supplies I ended up not using. For giving so much stuff away without trying to recoup my investment.

Which brings me to Carol’s next insight:

2) I need to forgive myself.

Carol’s mantra was simple: “That was then. This is now.”

That’s who I was then. This is who I am now. That’s what I thought would work then. This is what I need to do now. I was doing okay, and now I could do better.

The actual organization of the studio was good. The layers were okay. It was piling on top of the layers that was getting me into trouble.

Guilt wasn’t working. So I set the guilt aside.

It helped. Immensely.

3) Group stuff together.

As I empty storage containers, set them aside in one corner. As I come across items that can go upstairs, group them in a spot for easy transport.

This was so simplistic, I nearly sneered. But it worked.

At first glance, we’d made little progress in our barn attic. (This space is where all my booth stuff is stored, and it’s the final repository for our house stuff, too.)

Actually we’d made huge progress. But all the clear boxes I’d bought/gathered for organizing were scattered throughout the space, making it look as if everything was still strewn around.

Once I’d grouped those in a single pile off to one side, the floor space really opened up. And I could tell I’d made a huge difference up there.

I’m using this same principle on my studio, starting today. Already I feel upbeat and hopeful that this really will get done.

So if you get really stuck, enlist the aid of someone who can get your over the hump. Someone who will not judge, someone with sensitivity and strength. Someone who really wants to see you get to that next step.

Or someone with a truck.

Tomorrow’s post will address why I’ve decided over and over not to sell most of this stuff. It’s a good decision for me, and maybe it will work for you, too.

CLEANING THE ATTIC Tip #8: It’s Working!

To date, I’ve only been daydreaming about the mental/emotional benefits of de-junking, hoping all the good reports are true.

Today I can say they are.

We put in a full day yesterday, slowing working on a difficult area: The back hallway. This is where Jon stuffed everything from our living room and dining (except furniture) when he impulsively decided to refinish floors without telling me first. If you need to feel good about your marriage today, you can read about that fiasco here.

It was hard because this wasn’t stuff that had been languishing in an attic for years. This was stuff we’d been living with. Okay, it’s been a year. But still. It was stuff that had been in active use.

But we chipped away at it and made excellent progress. For the first time in a year, we could walk through our back hallway again.

We even found Doug’s potting wheel (from the days when this area had been his pottery studio) which had disappeared. (He’d stowed it in the stairwell at the end of the back hallway. I don’t know why. Ask him. Good luck with that.)

Trips to the library to donate books for their upcoming book sale, boxes set out on the curb for the yard sale elves, trash trash trash. A busy day, with much accomplished.

This morning, while eating breakfast, I had a moment of extreme clarity:

I really, really really want to write another book.

It will be a collection of blog entries from the last six years. I’ve had the idea for that for awhile now, as many regular readers will know.

It seemed overwhelming, and I wasn’t getting much traction with it.

But this time I felt like I could do it. I could see it happening.

De-junk the trunk. It’s working.

LITTLE LESSONS LEARNED LATELY #1 No More Big Fears About Little Things

I was going to title this “Small Lessons Learned Lately” but didn’t want to miss out on that alliteration.

I had long posts started about my recent trip to England. If you read me regularly, though, you know my mind doesn’t work that way. I never tell anyone where we stopped, what we ate for lunch, who we saw or what we did.

It all comes back as little anecdotes and little lessons learned.

Here’s an example. One of the highlights of our trip was visiting an older couple in Wales, old family friends, on the Isle of Anglesey. This beautiful coastal trail is the northwest corner of the island where we hiked one day, and this view of the Snowdonia mountain range sort of looks like the view from their living room window. (You can see the mountain range on the mainland, from the island.)

Don and Barbara Roscoe are amazing people in many, many ways. But for the point of this “little lesson learned” today, I will share one.

In his 60’s, Don went back to college and received a doctorate’s degree in biology. His thesis (right term?) was on….spiders.

He showed me pictures of them in the Big Book of Very Scary-Looking Spiders, where they looked about a foot tall. But they are actually very very tiny spider, only about 1/4″ big. I can’t even remember the genus name of them (sorry, Don!), but they were beautiful.

