There are people in the world who want to take you down. Don’t let them.
As the holiday season swirls around us, I find myself in alternating waves of joy and despair, lifted by appreciative hosts and customers, and devastated by the casual cruelty of my fellow makers.
Two incidents to illustrate:
I did a small maker show for a prestigious organization that unfortunately was not well attended. That was fine, it happens.
Another maker circled my set-up, someone I’ve encountered before. The pattern goes like this: They let me know they know my work and my writing, and are somewhat flattering. They approach with accolades, which soon turn into “Can you help me with x?” (which I am a sucker for, because I love helping people move forward with their dreams). This quickly declines into push-back (“Let me show you how I am more successful than you!”) on their part.
I see this from time to time, and I know it’s time to simply retreat with no engagement. But then there was the sucker punch.
The person approached me again at the very end of the event, and said, “Do you own a dog?”
I laughed and replied, “Why, yes, I do! How could you tell? Do I have dog hair on my clothes?”
They said, “You smell like dog pee.”
Uh. Oh. Stunned silence on my part.
They continued, “I have a very sensitive nose.”
I stammered a reply, noting that one visitor had brought anxious dogs to the event, and perhaps that is what they smelled. But I know exactly what was going on. (Put a pin here. Next incident!)
Second incident: Someone on social media found a series of articles my blog about display and marketing advice for artists, and shared it with a group. There were many responses from people who appreciated what I’d written, and how helpful they’d found it. I thanked everyone for their kind comments. Until I got the last one:
“Too bad she doesn’t have any photos on her blog.”
Let’s set aside the obvious: When I wrote that series over a decade ago, digital photos were a lot harder to take, almost impossible to edit, and tricky to upload. In fact, the original host site didn’t even have the ability to host images.
A book I quoted in the series, WHY WE BUY by Paco Underhill, featuring the best research on what physically/mentally keeps people from buying had no illustrations.
And most of the issues involved in “turning people off” while shopping are not easily discernible in photos. They are deeply-rooted, near-instinctive reactions, common to all humans. They were only discovered by actively observing customer behaviors in situ, and then going back to examine the environment.
But my biggest irk?
Why would you complain or criticize a resource that’s valuable–and FREE?
My favorite quip when someone argues with my articles is, “I will happily refund every penny you paid for it.”
So what’s going on here? It’s the nibblers again.
It is a short, simple, compassionate account of why some people seek to tear us down by “nibbling” away at our self-esteem. It is a powerful, restorative work that helped me heal from the tiny slashes and gashes some people inflict on others. I urge you to find a copy. It will take you no more than an hour or two to read. And then share it with someone else who needs its wisdom!
Even though these small yet thoughtless attacks hurt, once you understand where they come from, it’s easier to let go.
It also helps to find the good, the funny, the helpful. I told one person about the dog pee remark. She picked up a rolling pin and said, “I would have told her she had a 5-second headstart before I responded in kind.” (“Kind” being ironic.) I would never even try that, but it made me last.
Another person suggested, “Let me tell you where you can put your ‘sensitive nose’!”
What I wish I’d said? “I wish you had a sensitive heart.”
Another person, a store owner highly respected in our city, a staunch supporter of artists and their work, who has amazing employees who work hard to connect my work with collectors, shared their own slightly toxic encounter that week. Which also helped, because….
It made me recall the blessings of that show.
I told the store owner how their name had come up multiple times in my conversations with the other makers. (The fun part of a slow show: You get to yak!) Everyone….everyone…sang his praises, and I told him that. “You are highly-respected and loved in our art community, your store is beautiful, our work is well-represented, and your employees are amazing! You are doing it right!”
I recalled the vendor who shared a simple yet effective display idea that would work well for these small, intimate events. I remembered I thought up a way to engage a larger, younger audience for these events by coordinating an integrated social media campaign with other artists, other venues/galleries/stores, and other art organizations. I pitched another art garage sale proposal, which the other vendors loved. I chatted with employees with the organization that sponsored the event, and learned more about their own creative work, and their own hopes and dreams for their art. We had a delightful conversation about our favorite foods from Trader Joe’s, and I bought some fun holiday gifts from the other vendors.
