A TALE OF TWO STICKS: The “Perfect” One vs. “What Works”

A sad story with a happy ending.

A long-time admirer contacted me earlier this month, looking for the perfect wall hanging for their home. After many emails and sent images, they decided on a framed fragment:

One of three framed fiber “fragments” in a series.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But they had their heart set on a wall HANGING. Would I be willing to turn this into one?

Well, sure! The framed version would be harder to ship, I haven’t made hangings in awhile, and this would be a good opportunity to get back into the swing of things. A practice piece, if you will.

It took many, many more hours of work than I’d anticipated. Still, if I charged by the hour, all of my work  would have to sell for several thousand dollars. Which didn’t seem fair….

I added a backing to the fragment, created a hanger for the back, and searched my extensive stick collection for the perfect stick. It has to be the right length to work with, a shape that works with each fragment, etc.

Surprisingly (not!), I always find only one stick that meets my needs.

I found it! A beach-combing find from the Sonoma coast. I test all my sticks before I use them in a piece, to make sure they aren’t too brittle or fragile. This one passed the test–I thought.

The Perfect Stick.

 

 

 

 

 

It was already worn smooth by waves, it had beautiful branches, it sanded up easily. After waxing and buffing it to a soft gleam, I got to work drilling holes for the ties that would secure the fiber fragment to it, the beaded side “drapes”, and the cord to hang it all with.

For some reason, my new power drill didn’t work very well. Maybe my drill bits are dull? So I used my little hand drill (pin vise) to make the holes. Yep, more hours….

I put almost 8 hours on drilling the holes, stringing the color-coordinated glass beads for the drapes, attaching the fragment to the stick, and adding the beads that adorn the hanger. I’m pretty fussy about the beading. I use a lot of antique glass trade beads in my work, and many of them have really big holes. I have a stash of smaller beads I use to fill the holes so the beads set evenly.

After it was all put together, I picked it up to take a photo…..

And the stick broke.

It broke where I’d drilled a hole. Fortunately, it was a clean break. I was able to glue it back together (with construction adhesive!), restring that part, and wound some cord around it for support. Part of my aesthetic is creating the look of a well-worn, often mended piece of art. So it fit right in!

I clamped the repair and let it sit a full 24 hours, like the instructions said. Came back to the studio, gently tested the repair–good!

I picked it up to photo it. And it broke in my hand again.

This time, the wood shattered. So I was back to square one. (Okay, square three, but it sure felt like ‘one’.)

It took awhile, but I found another, completely different stick that I loved.

The new perfect stick!

It has a sad history. Bark beetles are highly-destructive, destroying millions of acres of forests.

 

 

 

 

And yet, the damaged wood is hauntingly beautiful.

In New Hampshire, I looked for beaver-chewed sticks. The chew-markes look like writing, strange writing to be sure. They became part of my story, echoing the mystery of the cave paintings of Lascaux in my art: A message that was not addressed to us, a message we cannot read.

The trails made by bark beetles echo that story.

I’ve collected a lot of their chewed sticks from the coast, too. The good part is, the beetles are long gone and probably long-dead, too.

I didn’t realize the stick looked like one of my carved pods until I took this picture. The pod just happened to be sitting on the counter. Fate? Kismet? Lucky chance???

I sanded the stick carefully, and wiped it clean. I painted it black to back-fill the little chewed channels, then wiped off the excess. Then waxed it with brown Brio wax, and buffed it, then drilled more holes.

 

Finally, it was done!

The finished piece. Finally!

Today I’ll find the right-sized box to pack it up and ship it to its happy new owner. It’s taken a lot longer than I thought, but I never regret a profound learning experience. Well. I regret them in the moment. But I’ll get over it.

My little journey from “the perfect stick” to one that many people would consider as a tragedy (destruction of national forests) and trash (a bug did this? WTF!!!) has me thinking again about my art process and my stories.

I obsess about getting everything exactly right, in an imperfect way. Asymmetrical yet balanced. Ordered color palettes.

One of my most powerful insights, in my life and in my art, is recognizing when something is ‘good enough’, and letting go of perfection. (As a wise woman once told me just before I began my hospice volunteer training, “When we are a perfectionist, we are ‘full of knowing’, and nothing new can come in.”) (Thank you Quinn!) (Another gift: I didn’t know she’d started a new blog until I linked to hers here.)

We all have visions of what that ‘perfect’ thing is. The perfect job. The perfect marriage. The perfect home.

Then there’s reality. There are the slog jobs, the times in a relationship when things can feel wonky, and homes? Renting here in Northern California, it’s whatever one will let you have pets….

