LET’S NOT DO WHAT WE OUGHT, BUT WHAT WE WANT

This article originally published on Sunday, March 30, 2003
The advice still applies.

Let’s NOT do what we ought, but what we want

A cry for help appeared on a list serve I subscribe to. An artist gave up painting for years. She’s now determined to take it up again. Unfortunately, all her paints are so hardened in their tubes, they are almost unusable. Can anyone tell her how to salvage them??

I’m not sure how welcome my advice would be, but it’s clear to me the universe is sending a message here, loud and clear.

BUY NEW PAINTS.

What a huge obstacle she has overcome! The urge to paint again is wonderful, and I wholeheartedly tell this artist to go for it.

But the artist is already stuck again. “I can’t paint until I fix my paints.”

Where have we heard that before?

Well, I used to hear it every day. And sometimes, when I’m down or overwhelmed with the simple problems, I still hear it:

“I should do the laundry first.” “I really need to run a few errands first.” “I’ve got to get this mailing out this week–I’ll work on some new art ideas later.”

Sometimes it feels like my passion for my art, the work of my heart, is the last thing I take care of.

To that renewed artist, I’d say….

Maybe those paints are ruined for a reason.

Maybe the universe is sending a message here. You can paint again, it says, but maybe it’s time to really start anew.

Here’s a powerful thought: Maybe you don’t have to do penance by fixing those tired, dried-up old paints.

Maybe the message is, “Go out and buy wonderful new paint. Buy some of your favorite old colors, but try something different, too.”

Maybe it’s time start fresh with new ideas, new inspiration, maybe an entirely new direction.

Maybe it’s time to play with colors again, to regain the same sense of wonder and excitement when you first began to paint. And then to move ahead in a different way. Forge a new path.

But to do this, you need to get rid of everything that held you back the last time.

You have found your inspiration to paint again, and you’re determined to really set aside the time and energy it deserves. And that means not wasting time and energy working to revive dead paint.

What a lesson for me today! I’ve been sitting in the middle of an overwhelmingly messy studio, bemoaning the fact that I “should” clean up before I get back to work. Then I get the note about dried up paint. Sometimes what is easy to see in others is what I need to see in myself.

Maybe it’s really okay to just jump right into making something today, messy space notwithstanding. Maybe it’s okay to do a little cleaning up after I have fun.

Hmmmmm… Okay, I’m putting away the dishcloth now!

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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.

GETTING UNSTUCK

I posted a brief answer to a question on an art forum and realized (as usual), it also applies to moi.

It was about being stuck, and not knowing how to get back to making more artwork.

There are two easy questions to ask yourself when you get stuck.

1) What do I need to do/have/find out in order to finish this piece?

I kept sitting down to my jewelry table to make up more earrings for an upcoming show. (It’s a show where only my lower-priced work will sell, so I need to make product to fit that niche.)

But I kept finding myself wandering around the studio, focusing on other little tasks instead.

I realized when I was actually making the earrings, I’m missing some critical beads for that design. But once I got up, I forgot I need to order more.

To be specific, they’re going to take some tracking down, and that’s the part that’s creating an obstacle.

Today I realized I’ve got to dedicate some time to finding them. I’ve contacted my regular suppliers, sent samples to an African bead trader, and did a quick search online.

Just knowing I’ve done what I need to do to move forward has increased my interest, and energy level.

IF that doesn’t work, ask yourself this question:

2) Do I really need to finish this piece?

If not, guess what–you don’t have to! You can simply change your mind and set it aside. (Unless it’s a special order, in which case, hunker down, sister!)

And about here it dawns on me, the other reason I’m having trouble settling down:

I do have special orders to take care of! In the frenzy to clean my attic and studio so I could work and host an open studio, I forgot I have a few orders to take care of. Well, duh.

Now I can settle down to work, knowing I’m focusing on the right task.

And I’m relieved knowing the other task has a solution in process. When I’m ready for it again, it will be ready, too.