Even with all those patterns and colors, Don said there are many, many different species, and they can look very similar. The only way to properly identify them is to carefully measure the length of their leg segments and determine the ratio of those lengths. Each species has its very own, very specific leg segment length ratio!

I was astounded, and entranced. It was as if a tiny world the size of a tack had expanded into another infinite universe. I paged through the book and marveled. The wealth of colors and patterning was astounding. I said, “I respect spiders, and I feel bad that I dislike them so much. In fact, I kinda feel sorry for them, with all the antipathy most people feel towards them.”

Don said, “Yes, it’s a pity, because if you ask people why they are afraid of spiders, they’ll say ‘oh, they bite!’ If you ask them how many times they’ve been bitten by a spider, they’ll say, ‘uh….never’ or ‘once’. Yet they get bitten by midges and mosquitoes thousands of times, and they aren’t afraid of midges and mosquitoes!”

Rats. Good point. I think about Charlotte’s Web, too.

Soon after our return, I went to an outdoor flea market. Sitting on a teacup is a very small, very ugly spider. “Look out for that spider, Mom!”, cries my daughter, and I get ready to smack it.

But I didn’t.

I looked at it, and I swear, it looked up at me. It was very stubby, and its eyes were huge. And it really seemed like it saw me.

My heart melted. I gingerly picked up the teacup, moved outside the tent, and gently blew the little fellow back to the safety of the grass.

I wrote Don about my experiences, and described the spider. “Sounds like a jumping spider”, he wrote back. “Totally harmless. And good for you for your change of heart!”

In fact, I think it might have been a daring jumping spider, a species known for being especially “friendly” towards humans. (I love the line where Valerie says, “Anyone familiar with jumping spiders has probably marveled at their perceptual abilities, which include watching and reacting to us as if a tiny spider and a medium sized mammal are on the same scale…..”)

In the last few days, I’ve found and released several very tiny spiders from my environs into the wild.

I’m not totally comfortable around these savage-looking creatures yet. And I haven’t seen a big one, which will be the ultimate test.

But I think the lesson is sticking: There are things to fear in life, and there are things we fear that are totally undeserving of that fear.

Like little spiders. And making changes. And taking chances.

KITTEN THERAPY

I’m slowly returning to normal activities, and my spirit continues to mend, too.

It was a shock to learn that the spirit can take longer than the body to recover from a long year of injuries and setbacks. It was a good lesson to learn, though. I think I’ve gained more compassion for others in the same boat. You can handle one setback, another and another. But at some point, your soul just wants to hunker down and run.

We’ve always heard that when we are down in the dumps, it can help to reach out and help others. It’s a good way to get us outside our own heads, a way to move and act without being totally self-referential.

But if even that seems like too much, here’s a lower-threshold spiritual treatment I can almost guarantee will provide the same benefit:

Kittens.

There’s something about kitten antics that makes everything else weighing on your heart just fly away.

Everything is wildly interesting to them–the hem of your jeans, the tie on your robe, the cord on your window shades, the dryer lint in the waste basket, the bug crawling on the floor.

They jump, bounce, flounce, roll, and cry piteously when their tail is, in turn, mistaken for a toy by a sibling.

And if you get tired of dealing with a hamburger-sized ball of fuzz that sees everything in the world as attackable, there’s always an exhausted yet hugely grateful mom-cat who’s happy to simply sit and be petted.

Now, you don’t have to rush out and buy kittens. In fact, there’s a great way to have an (almost) everlasting supply of kittens on hand.

You can be a kitten foster care provider.

One of our favorite family volunteer projects is to act as a foster home for our local humane society. When they receive a pregnant cat or a mom-cat with young kittens, they quickly place them in homes for temporary care–about one to three months, or until the kittens are old enough to be safely adopted.

This gives the mothers a calm, loving environment outside the shelter. It gives the new family a haven from all the diseases that course through a shelter. It ensures the kittens get maximum socialization with humans, critical to their emotional development as family pets.

And as a side effect, our family gets to enjoy kittens in all their glory for two months.