So, laughter, support, comraderie, and future projects. All good stuff!
And I remembered that the one slightly-disgruntled comment on my lack of blog images was preceded by a chorus of gratitude and appreciation from other makers.
So when you encounter nibblers, go for the light. As Michele Obama said, “When they go low, we go high.” Turn the negative into something positive, and shiny. Be a force for good in the universe.
And my final chuckle?
That evening, I went to bed and woke up one of our dogs who was deeply, deeply asleep on our bed. So deeply asleep that when I roused him and asked him if he had to go outside to pee, he obliged by urinating on our bed.
So there I was at 11p.m., stripping and remaking the bed, spraying odor-eater on bedding, and doing laundry.
And chortling to Jon along the way, “So that remark wasn’t a slam, it was a prophecy!”
P.S. You can find the forementioned series on booth design here (free!), and you can also purchase the eBook here (a paltry $5, and no, I will not refund your money if you don’t like it. Be forewarned!
P.P.S. In creating links to resources here, I discovered there is a new, updated version of Why We Buy, to include internet sales and such. I just book a copy! That’s the version I linked to above, too.
If you choose to GO ALONG in order to GET ALONG, only do it long enough to GET AWAY.
I wanted this post to be something happy and bright for the holiday season. But other stuff is in my head, and so you get something a little more sobering today.
Some interesting choices are in my path for 2017.
I’m not here today to talk about them, not yet. But it’s interesting to contemplate the insights and “aha!” moments I’m holding as a result of those choices.
The exploding doormat. People are surprised when I finally blow up at somebody. But it never comes out of “nowhere”. When I first heard the phrase, The Exploding Doormat, I felt like the veil had been lifted from my face.
I still struggle mightily with setting boundaries. But when I do, and it works, it is amazing.
Setting boundaries carries its own hard places, like being accused of being “selfish” and “uncaring” and “a sorry excuse for a human being.” But that’s still a heckuva lot better than trying to scrub shoe prints off my face.
Sitting with uncertainty until clarity presents herself. I first heard this phrase from an incredible woman with deep life wisdom, Sheri Gaynor. It was profound. Sheri and I crossed paths this year, and our journey was filled with insight and miracles. She has since returned to her beloved Colorado, but I have a feeling our paths will cross again someday.
I’ve noticed that when I decide something has to happen, I waste an inordinate amount of worry, and pushing, and hammering square pegs into round holes–which only exhausts me, frustrates me, and ruins the pegs. This simple phrase reminds me that when I let go, many things fall into place–or don’t, but for very good reasons. It may sound New Age and karma-laden, and the pragmatic side of me complains–but it’s true.
I do believe that you can’t just sit still let the universe barge in through your front door, because that rarely happens.
But taking one small step outside your comfort zone–taking a class with a friend, going on vacation, being open to possibility, taking a little chance on some small thing–this is often just enough for something new to cross your path.
Protection through rejection. So many times, the things we desperately want, and don’t get….well, it often turns out to be a good thing. When we look back, we see we narrowly missed walking into a quagmire beyond belief.
Note: This isn’t a reason not to “go” for things. Being afraid to try something new is stifling. But it can help me get on track with “the next thing”, instead of living in the past, and wailing about it. (Some people might say, “Not so much…” but pooh on you. I am getting better.) (A little better.) (Sometimes.)
Going along to get along. (See also: Exploding Doormat) Trained from my infancy to “be nice” and “get along”, I am still addicted to this behavior. And it’s led me down some downright scary paths. I’m getting a little better at this, too. But I will always, always, have to actively think about not doing this. My new mantra is, “Go along to get along, until I can get away.” It’s working.
Suffice to say, this year has been baffling and puzzling, with strange, frightening behaviors in some people who I thought were friends, a lot of pompous posturings from same, many micro-aggressions. (One tip: If someone gets upset and starts making pointed and repeated remarks about “rape” in your presence, that person is no friend of mine. Or yours.)
