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.

YES, YOU CAN CHANGE THE WORLD

In these crazy times, many of us are asking ourselves, “What can we do??”The answer: “Give of yourself, to others.” One person CAN make a difference.

I ran into a friend today. Our chat ran to some odd places (in a good way!) We talked about what various social issues, issues that need rethinking, reconsideration: Young people and higher education; homelessness; insight into race and racism; disadvantaged youth.

Quite a heavy load to contemplate on a beautiful sunny morning in Santa Rosa!

“I don’t know what to do,” my friend said. “I don’t know how to help.”

I shared some of my experiences as a volunteer. in hospice, and grief support; as a volunteer reader in my kids’ elementary classes; a visiting artist in a program for high school students who were struggling with emotional- and mental-health issues.

Soon he remembered something he’d done awhile back, offering support for a computer technology he has lots of skill in.  He shared a few things I often felt as a volunteer, things I know other volunteers have felt.

So, in no particular order, thoughts for how you can help the world be a better place for others.

Share a skill. Almost all of us have expertise in something. Find a group to share that with: Youngsters, students (high school, college), newbies in your field, seniors. It may be drawing, computer technology, writing, jewelry-making.

Share an interest. Do you like reading? Share a story with someone. Do you play an instrument? Start a small music group. Do you collect rocks? Share that passion. You don’t have to be an expert, you just have to be willing to encourage others’ interests.

Share your time. An hour or two a week, or even a month, spent in the company of an engaged adult, can mean the world to shut-ins, students, event organizers, museums, outreach groups.

Share your uniqueness.  Young people don’t need you to be awesomely expert or talented. It’s enough to show them what that looks like, to be someone employed in work they care about, who have hobbies and interests they enjoy. It may open a door, or a whole new world to them.

Here are things to be aware of:

It’s okay to volunteer for something you really like. For some reason, volunteering/sharing an interest or skill, can seem not worthy–because you’re having too much fun. It’s like we feel we have to give in a way that hurts. That doesn’t make sense, does it? Or as my wonderful, smartsy daughter always says, “Would you rather volunteer to do something you hate?!” Er….nope. But it’s weird to realize how guilty we feel if we enjoy our outreach. Lose the guilt. You’re doing it right.

It’s okay to share something small. So you volunteer to sit and listen to a second-grader read a book. You think, “I’m really not working very hard here….”  Well, you just freed up the classroom teacher to work with another kid. You lightened someone’s load. It’s enough.

It’s enough to simply be present. One of the hardest concept to wrap my head around in my hospice volunteer training was, we can’t fix things for our clients. But what we can be is…well, to be present. Many clients found it comforting to simply have another human being with them. Sometimes we talked, sometimes laughed. Sometimes we simply sit with them, and hold their hand. (And some didn’t want their hand held, but they still felt our presence, and were comforted.) And it wasn’t about being there when they died. In fact, the greatest gift for some was to give them the privacy they craved when their time came. It’s weird, but they let you know.

Give some money. You don’t need to donate millions of dollars, or thousands of dollars, or even a $100. Instead, give a homeless person a buck or two (or five), with no judgment about what they need to console themselves from their life on the street. Yesterday I read an article about helping the homeless. The volunteer said, “Try laying your head on the sidewalk. See how vulnerable you feel. Then have some compassion.” It’s hard to fix your life when you have nothing. If someone needs a beer, or a cigarette to numb the pain, I no longer feel competent to judge that.

Give a little something. If helping someone personally still feels awkward, donate a few bucks to your favorite charitable foundations.

If you can’t spare the money, or time, give something else. Shop at thrift stores that serve social causes: the homeless, the elderly, kids, hospice, people without healthcare.

Or donate your old books, clothing, equipment.

Pick up a few extra cans of soup when you shop for groceries, and donate them at the door. One meal is a lot, to that one person.

Some of our greatest social challenges in the years ahead will take big steps, huge effort, giant leaps in understanding, compassion, campaigning, commitment.

It will also take rethinking how we we view the problems.

In the meantime, small steps will get us somewhere, eventually, especially if millions of us make those steps.

Last, but not least, put yourself in the mindset of simply being kind.

You’ll see the difference not only in what you do, but what you feel. Others will feel it, too.

You’ll be glad you did.