GRATITUDE

Take a tiny moment to say ‘thank you’, and count your blessings!

I’m an artist. And as an artist, my first responsibility is to make my art. It’s what restores me to my better self, makes me whole and centered. I make it for myself, first.

I know this first-hand, and many good friends remind me of this constantly. For example, the one who sent me a card with this quote:

People like you must create.

If you don’t create, Luann, you will become a menace to society.

(the note also says, “With apologies to Maria Semple, author of “Where’d You Go, Bernadette”. See last paragraph in Part 3.”) (Thanks and a hat tip to Amy Helen Johnson!) (Yes, I bought the book.)

Our second responsibility is to put it out in the world. We mostly interpret this as selling our art, and making a living with our art. Some fortunate, hardworking few can do this. But walking away from the work of our heart, simply because we can’t sell it, is  hurtful. (See “first responsibility”, above.)

There are lots of ways to get our work out into the world. If you make art, you can make it, share it, give it away, sell it, exhibit it, teach it, collaborate with it, write about it, donate it, etc. etc. The same with writing. The internet makes this almost effortless.

Yes, selling is wonderful–unless you get caught up in the selling, to the exclusion of everything else. Vincent Van Gogh’s work was only sold to his brother. (Do you have 3 minutes? Watch this heartbreakingly powerful snippet of a video about this.) (I dare you not to tear up.) And ironically, the most commercially successful artist of our time seems to have lost everything of value in a life dedicated to fame and fortune.

Somerwhere in the middle is where I’d like to end up.

So I recently stepped up my game in regard to selling. This came after realizing I was struggling to sell a $24 pair of earrings to a casual visitor in my studio. Realizing that one gallery hadn’t sold one single piece of my work in a year. Reflecting that most of my out-of-state galleries were struggling to sell my work.  A local gallery that reached out to represent me, finally said they love love love my work (another line that’s fun, but not my “heart” work) just wasn’t selling, and they needed to set me free.

I felt like a failure. (Hey! 2017 was a weird year!)

Then I realized, why should I focus on making $24 earrings??? Why should I base my definition of success on income alone? Why was I falling for the same emotional/spiritual/inaccurate measuring stick I constantly counsel and warn artists against????

So…I upped my game.

I cleared my studio of the fun-but-inexpensive work, focused on the work of my heart.

I realized that just because I’m now writing weekly for an art marketing newsletter doesn’t mean I’m off the hook with my blog.

I reevaluated, recentered, and refocused on my biggest vision for my art. And I cleaned house on my Etsy site, and focused on the work I have on hand, my best work, and moved forward.

I decided to make the work that makes me happy, and not the work I think I can sell.

What happened?

Another gallery in the same town as the one that cut me loose, took on my work two weeks. And they’ve already made a sale.

The gallery in Santa Rosa has been selling steadily, and it just keeps getting better and better.

A gallery that hadn’t sold any of my work in a year, sold a MAJOR PIECE. And another big (for me) piece the same day.

And I’ve had five sales in my Etsy shop this month. (A lot for me!)

But that’s not all. Every single sale has resulted in a message from the buyer, telling me how much they love love love what I do, how it speaks to them, and how even more amazing it is in person.

Wow. Just…..wow.

Today I got home to a beautiful email from a delighted buyer. I always respond, with gratitude and joy.

But because I’m human, because I’m afraid to be too happy, afraid to be too hopeful, I tend to respond well outside. But inside, I hold back. Thinking, “Well, that’s great, but…..” “Don’t get a swelled head, because…..” “Don’t get your hopes up because…..”

But this time, I read that email. And something told me….

Be in this moment.

Embrace this moment. Stop and celebrate it.

This moment is the blessing, the extra gift, that comes for making my work and getting it out into the world.

Take note of this moment.

I remembered, decades ago, a wise woman I crossed paths with, who shared a powerful insight with me.

When we really want something, she said, there is a centering, empowering way to ask.

Stand up, head bowed, humbly. Think of what your heart desires. Breathe in, breathe out. Then stand tall. Expand.

Raise your head, open your arms, and hands. Look to the heavens above.

And simply ask, with all your heart, what it is you desire.

The very first time I did this, I was in an antique store. I’d been looking for years for a wonderful book that was long out of print. (This was years before I finally discovered Bookfinder.com, the absolute best tool for finding any book in the world.)

I thought, what the heck? I did the mantra.