Just when they reach those teenage years (in kitten time), they are all ready to go back to the humane society. The mom cats, unfortunately, may have to wait for new homes. But at least the kittens are adopted quickly, usually within a week. Although I confess, our current pair of cats, our clown-cat Chai and our nervous-nelly cat Moxie, were both former mom-cats in our home.

The layout of our home allows us to set up a foster cat station apart from the other critters. Our two regulars know something is going on, of course. Suddenly, interesting food is delivered to a room that’s now off-limits to them, and they aren’t allowed to drink out of the bathtub faucet anymore. Their bewilderment is palpable, and their attempts to convince us that they need that extra nice cat food, too are amusing.

Our latest batch came to us last week. The mom-cat has been christened “Juno”, after the movie with the young pregnant teen heroine of the same name, because she is so outrageously young herself. (A visitor, on seeing her emerge from the “nesting box”, exclaimed, “That’s the mother??

The kittens are tiny, and just now starting to open their eyes. Three golden mackerel tabbies (probably male), two black torties (probably female.)

They’re really too young to play with yet, and Juno waits anxiously nearby when we handle them, ready to snatch them back at the least little peep out of them.

But already, everything is delightfully right in the world.

P.S. This works with puppies and bunnies, too.

IMP AGAIN

One of my favorite columns by writer Martha Beck is “You Spot It, You’ve Got it!” It appeared in the July 2004 issue of Oprah Magazine.

The article describes a cognitive phenomena that psychologist Daniel Wegner calls IMP: ironic monitoring process.

In essence, IMP is our powerful tendency to recognize our own faults in others.

We need to feel good about ourselves–it’s human nature. To do so, we often tend to overlook our own flaws and shortcomings.

But since our brains also tend to think about the things we’re trying not to think about (“brass monkeys!”), this “blind spot” makes us hypersensitive to the same flaw we’re trying to repress, in others.

The result is a dynamic of “you spot it, you got it.”

Hence the artist who reamed me out a few years ago (“for your own good”) about me being stuck with “same tired old techniques and the same tired old designs”…whose own work had not changed in 20 years. Hence the hypercritical teacher who, it turns out, was battling the same demons I was.

And hence my impatience with people I see making the same mistakes I struggle with.

There are some people who take this tendency to extremes. Their cognitive dissonance about what they’re doing makes them difficult to even be around. Once we recognize what they’re doing, we can take steps to avoid them.

But there’s also an interesting flip side to this tendency. And there’s something positive to be gained by recognizing it.

Sometimes, I find that the people who are the most aggravating in my life have much to teach me….about myself. It’s an opportunity to work on the same tendency in me.

And sometimes, I find the people who are hounding me the most about some perceived “lack” on my part, are simply looking for me to be their hero.

In their mind, if I can overcome this flaw, this adversity, this setback, this roadblock….

…then maybe there is hope for them.

Maybe they can overcome theirs.

This actually happened to me recently. There was someone who seemed to be pushing me about overcoming injury, who seemed determined to not take my age into account when it comes to my abilities.

It turns out that person needs to know they can overcome their injuries. And they are hoping age will not eventually hamper their efforts.

The artist who thought I was stuck, made huge creative leaps forward, and is enjoying huge success from it. (I wish I could claim credit, but she did it on her own.)

Sometimes we are the very demon we fight against.

And sometimes, we are someone else’s angel.

ARTIST AND WRITER

A friend read my blog entitled Is That a Book I See Before Me? and had some powerful comments on my choice of words.

She said (accurately) that I tend to downplay my writing and promote myself as simply an artist who writes about her art. My writing is sound.  So why was I being coy about putting as much energy into it as my art?

Why was I burying a link from my website to my blog way back in the “About the Artist” section?

Why did I always say “…and I’m also a writer….” instead of “I’m an artist AND a writer”?

When I went back and looked at the text she was looking at, I saw she was absolutely right.

And I realized I have been tentative about pushing my writing forward, yet I say it’s as important to me as my art.

Where did that come from??

There are several issues involved here.

1) In a marriage, usually one spouse takes on a set of tasks, and the other spouse takes on another set of tasks. We may complain that it’s usually gender-based, but it is a valid strategy for an organization (a household) to make. It’s more efficient to have every person good at a few things, rather than everyone sort of okay at a lot of things. Until you lose one person, that is.