Yet even in the worst of times and places, there is something of value.

Insights. ‘Aha!’ moments. Healing. Reconnection. Beauty. New ways to retell old stories. Seeing our loved ones for who they are, instead of the perfect person we sometimes expect them to be. Learning to see ourselves the same way….

Sometimes the ‘perfect’ needs to make way for something bigger and better, more human. Sometimes, we need to make way for something else.

And sometimes, it makes way for a tiny little beetle, with its own way of creating a powerful story.

 

 

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #7 Work (gently) through your setbacks.

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #7 Work (gently) through your setbacks.

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

Hiatus hurts, for awhile. 

Getting back in the saddle again hurts, for awhile.

But never going back to what you love, hurts forever.

 When we work out, despite our best efforts, we run the risk of injury. Injuries can range from annoying to debilitating. And they can derail your fitness program faster than you can say billy blue blazes.

Nothing is sadder than someone who’s grown dependent on their workouts for their good mood, their steady frame of mind and their focus. When my DH had a serious foot injury a few years into our relationship, I didn’t know who would lose their mind first–him or me.

And when I was first majorly injured in martial arts, it took me almost ten years to work up the courage–and physical ability–to return.

But the second time I injured myself two years ago, it took me only a few months to get back out there. And a year later, when I tore my hamstring, it took only weeks to get back on my feet again.

Not at the same level of intensity and skill, to be sure. At first all I could do was show up. I would do my physical therapy while everyone else practiced their spinning back kicks.

But I’ve learned to show up. And to always do what I can. Because I learned my lesson in that ten years of relative inactivity.

For one thing, studies show that injuries heal faster and better when we use our bodies. (Being mindful of moving in therapeutic ways, of course.) In fact, our bodies are so dependent on movement for our well-being, muscles will start to atrophy after only days of idleness. I’ve been told that the weakness we experience after a rough bout of flu actually has less to do with the illness, and more to do with our immobility as the disease runs its course.

For another, the less we move, the less we CAN move. “Use or lose it” is vital to our physical, mental–and artistic–health.

It’s the same with our art.

I will now tell you the saddest story in the world.

It’s the person who says, “I entered an art exhibit once, and didn’t get in. So I never tried again.”

Or “I got into an art exhibit once, but I didn’t sell anything. So I don’t even try to sell my work anymore.”

Or “I used to paint but I couldn’t sell my work. So I quit painting.”

Or “This show used to work for me but now it doesn’t. I don’t know what else to do.”

Or “I just love to (whatever) but I can never find the time to (whatever).”

As my mom used to say, people who say they love to read but they don’t have time, don’t really love to read. Because if you do, you know you can ALWAYS sneak in a book somewhere.

Experiencing failure with our art is daunting. But it’s simply part of the process of making art. Making art means learning how to make art, and learning how market our art. And learning how to sell our art. AND learning how to make better art.

The people who are successful making art and marketing their art and selling their art, aren’t people who have never failed.

They are simply people who didn’t quit just because they failed.

They keep at it, doing what they can and figuring things out as they go.

If their early work didn’t sell, or later work quit selling, they either changed their style, changed their marketing or changed their venues. If shows started to fail them, they tried something else.

Not all of us will be world-class artists, or hugely successful artists, or even very good artists. But if you love it, and it’s important to you, you must find a way to keep doing it.

 It’s as important to your creative nature as moving is to our physical bodies.

Whatever your art means to you–whether you intend to support yourself, or make a name for yourself, or whether it’s something you do part-time or something you do to amuse yourself–find a way to do it.

Even if, somedays, that means just showing up.

At my last open studio, one of my customers recommended an affordable place to ride a horse. I haven’t ridden in five years! But I went yesterday for a lesson. Nothing spectacular, and I was never a “spectacular” rider to begin with. (I am the eternal “adult beginner”.) But I scheduled a lesson with the instructor (who is delightful) at the ranch (which is beautiful, and takes great care of its horses.) I rode around the ring on a gentle little guy for an hour, and it was wonderful.

Today, I hurt all over. My back hurts, my hips hurt, my knees are killing me. I’m exhausted, too. I didn’t do much at all, but that’s what it feels like the first time you get back to something after a long hiatus.

And yet….I am soooooo happy!

This is what it feels like to be doing what you love. Especially after setting it aside for way too long.

It hurts.

But not nearly as much as not doing it.

Whatever has taken you away from your creative work, find a way back. For your sake. For our sake!