And when I was done, I look up. I saw a bookcase in the booth across the room. I walked to it.

And I found the book.*

So today, before I could diminish my joy, before I could “be logical” about my delight in this sale, and this email note from my buyer, I decided to take a moment to celebrate.

I did my little ceremony.

But instead of asking for anything, I simply said….

“Thank you.”

In these days of “Be careful what you wish for”, in these days of “Yeah, but….”, in these days of, as Anne Lamott succinctly put it, “…compar(ing) our insides to other people’s outsides”, in these days of internet fame and viral prodigies, in these days of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), in these days of wondering, “Will I ever be a successful artist?”, without ever stopping to think of what “success” means to YOU….

Take a minute to give thanks.

To count your blessings.

To feel the full joy of having a voice in the world.

And the unexpected delight of having someone else hearing your song.

Now…go to your studio and make stuff.

 

*David and the Phoenix (Illustrated) by Edward Ormondroyd, if you want to know, and it’s been reprinted since then.

(OH,  and you can see my Etsy shop here.)

 

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LESSONS FROM THE FIRE: “Safe” Is Relative

This weekend’s post for Fine Art Views, a free art marketing newsletter from Fine Art Studios Online

We are never truly safe. And that’s OK. 

It’s been exactly one week since Jon woke me, telling me we might have to evacuate from the now-infamous Santa Rosa Fire.

More manpower and resources, and less wind, have helped to contain the fires. Last night, we finally left our home, together, for a drive to the coast, taking the dogs but leaving the cats (they do not enjoy car rides) for the first time since that horrifying day.

It was restorative, in so many ways: Watching the waves peacefully roll in (unusual for the Pacific Ocean!) Poking around for pretty pebbles. (I find foraging extremely soothing. Hence the thrift shopping skills…) Stopping for a beer at a local pub in Bodega on the way home. (The Casino is an unpretentious, funky little bar and grill that serves some of the best food in the county. Check them out, here! ) To our astonishment, our dinners were free. A gift to our community, the waitperson said. We were only asked to consider donating money to the fire victims aid fund, which we did with gratitude.

Then, just before we got home, we saw it: More flames atop the ridge east of town.

Although this new fire is somewhat managed, with the aforesaid manpower and resources now available, it was a sobering thought: This isn’t over. And for thousands of people, who are now homeless, or out of work, for businesses destroyed, this won’t be over for a long time. That’s when it hit us….

We are never truly “safe”. 

Home again, we toyed with the idea of where we might relocate to that’s perfectly safe. Someplace without wildfires? That would eliminate the entire west coast. Someplace with no earthquakes? Hmmmm…. Someplace with no hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, floods, ice storms, blizzards??

We soon realized the futility of focusing on being “safe”.

There is actually a house in our neighborhood in Keene, NH that was a strange anomaly. It was totally made with concrete, slightly reminiscent of Brutalist architecture. A couple had built it and lived there, the story was, who were extremely paranoid about fire. So they build a house that was completely fire-proof, and felt completely safe.

They died in the Cocoanut Grove Fire in Boston, in 1942.

This sobering story is not meant to inflate your fears and misgivings. The thing is, we all walk on thin ice, every single day.  We just don’t know it! Every day, we may get that phone call, that evacuation notice, we may hear the shrill wail of dozens of sirens, or see the very flames that will drive us from our shelter.

But we can’t live like that.

In the middle of all this, I sent an email to someone at the wrong address. Three other people saw it, as they passed it on and on to the next person, before it got to the recipient. I was pretty embarrassed, and wished I’d been more careful….

Until I saw these words in one person’s signature line:

“If only this, then music. If only now, forever takes wing.” * 

In the middle of this conflagration, in the middle of our anxious days, this destruction, a stupid mistake on my part let something heartbreakingly beautiful cross my path.

For me, I hear, “This moment is enough. This experience will stay with me forever, if I chose to see its beauty, and if I hold it in my heart. All we ever have is “now”. Be here for it!”

(You, of course, may hear something different. That’s poetry.)

I’m not to saying, “Don’t worry so much” because that’s not helpful, or even possible. When I wrote last week about finding a tiny space of peace in the midst of chaos, I didn’t mean to imply I wouldn’t be devastated if we actually had lost our home, or my studio. (I keep telling people, I am not the Buddha.)

I just realized that worrying about it was useless, draining, unproductive. It’s just my buzzy lizard brain screaming, “DO SOMETHING! FIX THIS! FIGURE IT OUT!!!”