In my case, Jon has been earning a living as a writer since he graduated from college. It felt awkward to think I could write, too, or that my writer would be as “excellent” or as “important” as his is. (That didn’t come from him, it came from me, unconsciously.)

In the last few weeks, Jon has made a point of telling me my writing is good–really good. I was surprised how wonderful it felt to hear him say that. A sign to me of how worried I was to be seen as competing with him in his area of competency.

2) It took me years of making art before I could confidently state, “I’m an artist” and feel like it was the truth, not puffery. It’s just taken me a little longer to get there with my writing.

3) I’m aware that my website is all about my work and the mystique I’ve created in my processes and my story. The blog feels more exposed, more exploratory. I always wonder what my customers would feel about me struggling with this issue or that, or complaining about the “difficult people” in my booth, for example.

This led me to the heart of it.

4) Years ago, someone (anonymous, of course) posted that it was a bad business decision to write so honestly about the ups and downs of being an artist, to admit setbacks and disappointments. It made me look unprofessional. An artist is supposed to look like a duck–swimming along, with all the hard paddling work unseen beneath the water.

I would alienate potential customers and galleries with all my whining and struggling.

There was just enough truth in that snarfy comment to let the knife slip sideways between my ribs and into my heart.

So I felt like I had to keep those two worlds separate, at least until I was famous enough to have a coffee table masterpiece of a book dedicated solely to my artwork written about or by me. Then people would want all the stories.

This latest “challenge” was made with love and respect and good insight. It got my dander up just enough to realize I do care passionately about my writing, too, and would be devastated to give it up. I am going to proceed with all the conviction it needs.

It also came with some really great advice on how to proceed, so it was a double gift.

I am blessed with such a wonderful readership, with people who read regularly and offer support and encouragement along the way. Thank you all!

I thank my husband Jon for his instant support when I told him it was time for me to write another book. Thank you, sweetie!

And a special thanks and a hug to Amy Johnson, for your bravery to ask such hard questions of a new friend. I am grateful. Thank you, Amy!

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #24: When “Perfect” Isn’t Good Enough

Sometimes perfecting the best booth you have isn’t good enough. Sometimes having the best booth, period, isn’t good enough.

What I mean by the first statement is, sometimes we get stuck trying to perfect something that isn’t the best solution in the first place.

Take my search for the “perfect track lighting.” I constantly worked, reworked and replaced my track lighting for my booth. I experimented with light bars, cross bars, looked for more reliable systems and flexible lamps.

I finally got to the point where I realized I hate track lighting. It’s just not the best solution for my booth. The last two shows, I didn’t use any track lighting at all–just gooseneck clamp-on halogen lamps. They are easier for me to ship/pack/set-up and have fewer things to go wrong (fewer electronic connections, for one thing!)

Or my search for the “perfect table display”. My very first booth set-ups included those dreaded folding tables I’ve been harping on throughout this series. I experimented with different drapes and decorations. I tried to make them taller. Then bought narrower tables–before realizing I was never going to get them into my little car. And I was never going to get the professional-looking display I needed with them. I invested in Dynamic Display cases, sometimes augmented with Abstracta, and never looked back.

Then there was my search for the “perfect pipe-and-drape walls”. I struggled with various fabric walls–purchased pipe-and-drape, making my own drapes, adding various shades and blinds to make them stiffer and more stable for displaying my wall hangings. The happiest day of my life was the first day I set up my new Propanel walls.

So sometimes you have to persevere to find the right working version of something for you. But sometimes you just have to start over with something totally different.

Then again, sometimes even that perfect booth isn’t enough.

In 2007, I did two wholesale shows with my “perfect booth.” Okay, I know it’s still not perfect in many ways, but it was beautiful and got rave reviews. The display fell away, the work stood out, and was well received.

But I had the right work at the wrong show. Or the wrong work at the right show, if you want to look at it that way. I had de-emphasized my jewelry to promote my fiber work. It didn’t work.

You can have the best booth in the whole world. But if you have not targeted the right market for your work, you will not do well.

