A HANDY GUIDE TO NIBBLERS: The Fifteen-Minute Read that Can Change Your Life.

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.

If my curve is large, why bend it to a smaller circle?

Henry David Thoreau

The Nibble Theory and the Kernel of Power will rock your world.

Years ago, I came across a remarkable book that changed my life for the better.

For the life of me, I can’t remember how I found out about it. But I give thanks every single day of my life that I did.

You’ve heard me mention it, and maybe some of you have already found your own copy. If not, head over to this amazing search tool and find an affordable copy. (Although even a brand new copy won’t set you back much, either.)

THE NIBBLE THEORY by Kaleel Jamison really is a 15-minute read. It even has pictures/cartoons, which beautifully illustrate the concepts she presents.

But although the concepts are simple, they are not easy, as Jamison herself says in the first page.

When I first started out with my artwork, combining different media wrapped around a powerful personal story, I was fearless. I had a late start in my art life, and I wasn’t going to let anything or anybody stand in my way. I slipped and slided over every bump in the road, moving forward with passion and joy. (Side note: How come it’s glide/glided and not slide/slided??)

Just like any other exciting new venture in life, the honeymoon period eventually comes to an end. That’s where the real work comes in.

And it’s also when the Nibblers showed up.

I’ve talked on end about Nibblers, the people who deem us “too much”: Too much free time, too much courage, too much to say, too much talent. They “nibble us down” by making us feel like “not enough”: Not enough skill, not enough credibility (“Pastels are just chalk!), not enough of anything.

My biggest insight came from a couple who were part of our inner social circle back in New Hampshire, wonderful, intelligent, supportive, loving folks. I told Ruth about the book, and a few years later, shared with her my frustration about the Attack of the Nibblers. (There was quite a swarm of them that year!)

She told her husband, a lawyer, that he should be gentle that night when we came over for dinner. “Luann’s had a lot of ‘nibbles’ lately”, she said.

That’s when Ted replied with the words that created another sea change in my life”:

“You tell Luann that lawyers do this to each other all the time!” he told her. “It’s called professional jealousy. It means she’s doing good work.” You can read more about professional jealousy in this series, Mean People Suck on my blog, or searching for “professional jealousy” for similar articles there.

This insight helped me get over the nay-sayers, the back-biters, the foot-trippers, the people who say I smell funny (WE ALL SMELL FUNNY), the folks with back-handed “compliments” that are actually swats, etc.

The major premise of the first half of The Nibble Theory is that we all start out as small people with a lot of personal growth ahead of us. That ‘personal growth’ is symbolized by a small circle. As we go through life, we have many opportunities to grow personally, emotionally, spiritually.  Sometimes we overlook these opportunities, but we will all encounter them on our journey. And we can’t judge someone else’s journey, because….well, because it’s their journey, not ours..

But along the way, we’re going to run into not only small circles who will be jealous of our journey, we may run into bigger circles who may be threatened by ours. They will “nibble us down to size” so we aren’t as scary or enviable.

This book helps us understand our own power is about our own personal growth. And it helps us “frame” the attacks of others who feel threatened, who feel “less than”, so we don’t take on their toxicity personally.

I’ve read this book many, many times over the years. From time to time (like now!) I even buy up additional copies, and give them away to friends and family who may benefit from reading the book.

But here’s an interesting twist in my own story:

I completely did not spend much time on the second half, devoted to “the kernel of power”.

And this is exactly what I need to be working on right now.

Oddly, in our little WAG group (Women Artists’ Group, my first artist support group here in California), we had a little exercise in January: We all picked a word to be “our word” for 2019.

And I picked “power”.

I had no idea why. I don’t want to be a superhero, I don’t want to boss people around (though my dear hubby might beg to differ), and I don’t want to be “in charge”. I was actually offered a chance to serve on a local art event group’s steering committee, and turned it down. (I prefer “ad hoc” participation, I told them.)

And yet, for some reason, the word “power” resonated.