Our brains are hard-wired to solve problems. We instinctively try to find perfect, permanent solutions to whatever we face in life. Our brain spins and buzzes, trying to do the impossible.

When we recognize that, perhaps we can make different choices. My choice? I went to my studio, and found some peace.

Art and creativity, in all its forms, restores us to our higher selves. 

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I felt restored to my higher self in my studio.

 

If we are granted even a few moments of peace, a sparkle of joy, a ray of hope, it can inspire quiet grace. If we breathe deep, let go of the notion we can control every aspect of our lives, we can be open to those precious moments, those tiny gifts that help us go on.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his book, The Gulag Archipelago, shown a light on people who refused to give up their humanity under horrible conditions, thus giving us all a ray of hope. Solzhenitsyn chose survival. Did that make him less-than? No! Because his choice gave him the chance to share these acts with us. Through his creative work, his voice helped us hear those other voices, which otherwise would have been lost.

Moments of courage and kindnesses, great and small, are found in the ashes of concentration camps. Stories of crucial forgiveness (not excusing, but letting go) allowed for the restoration of Rwanda. In the middle of a firestorm, someone gave a ride to others fleeing the fire. Someone opened their home to those who had lost theirs. In the aftermath, a local pub fed its guests, and even the waiters put their tips into the donation bucket.

Tiny, magnificent acts of grace, and compassion, and courage.

I don’t know if I would have the courage to enter a burning building, or the compassion to give up my bit of food to another, or to let go of anger when someone else deliberately harms me.

But I am grateful for those who do, for those who give me the knowledge that our human history is full of moments like these.

They give me hope. They make me want to be better.

Making my art, and sharing my words, is a tiny way for me to restore me to myself. And in the process, maybe I can give hope and encouragement to others.

The message is loud and clear: Our creative work, the work of our heart, matters. Our art heals ourselves, gets us to our best place in the world. In our ART, we are safe.

And when we share that with the world, it can save and heal others, too.

If you can, go to your studio/kitchen/garden/shop/dance floor today. If not today, then soon. Be fearless with your art. Then share it with the world. Give a little courage, and hope, and solace, today. We need it, desperately.

*Thanks to Cynthi Stefenoni, she graciously gave permission for me to share her words, part of a poem she’s written. (Yes, I’ve been twisting her arm to publish the entire work!)

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More horses, please. And bears!

FIRE SEASON

UPDATE: I originally wrote this on Monday, October 9. The most damage to Santa Rosa took place earlier that morning. Five days later, the situation is beginning to look better. More people, more resources, and better weather have resulted in 45% containment of the Tubbs Fire. There are new fires further east and south, and we’re not out of the wood yet. But things are looking brighter!

You can read this article at today’s today’s Fine Art Views, or read it here:

by Luann Udell on 10/14/2017 5:01:35 AM
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.

All you need is a good emergency to put everything in perspective.

My husband woke me this morning with words I hope you never need to hear:

“Luann, you have to get up. There’s a major wildfire in Santa Rosa, and we may have to evacuate.” 

I’m strangely calm, even as I write this. (Six hours later and it looks like the fire, though it’s already burned thousands of homes and buildings, and 30,000 acres, may bypass our neighborhood. Maybe.)

 

On the east coast, a sky like this means a bad storm. On the west coast, it means a wildfire.

 It’s not because I’m brave, or don’t think it could happen to me. We’ve had our share of terrifying phone calls. Some come in the dark of night. Some come in the bright noonday sun, and yet feel just as horrifying. The one where a hospital calls to tell you there was a car crash… The one from a loved one, telling you they can’t go on….and you are a thousand miles away.

 Why is it that this fire does not rock my soul to its core?

Because evacuation means you’ll have time to get away. You can’t outrun a hurricane, you have no notice with an earthquake. But with luck, we’ll have 30 minutes to get out, and a place to go when we do.  (Afternote: OTOH, once an earthquake or hurrican is over, it’s over. A wildfire just goes on and on and on….!!)

We’re the lucky ones. No knock at the door in the night, with a police officer informing us we have three minutes. Three minutes. Three minutes to pack up your life, and GO. I know of at least one fellow artist on the open studio tour who has lost their home, and their studio. But they are also safe.

No, we’re watching the fire’s progress online, receiving tweets and Facebook posts with emergency updates. We have time to act.

 That means the only thing we’ll lose is the house we live in, my studio, my art, our possessions.