If you don’t do a preshow mailing to your audience, they won’t know you’re there.

If your work is high-end, and the show is low- to mid-end, they will not buy.

If your work is contemporary, and the show is country/folk, they will not buy.

If you specialize in Christmas decor and it’s a retail show in spring, you probably will not do well.

If your work is a little pricey and unusual and not a gift product, you may not do well at Christmas shows.

So what’s a craftsperson to do?

Stick with it. Observe. Learn. Get better.

And laugh.

No one said it would be easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it!

You keep doing it because you believe in your work, and you believe there are people out there who will love it as much as you do.

You try this, you experiment with that, you tweak this and you replace that. You work hard to get into that dream show, that perfect show for your work. And a few years later, you struggle to find the courage to leave that “perfect show” that is no longer the best marketing strategy for your work.

There is no “finish line” you cross where you finally realize you’ve made it. There is no final formula for success.

There is only another exciting challenge ahead of you.

The downside? It can be exhausting.

The upside? It’s good for you! Aimee Lee Ball writes about “THE NEW & IMPROVED SELF-ESTEEM” in the January 2008 issue of OPRAH magazine. Research shows that the brain grows more neurons when challenged. By struggling to figure this stuff out, we get smarter, and more competent.

So don’t despair if it all seems like too much sometimes. Remember–this is IQ training for your LIFE.

MEAN PEOPLE SUCK #2: Professional Jealousy

Years ago, I was going through a rough patch with my art career. Other artists were behaving badly. I was dazed and unsure of what was going on. I confided in a friend, who mentioned the matter to her husband, a lawyer. “Be nice to Luann at dinner tonight, dear”, she told him. “She’s had some bites taken out of her lately.” She told him the back story.

Her husband, a person usually brusque and heavy-handed when it came to the tender feelings of artistic types, responded quickly and with passion.

“You tell Luann that lawyers do this to each other all the time!” he told her. “It’s called professional jealousy. It means she’s doing good work.”

I’ve always kept those words in my heart when things get rough with my fellow craftspeople.

Today I was killing a little time and came across Christine Kane’s wonderful blog again. Christine is an artist in the music world. She writes great essays that transfer across all creative endeavors. You can see her writings here:
Christine Kane’s “Be Creative” blog

I read her essay on Jealousy and Envy. In it, a certain paragraph leaped out at me, the one entitled “Mastery”.

Christine wrote, “Whatever career path you’re on, you have the choice to become a master. Not necessarily of the career or the craft or the art. But of you. That’s what keeps me going. If you want to reach, inspire, help, encourage, heal in any way, most likely it’s going to require that you face your own demons in that process. If jealousy comes up, then it’s a teacher for you. That’s all. Let it be. That’s where your biggest treasures will be.”

I’ve never denied being jealous myself of people more talented and creative than I am. I affectionately call that first rush of pure green bile “the lizard brain”. I chalk it up to my inner nature, that ancient instinctive heritage I will always have with me.

But as Christine says, we have choices, too. And this is one aspect of my life with which I think I’ve made good choices.

I used to be consumed with jealousy. Years ago, though, I realized what being jealous did for me.

I realized it let me off the hook.

If someone else was “better than me”, or “doing better than me”, then I didn’t have to try to be the best anymore. I could give up, quit doing what I was doing, and just say, “Oh, well, I wasn’t very good at it anyway…” Or, “Oh, they’ve got it all wrapped up, there’s no room for ME.” I could pick up my toys and go home.

There’s always the temptation, too, of letting jealousy shift your focus. You now have an “enemy” to hate. How delicious! You can now seethe and plot on how to take them down.

What a tremendous waste of our precious creative energy.

Once I realized that, I quite letting jealousy rule my life. I couldn’t banish it completely, of course. But I could make different choices on how I acted on it.

And that’s when I really started making progress in my career as an artist.

I began to focus on doing what I liked just because I liked it, regardless of how “good” I was. It helped me keep starting over, and helped me persevere when things got tough.

And because I kept going and kept starting over, I began to get kinda good at some of those things.

Now that I think about it, that attitude has helped me in all kinds of situations. Another case where learning how to be a better artist has also helped me be a better person.