The last insight has many permutations. This ain’t your first rodeo, you don’t have to be the clown. (Thank you, Melinda LaBarge!) You don’t have to do stupid stuff to be part of the group.) Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys. You don’t have to take on other people’s issues if you don’t want to. And someday, take half an hour to read The Nibble Theory by Kaleel Jamison. You won’t regret it. (Explains why some people behave the way they do, in simple, beautiful, enlightening prose.)
And my absolute favorite, from Dr. Maya Angelou::
When people SHOW you who they are, believe them.
It is astonishing how much bad behavior we accept from others, and the incredible stories we make up to explain it away.
Don’t do it anymore. You are just prolonging the agony. Every single time we look back on our interactions with toxic people, we realized we had willingly overlooked all the ‘tells’.
We’re getting better at this, too.
I really do hope your holidays are filled with love and joy and family and friends. But remember, sometimes you just have to add a lot more rum to that eggnog.
Sometimes, when praise is due, we nibble instead. DON’T!!!
Years ago, a tiny little book, full of cartoons, written by a woman most of us have never heard of, changed my life.
The book is called The Nibble Theory and the Kernel of Power: A Book About Leadership, Self-Empowerment, and Personal Growth and you can read my first blog post about it, THE NIBBLE THEORY, A Big Little Book. (Actually, I’ll post links to ALL my blog posts about this amazing little book.)
Short version is (yeah, let’s see if Luann can do a short version….ha ha!), we are all circles, big and little. But ‘little’ doesn’t mean ‘less’, and ‘big’ doesn’t always mean ‘better’. Sometimes little circles are in the middle of astonishing growth. And sometimes circles, big and little, when intimidated by another circle whose potential is astonishing, will ‘nibble’ that other circle down to size. Take little bites out of it, so that circle will be smaller and less intimidating.
If you’ve ever received a back-handed compliment, a small put-down (or a major slap-down), anything that makes you feel embarrassed, diminished, less-than….you, my friend, have been nibbled.
We’ve experienced it, and it’s awful.
What’s even worse? When we find ourselves doing it.
A year or so ago, I discovered an Etsy shop called Loveroot. I fell in love with Nikki Zehler’s work, her wonderful designs, the extremely competent use of color, the eclectic nature of her materials. I bought several items from her shop. They were just as wonderful in person.
At some point, she messaged me, saying something to the effect of, “OMG, you’re THE Luann Udell, I’m so honored you like my work!”
And I took my first nibble.
I told her one reason I felt so connected to her work was that it looked like what I might have made, if I hadn’t taken the path of making my own artifacts.
I felt uneasy, even as I wrote that. I wasn’t sure why. (I do now.) But worse, I did it again.
A few months ago, polymer artist/writer/teacher/curator Cynthia Tinapple featured Nikki’s work on her site.
And in the comment section, I thanked Cynthia for ‘helping’ Nikki get her work out there.
Do you see them? My nibbles?
First I implied, “I could do what you do, if I wanted to.” (For the record–I COULD NOT.)
I implied I was ‘better’, because I make my own artifacts. (For the record–SO DOES SHE. And when she does use components made by other very talented artists, she fully acknowledges them. She mixes it up, and makes what she needs when she can’t find it–like me.)
Then I implied that this talented artist needs the help of others to be successful with her art. (The only help a talented artist needs, is for people to buy the work and spread the word.)
Yes, I meant well. (But let’s be honest here–I envy this woman her talent.)
Yes, it’s human nature to be envious. (But we can choose not to act on it. And I did.)
Yes, we are all inspired by the beautiful work of others. (But we can simply acknowledge it, too. Not measure ourselves against it.)
Yes, we are all influenced by the work of others, the ones that are here now and the ones that have gone before us. (Prehistoric cave art. Can’t get much further away from our modern times, right?)
Bottom line: Sometimes when I am confronted by raw, wild, beautiful talent, I’m afraid. I’m afraid the world really is a finite pie, and if someone else gets a bigger piece, mine will be smaller.