Eventually, I found an article about a different kind of “power”, the kind that comes from being grounded (sounds vaguely electrical??) and getting clear about the path we are on, bringing our energy and efforts to focus on doing the best work we can, and using it as a force for good in the world.

And now I’m reading and rereading that last section of the THE NIBBLE THEORY more carefully.

The beauty of it is, it includes an exercise which strongly echoes my series where I talk about the structure of a powerful artist support group, THE FOUR QUESTIONS.

 Aha! The right kind of power! Now I know my mission for the rest of 2019.

Jamison knew first-hand the importance of finding our power. She was a first-generation Lebanese woman, born in the ‘30’s in West Virginia. She founded her own consulting company, and became a pioneer on issues of gender, race, affirmative action, and differences. She died way too soon, but her work lives on. And it has even more relevance for our contentious, fractured world today.

What the heck does this have to do with art?!

You already know that.

As artists, we, too, live in a time where, even with all the opportunities and ways to get our art out in the world, it can still be hard. Hard to discover what is unique about our work, and our story. Hard to figure out how to make our work stand out from the crowd. Hard to value our work and ourselves at a time where Nibblers seem to outnumber mosquitoes in the world.

And yet, every single one of us got here today from different times, different places, different circumstances, different education, different support systems, and with different media, different processes, different goals, different audiences, and different expectations. Her goal was not to be famous, or to make a lot of money. She simply wanted to make the world a better place, and put her special skills to work to achieve that.

What do we all have in common?

We all want to make the work that means something to us, something that is a product of our story. Our story is who we are in the world, and who we want to be.

And we want people to see us. Not just our work, but us. Who we are, what we do, how we do it, and why we do it.  (We want people to buy it, too, of course. And they will, if it resonates with them enough, and they can afford it.) (And if they have room for it!)

I believe we also all want people to value our work, to appreciate it.

We want our work to be “in the world”, and to mean something to others.

And like the Netflix special, “Nanette”, we can focus on Van Gogh’s work selling for $21 million dollars.

Or we can focus on the fact that Van Gogh’s work exists today because he had a brother who loved him.

As an eternal student of life, I strive to keep learning, to keep growing as a human being, to do the work of my heart, and to help others do the same. I want to have few regrets when I leave this world.

OH, and I also want to have the most beads, rocks, shells, and pets.

What is your inner truth? What does your work say, that you want the world to know? Not sure? Go buy the darn book!

P.S. As I republished this article on my blog, I realized the best example of what I espouse here. Kaleel Jamison died way too soon, but her work, her foundation, and powerful book are still with us today. Her words still bring solace, healing, and empowerment to people who need it to do their good work, and bring it into the world. She did it right!

EXPLODING DOORMAT

If you choose to GO ALONG in order to GET ALONG, only do it long enough to GET AWAY.

20150728_153323 (576x1024)
“Rat” in the comic strip Pearls Before Swine by Steven Pastis can be very nasty. But he has a place in the world. People don’t like it when we set boundaries. Too bad. We can’t all be the Buddha.

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NERVOUS NIBBLES and a Very Humble Apology

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.

I'm including this image from Nikki's site because I BOUGHT THESE!! Aren't they beautiful?
I’m including this image from Nikki’s site because I BOUGHT THESE!! Aren’t they beautiful?

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:

THE NIBBLE THEORY: A Big Little Book

WATER BALANCE

AMOK

MEAN PEOPLE SUCK #2a: Professional Jealousy Part Deux

MAYBE IT’S YOU: Staying Creatively Centered When Creativity Changes Things

MAYBE IT’S YOU: Staying Creatively Centered When Creativity Changes Things

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!)

Why do I love this mug? Big (16 oz.), beautiful aqua color, holds the heat, flat bottom that doesn't collect water in the dishwasher.
Why do I love this mug? Big (16 oz.), beautiful aqua color, holds the heat, flat bottom that doesn’t collect water in the dishwasher.

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.