And now when the green monster raises its ugly head, I savor it. I know it’s going to spur me on to greater heights.

I know somewhere in that mess, that demon still has something to teach me.

Try it yourself! The next time the lizard brain kicks in. Go on, be jealous. Enjoy it.

But only for a minute.

Then get down to work. And figure out how to make that jealousy work for you. Instead of fuming about your object of envy, put that lizard brain to work.

Think how to make it make YOU a better artist.

If only more of us focused on making jealousy work FOR us, instead of focusing on how to take that other person down…..

We might get along better. Or at least have a lot more wonderful art in the world.

p.s. I’m thinking that, after I wrap up the “GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD” series, this might be a good essay in a new “MEAN PEOPLE SUCK” series. In fact, I’ve gone ahead and numbered this one accordingly. There isn’t a MEAN PEOPLE SUCK #1 yet, don’t panic.

QUICK(ER) WISDOM

Sometimes when I have good advice for people, they sigh and say something like, “You are so wise!”

I’m quick to respond that I’m not. I just learn quickly. And sometimes, not so quickly, but I still learn eventually.

It’s not that I automatically know what to do in any given situation. It’s that I’ve been in that situation before. When it comes around again, I can smell it.

Sometimes it takes me a few months to smell it, and sometimes it just takes a few minutes. “Oh, yeah, I remember this!”

I think a person who is “truly wise” is someone who smells that bad situation out really, really fast. Like, they have it down to ten seconds or less.

The good thing is, you don’t have to make every single mistake out there to learn everything for yourself. You can learn from other people’s mistakes. That’s what fairy tales (“If your name is Snow White and your stepmother is a witch and looking to kill you, don’t accept apples from strange old women”), newspapers (“Dear Ann Landers, I never thought I’d be writing to you, but….”) and this blog (yes, you can find many, many of the mistakes I’ve made here!) are for.

The bad thing is, although you can learn from other people’s mistakes, you will still make plenty of your own. But that’s an important and necessary part of life.

You will eventually learn from them, and hopefully share them with others.

Then they’ll think you’re wise, too.

CHILD-LIKE VS. CHILD-ISH: Our True Artistic Nature

The friend who gave me the go-ahead to ignore the world for a few hours and make my art, also said a messy studio is not necessarily a bad thing.

The artist self in my is child-like, and revels in the mess. “I don’t have to follow the rules!” the child-artist chortles.

Those items piled up, all slogged home from the junk shop and a yard sale down the street? Potential. It all has potential. The artist self delights in the design potential in every object. It’s powerful stuff, pure creativity at work.

“And look at your actual work spaces. Beads and fabric organized by color, rows of trade beads hanging at the window, clearly-defined work areas–your jewelry area, your sewing area, your polymer area, your office area, your book storage area, your fabric storage area…. There’s a LOT of structure and organization here!”

The chaos was disturbing, my friend agreed. “But I think it’s your artistic child self at battle with other things going on in your life.”

The pragmatic side of me envisions wild folk–the good but crazy artist child self vs. the rigid, thrifty, everything-in-moderation somber, sober adult self–flinging flack at each other like a crazy illustration for a Dr. Seuss book. But I understand what she means.

It’s true that when I’m in the throes of creation, it’s like a frenzy. “I need something red! This big! Round!” I pull trays and drawers, pawing through them until I find just what I need.

“I need water colors! I mean, things the color of water! Big chunky beads of water colors! Now!!” Out come the bead catalogs, or a desperate search on the internet, looking for just the right components.

“This fiber piece needs tiny yellow beads around the horse’s head. No, not that yellow, this yellow!” And when I find embroidery thread that echoes that color, a tiny thrill goes through my heart. There. YES! Oooh. And now to make polymer buttons to go with them!

It’s when visitors come to the studio that it all feels wrong. Especially those who aren’t familiar with my work style, or my work. The ones who imagine a creative process very different from my reality.

“I envision you in a serene place with classical music playing gently through the air as you ‘sew a fine seam’,” sighed one customer. “Small dishes of beads set out neatly on your worktable…”

Try techno with a pounding beat, fabric flung all over the floor, and me swearing when I grab a spool of thread and knock over yet another dish of a jillion tiny beads I’ve dumped together,” I countered. Hmmm, must not have been a customer, because I know they left soon afterward. Another myth destroyed….