Flex your creative muscles. Start slow, but go steady, and work your way back to your happy place.

DRIVING IN THE FOG: Guest Post from Paula

Intuitive and creativity coach Paula Chaffee Scardamalia, that is.
I met Paula years ago, when she wrote an article about me for a magazine. We had a lovely chat–she is certainly an intuitive interviewer!

How amazing is she? Well, during the interview, I inadvertently insulted her medium, saying something like how “everybody was making x and it’s hard to stand out from the crowd when everyone’s doing the same thing.”

How did she respond? She could have been snippy. She could have been defensive. She could have seethed silently, and told all her friends what a bitch I was. Am. Never mind.

Here’s my highest praise for another human being: She did not take it as an insult, but as an observation, and an accurate one at that. She actually agreed with me, saying she’d been feeling it was time to “move on” for some time, and she was glad I confirmed that. Whew!

She said she had something else in the pipelines, something totally different. I was surprised (but not really) and delighted (totally!) when soon after, she announced her creativity coaching practice and writings, The Divine Muse

So today, from an evolved human (Paula, not me), a message that resonated with me today. If you are lost in the fog, too, take heart. Paul has good advice for you!

3 Steps to Find Your Way through the Fog
by Paula Chaffee Scardamalia

Emergencies have always been necessary to progress. It was darkness which produced the lamp. It was fog that produced the compass. ~ Victor Hugo

I woke the other morning, and saw that the rich gold of autumn leaves was dimmed by a thin layer of fog, a not unusual occurrence here.

The interesting thing about fog is that even though it is considered a type of stratus cloud, it is a cloud that is low-lying and its moisture is usually generated locally from lakes and oceans or other bodies of standing water like marshes or moist ground like swamps. And it often occurs when cool air meets warmer water.

Because I live in the back of beyond, driving in a fog at night can be a real challenge. There is nothing so dark as an overcast night in the country where houses are stretched out over miles instead of blocks, the infrequent car is going the other way, and visibility is down to 20 feet ahead.

Have you ever had that experience? Remember the feeling of alienation and hand-clenching stress? Time slows. Distances seem to stretch like taffy. And you wonder if you’ve accidentally driven off into a new episode of the Twilight Zone.

You can’t say you’re lost, because when you hit the fog, you knew where you were going and you do, really, know where you are, even if in the halos made by the car lights, and the narrow field of vision makes everything look suddenly distorted and unfamiliar.

Have you ever had this experience with your book or other creative project, or even your creative career?

As a writer and a creative entrepreneur, this is not an uncommon experience for me, but fortunately, because of where I live, I’ve had plenty of opportunity in the physical fog to teach me what to do in my creative fog.

Slow down!
Sometimes we get into a creative heat where words pile upon words. We’re speeding along, eating up the miles and suddenly… fog. If we don’t slow down, we run the risk of crashing. When this happens, it’s a good idea to take a deep breath and slow down. But don’t stop, either. Someone could ram into you from behind.

Dim your lights. I know this seems counter-intuitive. When our visibility is diminished, our instinct is to brighten the lights to pierce the gloom. In normal darkness, this would work, but in a fog, all those droplets of water act like mirrors, reflecting back light and making the fog appear even more dense. If we want to increase visibility in the fog, we have to be willing to dim the lights, to release the desire to see farther and more clearly. We have to be willing to allow things to get fuzzy for a while, to only focus on what is just in front of us instead of further down the road.

Keep your eyes on the road not on the shadows.
Because of the nature of fog, shadows can take on a 3-dimensional quality, distorting reality and perspective. If you take your eyes off your road to focus on those shadows, you could run off your road or not see other hazards coming up. Our fears about our creative work can turn shadows into 3-dimensional monsters, throwing us off our path and causing real damage if we aren’t careful. Another reason, too, for dimming your lights. Those shadows won’t appear so large and intimidating.

Making it safely home, moving through the fog to reach the end of your creative journey requires patience, presence and faith that you can and will get home…

Keep the image of your goal firmly in the forefront of your mind and just keep going. Don’t stop.

© Copyright 2009-2013 Paula Chaffee Scardamalia, all rights reserved.
About Paula: Paula has a passion for helping writers and others tap into their creative power and bring their creative gifts into the world. Using her unique blend of the ancient tools of dreams, tarot and other intuitive tools, Paula helps writers, creatives and spiritual entrepreneurs get inspired, break through blocks, and write that book or create that product or special event. For a free 15-minute consultation with Paula on how you can move from Inspired Idea to Creative Action, email Paula at paula@diviningthemuse.com