It means we ourselves will be okay, and so will all the critters in our care.

I scrambled awake, and dragged out our cat carriers. Packed up medications, passwords, snagging our “carry case” with important vital documents. I try to keep the car full of gas, so no worries there. I pack a bag with a change of clothes, pet food, a jacket. My wedding ring and one or two pieces of my handmade jewelry.

My current favorite horse, and my wedding ring.​

We’re ready to go. Now all we can do is wait.

There is a simplicity that settles in times like these. There is no way you can take much of anything, no matter how big your car is. It’s impossible to assign “value” to anything in sight. Most people say they mourn lost photographs. Others take precious family heirlooms. Not me. I know it can all be replaced.

I know from selling almost ¾ of our possessions, and leaving our beautiful house in New Hampshire to come west, that most of it will be forgotten, frighteningly quick. Only the photos of what we had bring sadness, and so I try not to look at them anymore.

In the end, all we have is love. The love for those people we cherish. The animal companions who give us unconditional love, and yet depend on us for their well-being and safety. These are the only “possessions” that cannot be replaced.

And so my preparations for the single biggest income-producing art event are shuffled aside, my desire to clean the house, or even my studio, set on a shelf. Oh, I may go down to my studio to WORK today. I can’t think of anything more calming, and satisfying, than to make the work of my heart.

I can’t help thinking how lucky we are.

If we were to lose “everything” (and of course, by now you know there are various definitions for that word), we would have had three beautiful, amazing, wondrous years here in California.

Last night, we took an evening drive through the very neighborhoods that are now burned right to the ground. We were looking for deer, something we simply enjoy, and find restful and restorative.

As we drove by the multi-million dollar homes, beautifully landscaped, up and down the steep, heavily-wooded hills, gazing first to the next valley beyond on the left, and the city lights of Santa Rosa on the right, my husband said, “I love riding my bike up here! So beautiful, and such an interesting ride…” As I gazed at the extremely narrow, winding roads, the steep driveways, the lack of sidewalks, I thought to myself, “But not much fun in an emergency, I bet.” So sadly true.

I’m thinking as artists, we carry our possessions, our wealth, inside us. We carry the eye that sees what so many don’t—the unexpected beauty that’s often overlooked. We carry the skill to capture it, and share it with the world.

We carry the desire to come back to our practice, again and again, no matter how “successful” we are. We keep on making the work of our heart. We never put down the brush, the clay, the carving tool, the sewing needle. We never stop wanting to make stuff.

Today, I’m not worried about where my next sale will come from. I’m not worried about how many people read my article today.

I’m not even worried about what I might lose today: The work of decades, the collections of a lifetime.

 Today I am glad to be alive, to be with someone I love, who loves me. With a table full of cats asking gently, “Are you SURE it’s not dinnertime yet??” and dogs who faithfully challenge every passing bicycle and pedestrian, sure they are “helping” to keep us safe.

And tomorrow?

Whatever tomorrow brings, I will be there to enjoy the gifts that come with it. And then share it, with you. Because that’s my job.

Now you’ll have to excuse me. One of the cats (Noddy!) just discovered the bag of cat food I’ve packed up, and she’s sure it’s all for her.

THE NEWLYWED GAME

I’ve been away, but I’ve also been thinking.

Here’s my post for Fine Art Views, that appeared on November 17, 2016.

The Newlywed Game

by Luann Udell on 11/17/2016 10:04:07 AM

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.

 Yes, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks.

 Four years ago, we came to California after an exhausting year in New Hampshire. Both our adult children had been in extreme danger. Our mantra, when people asked, was, “Nobody died!”  And we meant it with all our heart.

Still, nobody wants to get that phone call at midnight, and two of them had definitely taken a toll. A friend suggested we take a vacation, just my partner and I. “We’re fine!” we insisted. The suggestion got stronger. And we listened.

 My husband was a long-distance employee of a West Coast company. Long story short, his job was disappearing soon. We decided to fly to Washington to see what could be salvaged there, and then drive down the Pacific Coast, then fly back from San Francisco.

 Turns out the job was a lost cause. So we started a thousand-mile journey subdued, anxious, not knowing what was going to happen next nor what we should do.

 The restorative power of the ocean, the wild landscape, the light, the winding roads, soon healed our souls. Unusual for us, we had nary a bicker nor a cross word. (We were nicknamed “the Bickersons” early on in our nearly-forty-year relationship, and we try to live up to it every day.)