But there you have it. The child-like artist at war with the child-ish, disorganized, messy, frenzied lunatic. The unprofessional craftsperson with a disheveled studio. Not a grown-up.

Not a grown-up. Not professional.

Hmmmm.

I realize there’s professional and professional. I do my darndest to do good work, to create quality jewelry and artwork. I strive to do the self-promotion, to build my name and reputation so my collectors can be proud to own a genuine “Luann Udell.” I try to meet deadlines, take care of all the details, keep the paperwork straight and follow the rules.

I often succeed. Some weeks are better than others, to be sure.

But the child-like artist kicks out sometimes. I keep buying beads even though I have plenty. I keep making new designs even though it’s time to focus on other things for my next show. I keep saying, “What if…?” right up until it’s time to pack the box and get it shipped out.

I skip dinner to make more necklaces. Stay up late to finish the sewing on one more wall hanging. Call up my photographer to beg him to make time to photograph “one more piece” before the show. “One?” he asks. “Not five or six? Or twenty?” (Like the last twelve times I’ve called him….)

Missing deadlines, misfiling paperwork, procrastinating, busting budgets….the grown-up in me groans and shakes her head. “What will become of us??” she mutters.

The child-like self is dancing like a wild thing in the woods.

GETTING IN YOUR OWN WAY

We all know what we want and where we want to go in life. And we all work hard to get there. Right?

Sometimes I’m not so sure.

The older I get, the more I notice how often people get in the way of their own success.

People say they want one thing, but seem to be working against themselves all along.

I see people who are desperate to get on board with companies and organizations they think can further their professional goals.  They become convinced that this is THE place they have to be.  No other will do.  They are so desperate, they resort to subterfuge and strong-arm techniques.

They think they’re being subtle and “smart”. But they’re actually being manipulative and deceitful. In fact, they end up ensuring that company will never do business with them, if they can help it.

I see people who want to be respected, who want to set a good example for others. But they lead double lives, negating everything they say professionally by what they do in their private lives. They’ve never learned that “do what I say, not what I do” only works for very young children–say, under three.

The folks who think they can lead these double lives do not understand how devastating it is when their masquerade is revealed. They may mean well. But they end up doing a tremendous disservice to their cause, no matter how dedicated they intend to be to it.

On the other hand, there are people with very little personal experience who feel they know enough to tell everyone else what to do.  But they’ve never walked the walk, they can only talk the talk.  “Advice” from these people sounds good, til you realize they’ve never actually put it into practice.

As artists, we can fall prey to the same temptations.

We say we want recognition, but we don’t work hard enough to get our work and our name out there. We sneer at others’ efforts to promote themselves, calling them “self-serving” or “braggarts”. (There’s a huge difference between puffing yourself up, and simply making sure the world knows about your art!)

We say we want an audience for our work, but we don’t produce enough work to sell. We find a million excuses not to paint, not to write. I’m always amazed at the people who don’t make time or even a physical space for their art in their lives. They often don’t create a single place in their home where they can sit down and make stuff.

We say our customers don’t appreciate us or understand our work, but we don’t try very hard to find the people that would appreciate and buy our work.

Or we berate the customers we do have. In fact, customer-bashing is often a popular artist pastime. Check out any professional on-line forum, and often the biggest thread is the “stupid customer” discussion. Artists cheer each other on to come up with the best snappy put-down to what they consider rude customer questions. I’m always astounded at the phenomenon, and try to avoid it totally. It’s just not good energy. I figure it also proves that those artists are doing the wrong shows!

We’re full of advice for other people, but never ask if what worked for us in our particular situation, is actually what might work for them in theirs.

Or we don’t realize that they didn’t even actually ask us for our advice.  (Ouch!)

We all do this to some extent.  We all have a disconnect between the world inside our head and the world “out there.” It’s part of our human nature.  And sometimes it’s a necessary disconnect.

It’s when it’s not getting you what you want that it becomes a problem.  As Dr. Phil is fond of saying, “Is that working for you?”

