WHAT MERYL STREEP AND I HAVE IN COMMON

This is the very first blog post I wrote, on Sunday, December 1, 2002.
And it’s still true today. Except Walt is gone now, may his gentle heart and fevered brain rest in peace.  And if it gives YOUR fevered brain a little peace today, well, that’s good, too!

I was going to write about a discussion with a friend about his dirty house.  But when I picked up the Sunday magazine that comes with our local paper, I came across some amazing statements by Meryl Streep that caused me to bump the dump story.

In the talk with my friend, he told me how immobilized with anxiety and self-doubt he felt each day.  I’m a natural born people fixer-upper (much to the annoyance of my friends), so I jumped right in with suggestions that have worked for me.  He kept saying, “You don’t understand, you don’t understand” until finally, in frustration, I told him my deepest, darkest secret:

I wake up every morning with a sense of dread about how hopelessly inadequate I am to achieve my goals, and I go to bed every night ever mindful of….how does the Lord’s Prayer go?  “We have done those things which we ought not to have done, and left undone the things we ought to have done.”  Well, that sums up the beginning and end of my day quite well.

My friend was astounded.  He said, “But you’re always so upbeat and you’re always busy with your artwork and always doing stuff….”  He paused and said, “And I know you’re telling the truth, because you know the old saying, ‘You can’t bullshit a bullshitter?’  I’m in the pits, and I can tell you’ve been there, too.  So how did you turn it around?”

It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, spiritually.  I simply stopped listening to the little voices that told me how how futile it all was.

Note that I said I didn’t stop hearing the voices.  I said I stopped listening to them.

It came about through a long, slow process.  It wasn’t any one thing.  It was a series of books, a smattering of important people, teachers, who showed up in my life at just the right time.  It was the birth of my oldest child.  It was a workshop I took.  It was trying to spiritually accomodate the violent murder of an elderly neighbor 20 years ago.  It was a physical injury that tied up my body for almost a year.  It was a brush with cancer (a very light brush, but frightening at the time.)

We often dream that when we figure everything out, when we realize our perfect vision for ourselves, everything else will fall into place, too.  When we get the right job, when we meet the right life partner, when we get our dream home, when we find the perfect little black dress, (when we reach the perfect size for that little black dress!) the perfect lipstick, whatever, that we will finally silence those little voices that always tell us what is wrong.  (Please note I’m not talking about the little voice telling you about real danger.  I’m talking about that little voice that tells you you will never be good enough, fortunate enough, strong enough, talented enough, blah blah blah. The inner critic.)  When we still hear that little voice, we may panic.  Dang!  It’s still there!  Where did I go wrong??

One of my most precious insights, almost miraculous in my eyes, is that it is possible to act in a powerful way even if your little voice says you have no power.  You hear that familiar little rant in the morning–“You didn’t fill that order, you didn’t win that award, you didn’t get into that show and you never will!

Then I get up and do it anyway.

Everything I have accomplished in the last five years–and it’s a lot!–I’ve done in spite of that little voice.  I don’t pretend to say that I have deeper resources than other people, and I would never even pretend to say that all mental health can be achieved by just saying no to those voices.  I am saying it is an act of will to act in spite of my voices, and I feel blessed to have found that out.  I now realize there is no place I can get to where I will not hear them.  But now I don’t let them stop me from getting where I want to go.  They can whine all they want, I’m going there anyway.

So what do Meryl Streep and I have in common?  In an interview with Ken Burns that appeared in USA WEEKEND today, KB asks Meryl if she will always act.  And she answers

“Oh, I always think I’m going to give up.  You get the cold feet.  You think, ‘Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie?  And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?  I don’thave to do this.’  It is something I confront at the beginning of everything.  I have to start out with nothing each time.”

KB: And reinvent the wheel.

MS: “And reinvent the wheel.  It’s very hard.  It’s very, very hard….”

There you have it.  The article notes that Streep has been nominated for 12 Academy Awards, tying Katherine Hepburn’s record.  She’s actually won two Oscars.  And that her work ethic is legendary.

And every time she takes on a new challenge, she hears the same little voices I do!

I wonder what she says to her little voices…..?

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BE KIND, REWIND. (This Means You!)

Messy? Multiply this by a jillion!

I’m having one of those days.

I was going to goof off and enjoy this fiercely windy and sunny day.

But no. My good friend Bonnie Blandford posted a link to a great list of things to do to be the best artist you can be. Drat.

So I started clearing a surface so I could get busy with my next project. That lasted two minutes.

Got lost in sorting and reorganizing. Oops! I’m out of this widget. Order it now while I’m thinking about it.

An hour later. Surface still not cleared. Great art put on hold. Again.

I try again.

This time I found a metal box full of special orders and repairs from my really big show last August. Uh oh.

Now, there are a few things you need to know about how I do business, and how I treat my collectors.

When something breaks, I fix it.

When someone wants something different, I make it.

When something gets lost, I replace it. Free. Well. I’ll replace an earring, but I’m not going to replace, say, a lost wall hanging.

So I always have a stack of these ‘special projects’ after the show. This year, I had almost two dozen on my plate. Er…in my box.

It’s not my nature, really. After three days of set-up, nine days of selling and standing–in August, in the heat, which I H*A*T*E–the last thing I want to do is all the things that seem to point out my failure.

The repairs say, “You didn’t make it strong enough!” Fail.
The replacements say, “I shouldn’t have fallen out!” Fail.
The custom work says, “I don’t see anything I like!” Fail.

Now add: Two customers who cancelled their layaways right after the show. And the one special order I didn’t do, which angered one customer.

On top of that, add the six-months-from-hell I wrote about recently, and my upcoming knee surgery (which will make me put my life and art on hold, yet again, for months and months) and I get a little weepy.

I am very very good at feeling guilty and useless. I excel at feeling sorry for myself.

So I looked at that box and knew I had to deal with it.

To my surprise, I had actually completed…everything.

I don’t know why I’m so hard on myself. Probably that perfectionist thing that still raises its ugly head from time to time.

But it doesn’t serve me. It doesn’t serve my art. It takes away all the joy. It makes me forget why I do this.

Time to be kind and rewind.

I thought about the two dozen projects and repairs I DID complete, and all the happy responses I’d gotten back.

The repairs say, “I wore this until it fell apart. It’s my favorite necklace.” Success.
The replacements say, “I can’t believe you can make another one, and you’re not charging me!” Success.
The custom work says, “I love what you do, and I want one, I just need it in a different size/style/color.” Success.

I thought back to the angry customer. When I apologized, she calmed down. When I told her what had been going on, she sympathized. She said no worries, she’ll be back next year to look again.

And now that I think on it…last year, a customer commented in passing that she had lost everything she owned, in a major house fire. And I gave her a new piece–a big one–on the spot.

Am I a saint? Nope. Am I perfect? HA!

What I am is 100% human, through and through.

And I’m feeling better already.

N.B., if you have similar issues with repairs and special orders, one way to eliminate a lot of hassle is this: DO NOT TAKE ANY $$$ UPFRONT. I may take a check or write out a charge slip. But I don’t cash the check, or run the charge, til the order is ready to ship. That way, if something comes up and everything falls apart (like it did for me), your customer isn’t trying to get their money back–a far more complicated, and serious proposition.

And a little something extra that says “Thank you for your patience” goes a loooong way to smoothing over your (hopefully rare) goofs, too.