And on that trip, we fell so deeply in love with Northern California, six months later, we decided to move there.

 We put our home up for sale, and sold or donated almost 75% of our possessions (we had a full attic, a mudroom, a basement, a garage, and a two-story barn, and we I had filled them all.) We filled a shipping container with the rest (which went into storage), packed a car with everything we needed for a two-week trip (including our two big dogs) and started our last New Hampshire-to-California drive across country.

 Jon was losing his job any minute. We had no place to live. We had no agenda or plan, just to stop and see friends and family members along the way. We were leaving behind a life of 27 years, good friends, good times, good memories.

 It was exciting, and daunting at the same time. It was hard for some of our friends to cope. What were we doing?? Were we crazy??  How could we leave all this behind? And for what?? Earthquakes, sky-high housing prices, you name it, California was full of it.

 We told a friend’s mother, who was widowed, our “plan”. And she said the words that beautifully framed our biggest, latest life adventure:

 With a deep, happy sigh, she said, “Just like newlyweds….!!

 Those simple, wistful, yet powerful words set the tone for us, for our journey, and for the years ahead.

 How many times in life do we deliberately take a leap into the unknown? For most people (especially me!) we don’t. The older we get, the harder those choices become. Better to rely on the tried-and-true. Play it safe. Don’t rock the boat. Hunker down, and weather out the storm.

 And yet…..

 All ships are safe in harbor. But that’s not what ships are for.

 Coincidentally, we are also on another California trip, heading south to explore new places, fresh vistas. Simply a vacation, but again, with no agenda, no schedule. All we ask is for it to be another metaphor for the work that lies ahead.

 After the disappointing end to a scurrilous year, wondering what will survive of all the gains we’ve made in this country, we are all taking another leap into the great unknown. There is strange new territory ahead, one that looks formless and raunchy, full of hate bubbling over into hateful actions. Countless people are fearful because their gender, their skin color, their religion, is simply the wrong kind now.

 And yet…..

 Our role as artists is even more important than ever.

It may not feel like it. When times are hard, when people are afraid, they often hunker down. And art is not usually the kind of purchase they make when they don’t know what fresh hell is coming.

 Now it is even more important to create the work of our hearts.

 It’s even more important to help others see the true beauty of this world.

 It’s up to us to share our vision of what is light-filled, color-full, thought-provoking, and soul-deepening.

 When the towers fell in 9/11, I went to my studio in despair, sure the world had changed forever into a dark and dreary place.

 But instead, I found inspiration from the very cave that inspired me to pursue my own creative journey. The cave of Lascaux also dates to a time of great upheaval and frightening change. Those people saw their entire way of life in flux.

 Their choice, their powerful choice, was to send a message, a message we cannot ‘read’ as it was not addressed to us. They filled the cave walls with hauntingly beautiful images of running horses, leaping deer, agile aurochs—images that still create profound echoes in our modern hearts.

 Today, you and I start a new journey, too.

 Your art can heal the world.

You can do thia by sharing what is in YOUR heart, so your work will speak to the hearts of others. The act of making art is restorative. Share that with others, so that they can be restored to themselves, too.

 Stand with those who are given no place in the world. Speak up for those whose voices are not heard. Make room for those who are different than you. Support those who cannot stand alone. Feed those who are hungry. Hold the hands of those who are afraid. Sing. Write. Dance. Paint.

 However you bring joy into the world, do it now.

 Let them know the true role of the shaman/artist in the world….

 Teacher. Healer. Creator.

GETTING TO YOUR HAPPY (CREATIVE) PLACE

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.