The last few years have been a time of much introspection on my part. It hurts to look at the fuzzy zone where my words and my actions should meet, and see what’s matching up and what isn’t. Sometimes it’s downright embarrassing.

But I have to do it. And so should you.

Periodically assess yourself. Pull out your business plan occasionally and see where you stand.

If you’ve achieved many of your goals, then congratulations! Your actions are in alignment with your intentions.

If not, why not?

Did you simply forget what you set out to do? Time to think hard about what you really want, and determine if your current actions will get you there.

Did your goals change, and you forgot to change your process? Remember that sad adage, “Do the same thing, expect different results” is a recipe for unhappiness.
Did you achieve your first round, but forgot to set new goals? That’s wonderful! Time to get your Big Dream hat on again. Now you know the process works, and you can dream even bigger.

Be prepared to forgive yourself if you find yourself off target. Sometimes, I suspect we get off-course because we were never really dedicated to the course we chose. Or we honestly don’t realize how much we’ve fooled ourselves.

Or we find we really don’t want that anymore.  Our needs, our desires have changed.

And that’s okay, too.

We all do it. We are human, after all, not computer programs.

Just be willing to stop and check your map.

Ask for directions if you are well and truly lost.

Or maybe even simply enjoy the new route you find yourself on.

GO AHEAD, BREAK IT!

I subscribe to a newsletter from http://www.coachlee.com. Every day I get a “thought” from this website. Usually I don’t have time to read them. But today this headline caught my eye:

Just Because It Breaks, Doesn’t Mean You Broke It

Coach Lee goes on to say, “It can be so frustrating when something breaks while you are using it. The assumption by many is that if it breaks while you were using it, it is your fault. Not true. Timing is everything. When something breaks when you are using it, it is a matter of timing not fault. Things break. Don’t feel bad or guilty if it just happens to break during your time of use.”

It’s funny, but the one thing not addressed in this article is why things break when we use them.

It’s because when they are at rest, there is equilibrium. No energy in, no energy out.  No force.

But when we add energy, we disturb that equilibrium.   Think how a light bulb usually burns out when we turn the light on.   It’s that tiny surge from new energy that causes it to flare out–rarely while it’s burning.

So, too things break when we use them.  Only when we touch it/move it/use it/push it/twist it/pick it up does it fall apart in our hands.

And as I struggle to put together a new model for getting my art out into the world, wondering why everything seemed to go wrong in the first place, I realize this is the answer

Everything went “wrong” because I was doing something.

Everything went “wrong” because I was doing something.

I was making my art.

I was  getting it out into the world.

I was exhibiting it, showing it, selling it, promoting it, writing about it

f I had simply been a little lump, sitting in my studio and doing NOTHING, then NOTHING would have “gone wrong.”

And of course, what exactly went wrong?

The economy soured, massive terrorist attacks paralyzed our country, and our national shopping spree went into lock-down mode. Buyers for craft galleries stopped going to wholesale shows, stopped buying new work, and many even went out of business.

So what did I do wrong?<

Not much.

It wasn’t about me.

I just kept trying the same old things for awhile. And when they worked, I kept doing them.< (My one big retail show, the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Annual Fair, just got better and better for me.)

When the same old things didn’t work, I tried something new. A new show, more self-promotion, new marketing materials, new work.

Some of it worked, and some of it didn’t. And I’m still in that process of trying something new.

Of course it all “broke” while I was “using it”!<

I was out there with my art, trying to give it everything I had. Taking risks, new ventures, putting every cent I earned back into the business of getting my art out there.

I tried new presentations for my art—framing with glass, framing without glass, smaller work, bigger work, less expensive work, more expensive work.

And of course I made mistakes.

Because, like the old adage says, if you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t trying hard enough.

So no more apologizing from me on not having this all figured out yet. I’m in this for the long haul. It may take me twenty years to be an overnight success.

But when I make it—and there’s no doubt in my mind I will—you will have heard about it from someone who started out just a handful of years before the worst economy in 30 years—and came through the other side.

So go ahead. Make mistakes. Break it!

It means you’re working it.

It means you’re doing something right.