And I myself have been badly nibbled by jealous professionals to understand how hurtful even the smallest bite can be.
And so, this Very Humble Apology, for what may be very tiny transgressions, but are still me not being the person I’d like to believe I am.
I want to be better. That means doing better.
So this is for Nikki. I am sorry I nibbled you. I will not do it again. And if I do, I’ll apologize, again.
Check out her beautiful work. Tell her I said hello.
She is a one-of-a-kind artist, and she has nowhere to go but up.
And she will get there on her own talent and story.
Links to my posts about THE NIBBLE THEORY:
A few days ago, I wrote about how people who are less than gracious about our creative efforts. I’ve learned that some relationships change when we begin our creative journey as an artist. I shared how some friends and family members will react badly–or not at all.
Today I want to talk about the other factor that changes:
You. (I can almost hear you…. “Wha-a-a…???”
Here’s a quick story to illustrate.
I start every day with a freshly brewed cup of coffee. I use the same coffee maker, the same filters, the same amount of coffee, and the same mug. (My favorite one!)
Yet every single time, something feels different. And this happens when I pour the finished coffee into my mug.
Some days, the pot feels light. “Dang!” I think as I pour. “I didn’t put enough water in!” Other days, the pot feels heavy. “Dang!” I think. “I won’t have enough room for cream!”
And yet every day the cup is filled to almost exactly the right level. Because I put almost exactly the same amount of water in each time.
The reality of the coffee hasn’t changed. What changes is my perception. Daily.
This morning I realized this is also a big piece of why creativity changes things.
If your creative efforts are new, or if you’ve made a major shift in what you do, you’ve changed, too. You’re on strange new ground. You may feel excited, anxious, happy, scared. You most probably feel open–and vulnerable. What people say suddenly matters–a lot. The things people do and say may carry more power, more impact on your psyche.
This is what spiritual, emotional growth does–it changes how we perceive what is going on around us. The same stuff is there, but now we’re reading it differently.
The person who was a little less supportive than you’d like? Well, that imbalance of who-does-what-for-whom has probably always been there. But now you see it’s falling short.
The person whose center of the universe is always themselves? That’s been there, too. Only now you actually see how quickly the topic changes from your new venture to theirs, or their kids’, or whatever.
The person who’s always been hyper-critical? Or worse, silent? Perhaps you didn’t notice it when you stood on more solid ground, or you were confident enough that it rolled off your back. But now it hurts.
YOU have changed. They haven’t.
Is this good or bad? Neither. Or rather, irrelevant in the long term.
You’ve taken a major growth step. It isn’t easy, not for any of us. Being open to growth, being willing to learn in any major life change, is an acquired skill. Some people learn early, some late. (Me? I’m kinda behind schedule. But I’m getting there.) Some are not nearly as far along on their journey as you are, and some are way ahead of you.
And yes, even other artists can be shadow artists. No matter how long they’ve been at it, no matter how excellent their work, no matter how well-known they are, some artists may not actually be very far along on their own spiritual/emotional path. These “big circles” may still try to take a few bites out of you. (For an excellent, quick, simple read on this phenomenon, grab yourself a copy of THE NIBBLE THEORY by Kaleel Jamison. It’s a little book worth its weight in gold. I still reread it!)
In the end, your job is to make your art and get it out into the world. Sometimes that’s easy, sometimes it’s hard.
But don’t make it harder by focusing on the drama these people will try to bring into your process. Focus on what you need to do, and how you need to grow, as an artist.
Don’t take the silence, the criticism, the lack of reciprocity alarm you or anger you too much. You’ll get over it, and you’ll get better at ignoring it. You can choose to forgive, you can choose to accept and move on, you can choose to set boundaries, or you can choose to hurt.
I’m still a little stuck at “hurt”. But those life travelers who are further along than I am keep reminding me that this is my journey.
And my time and energy are better spent concentrating on that, than on the direction of, or the lack of, “journeying” by others.
P.S. In the spirit full disclosure, me telling you to do this, helps me do it, too.