 Good, constructive criticism is always a good thing. But we should also consider the source, and seek out our best people for triangulation.
I opened my journal today, and found an entry from a week ago.
It started, “I feel so….dead today…”  I went on to list all the things that were not going well, and how powerless I felt to change that. I had ‘failed’ at a workshop. I recalled cruel words about my work from a ‘friend’ years ago. My foot hurt. (I can really pile it on when I’m low!)
What did I write today? “And a week later, I am on fire with new ideas and designs!”
What happened in between??
To be truthful, not much. A change in the weather. A change of scenery. Meeting up with a good friend here and there. A good night’s sleep. Time. A glass of wine (or three!)
In short, everything that felt daunting and dreary a handful of days ago, has melted away, leaving new energy and enthusiasm in its wake.
We artists and creative people can easily fall prey to these passing mindsets. In order to create something new, we have to be open to the beauty in front of us, open and receptive to everything life throws at us.
Of course, that also means we sometimes forget to shut that door. We may leave ourselves open to a hostile remark, or the destructive narcissism of another person. The toxicity of the news can drain us. We may be heavily influenced by a powerful book or movie. We may care too much when someone is critical of our work, or our efforts, or our actions. Even something as simple as an idea that didn’t pan out, a painting that didn’t quite work the way we wanted, a design that wasn’t as exciting as we’d hope, can cause us to temporarily doubt our abilities and talents.
This was doubly proven to me today. A friend back East reached out to me recently. I held off getting back to them until I had ‘more time’ later today.
Then something caught my attention, something that made me realize I should call themnow. I followed that impulse, and remembered something powerful:
There are people in our lives who, when we stumble, will remember who we are. When we forget, they will hold us up until we can remember for ourselves again. 
After we talked, my friend exclaimed, “I feel so much better now! I’m so glad we talked!” I had to remind them I merely was repeating insights she had shared with me three years ago!
She held me up then. It was my turn to hold her up, now.
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I have to admit, simply HOLDING something I’ve created is often enough to reconnect me.

Journaling serves this purpose for me, especially when I’m in a hard place. It’s a way to get the buzzy voice out of my head, and down on paper, where it’s easier to test my assumptions. Are things really that bad? Is the situation permanent? Is it something I can fix, or something I can simply let go for now? Is there someone who can offer me another point of view? Or someone I can ‘triangulate’ with, someone who will confirm my perception, yet (or ‘and so’) offer me guidance?

Of course, some art, great art, is created because of the very hard places we find ourselves in. Picasso’s Guernica is an obvious example.
Yet a more subtle example is Lawrence Weschler’s essay, “Vermeer in Bosnia” (in his book by the same name).
During the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal years ago, Weschler spoke with a jurist who had to listen to horrific testimony for weeks on end. The jurist mentioned that he found peace and comfort in the Mauritshuis museum, with its collection of Vermeer paintings.
The final irony is, Vermeer’s intimate glimpses of quiet domesticity were actually created during a time of similar horror and violence. “Only Lawrence Weschler could reveal the connections between the twentieth century’s Yugoslav wars and the equally violent Holland in which Vermeer created his luminously serene paintings….
An artist creates a place for quiet contemplation, during a time of intense war and destruction, which, centuries later, creates another respite in an equally heinous period in our modern times.
Friendship. Journaling. Rest. A walk, or a drive in the country. A faithful dog or sleeping cat. A loaf of bread, a jug of wine (or three!)….
What restores you to your happy, creative frame of mind?

DO THE RIGHT THING

No good deed goes unpunished. Do the right thing anyway.

If you are a decent person in the world, you want to do the right thing.

You want to be generous. You want to be helpful. You want to share what you’ve learned.

I love that line from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, when Gene Wilder/Willy Wonka says, “So shines a good deed in a wear world…”*

It sends a shiver down my spine even thinking of it. Acts of kindness, compassion, courage all make the world a better place.

I believe my artwork, and my writing, is a way to be that good deed. I share what I’ve learned, I share my stumblings and muddling, I try to be my authentic self. I do it so people can see (if they choose)  they have something to offer the world, too. Sharing our creative work is essential, and healing, and powerful.

Before you rush to “help”, though, consider these thoughts:

Ask the turtle. Don’t assume you know what is needed. Find out. Our assumptions get in the way. People who don’t know what they don’t know, and who don’t want to find out, just make things worse.

Don’t judge. I remember being told, “Don’t give money to street people, they’ll only spend it on booze and drugs!” So I didn’t. Until I learned that living on the streets is hard, and frightening, and dark. Someone who knew better said, “If they turns to drink or drugs to comfort themselves, who are you to judge?” A recent article on a homeless-outreach group suggests we lie down on the sidewalk before we judge. “How vulnerable do your feel, with your head on the concrete, exposed and unprotected? Scary, right? That’s how these people feel every single day.” Research now shows that creating safe havens and housing for the homeless is critical to helping them get the services they need–because being on the street is so traumatic, not much can be done until they have a place to call home.  Only then can they begin to heal.

Don’t feed the vampires. In our rush to help, we may encounter vampires, in the most surprising places. Vampires are people who feed on the attention and emotions of others. Sometimes they are simply needy and desperate. Often they already have so much, but it’s never enough. Recognize the black holes in the world. The people who will take and take and take, who feel you/the rest of the world, owe them.

Don’t do it for the thank-you.  We’ve all had the experience of taking on a tough project, contributing, volunteering, often unpaid, as a way of giving back to our community. Inevitably, there’s the jerk who is quick to let you know you’re doing it wrong. They are negative and critical. They are the ultimate back seat, constantly telling the driver where to go. My husband’s comment is, “No good deed goes unpunished!” The response I always stifle is, “I think the word you’re looking for is “thank you”….”

In this TV episode of Supernatural , (a guilty pleasure of mine. Remember the “don’t judge” thing!) Bobby the boogieman hunter is dying. He has to revisit his worst memory, a scene from his horrific childhood, the day he killed his abusive, violent father to save his mother. It’s his original story, his core story, the reason he chose to spend his life fighting evil in the world.

It’s also where he learns for the first time that the people you save will not thank you:

You did what you had to do. This is where you learn that… they pretty much never say thanks when you save ’em.

There are reasons for this, but I’m not getting into that today. My point is this:

Don’t expect gratitude. Don’t do it for the thank-you.

Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.

*”How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.”

–William Shakespeare (The Merchant of Venice)

HOW TO MAKE WATER

Artists urge us to see the invisible, unnoticed beauty, and the important stuff of life.

I didn’t intend to write today.

I opened my journal, intending to try a new journaling technique I just read about. In flipping to the next blank page, I came across a note I’d written a few weeks ago. All it said was David Foster Wallace: This is Water

That’s it. Curious, and always open to an opportunity to procrastinate, I Googled it.

It’s about everything I’ve ever written about.

Of course, my lizard brain went, “Dang! Nothin’ left for me to write.” The angels of my better nature said, “Shut up and write. And then share it.”

Foster tells the story of two young fish passing by an old fish. The old fish says, “Mornin’, boys, how’s the water?” The younger fish continue on, til one turns to the other and says, “What the hell is water??”

Foster talks about a basic fact of life: We are the center of our own universe. After all, he notes, everything that happens everywhere is filtered through our eyes, our experience. He describes a typical experience: Grocery shopping after work. He outlines every single nuance of frustration and exasperation involved, from getting caught in traffic, shopping crowded aisles filled with slow people and whining kids, and ending up in the longest line at checkout. Who are these annoying, terrible people, and why are they ruining my day??!!

This isn’t bad, or evil, he reassures us. It’s natural. It’s ordinary. It’s human. It’s our default setting.

And yet….

We have something unique in us. We get to consciously choose what has meaning, and what doesn’t.

We all worship something, something not necessarily god-like. This, too, can bite us back. If we worship money and things, we will never feel like we have enough. If we worship our bodies and sexual appeal, we will always feel ugly. If we worship power and control, we will always feel afraid. If we worship our intellect, we will always feel stupid.

Real freedom, he says, comes from conscious choice. It involves attention. Awareness. Self-discipline. Effort. Caring for, and sacrificing for others.

That awareness comes from seeing what is real and essential, hidden in plain sight.

“This is water.”

I instantly realized, this is what artists are for.

When I say to you, “Yes, making money from art is nice. But that’s not the whole reason we do it.”

When I say, “When we have a creative gift, it’s our responsibility to bring it forth.”

When I say, “We can’t judge the work we do. We just need to get it out there in the world.”

When I was told, “The world needs your art”, I felt ‘the call’.

When I say, “Art is more than just what it does for you. It’s what it does for others.”

All of this, and more….What I’m really saying is this:

Art and creative work helps us see water.

This is why we must make the work that is unique to us–not what’s trendy and fashionable.

This is why measuring ourselves with fame and wealth is a sure way to kill our creative spirit.

This is why trying to control our legacy creates a disconnect with our rich inner life.

Bringing our creative work into the world involves the same conscious decisions: Attention. Awareness. Self-discipline. Effort. Caring for others. Sacrificing for others. (I’m still wrapping my head around that last one, I can almost get it, but can’t articulate it. Another article??)

First art heals us. When we share it with the world, then it can heal others.

Sadly, Wallace suffered from severe depression, and committed suicide in 2008. Sometimes the angry, frightened voices in our head cannot be silenced. But he left us with beautiful words, and powerful ideas.  He got them out into the world so that you and I can flourish.

He helped us see water.