The Story You Tell and the Power of Your Tribe

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.

 A month ago, my husband was cycling on a bike path, when he ran over a stick. It jammed in his derailleur and broke it. Fortunately, I was a phone call away and retrieved him (and the bike) quickly.
Yesterday, the exact same thing happened AGAIN. (He swears it was the same damn stick, but I don’t believe that.) Unfortunately, I am thousands of miles away, in Keene, NH. And he had to walk home, in his bike shoes.

Life has a lot of sticks just waiting to jam up our derailleur…er, life. And in the last month, we’ve run over a lot of them.

The already sky-high rent on our home here in Santa Rosa, CA was raised, eating up almost half our income. We now have two large dogs and three cats. The rental market here is as tight as it is expensive, and it will be impossible to find a landlord willing to rent to us. As former home-owners for 27 years, it’s embarrassing to find ourselves here. (We did find a place, a much smaller place. As soon as I get back to California, we have to pack up and move.  My art will be on hold for awhile. Again. But bookmark this, I’ll return to it later.)

My husband’s employer’s company has 3-4 months of funding left, and there will be no more in the pipeline. All sources have been exhausted. The tech industry does not readily employ people in their 60’s.  Jon’s best option is to strike out on his own. But this is an expensive place for our second reboot in three years, and it’s a little scary.

My art sales have slumped. (This is not unique to me, I know, and not entirely of my making, but there you go.)

One of our children is struggling here in Keene. It sounded urgent enough for me to book a flight out here, to see what I can do. It is cold here. Really, really cold. Like 10 degrees when I woke up, and more snow, with winds gusting to shove that snow right up my nose.

My daughter just announced she’s getting married this summer, in the middle of Tennessee (best spot for the solar eclipse).

And that wonderful shared studio space at that incredible artist enclave has disappeared. My friend and I have extremely different visions for how the space should work. To preserve the friendship, I told her I needed to step away. But it all blew up in my face. My friend is deeply hurt by my decision. With all the other setbacks on my plate, I can’t afford the oxygen to fix this, even if that were possible.

That’s one story.

But here is the other side of the story I chose to tell.

My old tribe here in Keene is holding me together in so many ways. They know who I am, they know what to do.

These trusted friends will hold my tender heart, and my huge artistic vision, in their gentle, loving hands, until I can take them up again.

Let’s go way back, to the beginning of my art career. I took a workshop from wise woman Deborah Kruger, on creating an artist support group.

The premise was, “Women can do it all. But not necessarily all at the same time.”

When life throws big effin’ sticks in our path—sickness, death, divorce, job loss, a big move—there is only so much we can handle. Sometimes the first thing that gets put on hold is the very thing that nourishes our heart and lightens our soul: Our art.

Good friends will hold that vision of you: Your goals, your process, your abilities, your path. When you are ready (even if you think you’re not), they will gently remind you who you are. And help restore you to yourself.

Now let’s look at the other story I choose to tell:

Gift #1 Though we have not built that precious network of friends here in CA, it’s in process. And a friendship of 20 years led to our next home. It will only be available to us for a few years. But that will give us the space to figure out where we go from here. They know we have pets, too. Yay!

Gift #2 The painfully broken friendship gave me clarity on a better way to be there for my child. I will not force him to take care of me during this difficult time, no matter how hard it is to listen sometimes. I need only be present, for now. If that hadn’t happened two days before I left, I would have blundered on as I have done in the past. It was a lesson that arrived just in time to be a better mother.

Gift #3 As I make time to meet up with these good friends, each one has an insight for me. I hear the exact words I need to make it through the day. As I bemoaned the fact that I’d fallen into another situation I should have recognized—again—a friend exclaimed, “I just LOVE my life lessons! I love them so much, I learn them all over again. And again. And again!” I laughed for the first time in days.

Gift #4 As I share such wonderful insights with the next friend I meet up with, it’s just what they need to hear, too!

Gift #5 We have already realized the rewards of our life reboot. Jon’s got his game back, reconnecting with old allies, and finding new ones. The work he’s doing is the work of his heart—collaborating with users to create the tools they need to make their own work easier. The projects are timely, extremely relevant, and deeply-rooted in bettering our culture.

As we consider our next steps–as our reboot is rebooting–Jon and I realize it will be easier this time. For example, we are only moving across town, and we can break it down into small loads. And the new neighborhood will have all the features we treasure in this one.

Gift #6 My art will go on hold again, though hopefully not for long. OTOH, if we should have to leave Sonoma County down the road, I’ll only have to walk away from a few years of audience-building here. Not three decades, like our first move!

Gift #7 My Keene tribe is still here!

Gift #8 I’m passing on the gifts! When I was living in Keene, I never thought of connecting my tribe members! (I know, I know—“DOH!!”) Two of my meet-ups organically overlapped yesterday, and two friends met each other for the first time. The synergy was astonishing. One had the exact information the other needed to take a step forward in a new career. The other recognized not only a new, rich resource in the first friend, but an ally. Both were validated anew to themselves as they recognized the same qualities in each other: Passion, integrity, professionalism, creativity, emotional maturity, and a wicked sense of humor.

I’m now working on getting all of these core people together, if not on this trip (though we’re trying!) then the next. In between, there’s Skype and Google Hangout. We’ll figure it out.

#9 And now I’ve shared this gift with you, faithful readers.

I’ve shared how sometimes, the seeds of a new beginning are buried in the deep past, and sometimes, even in the most recent hardship. The way to your next step is not carefully hidden in the great universe; it is often right under your nose. The words you need to hear are already sitting in the heart of someone who may cross your path—today.

And when the world feels like a hard and hopeless place, there may be someone standing next to you who will offer exactly what you need to get through it. Holding your dream, your beautiful vulnerable open heart, tenderly and lovingly, until you are ready to pick them up again.

Your bonus gift for subscribing today! Here are some of the wonderful words I’ve heard, in addition to the ones I’ve already shared. There will be more!

“Breath until you’re surprised.” This came up in a conversation about an ancient breathing/meditative practice that helps people heal from trauma, grief, and abuse faster. I sense there’s something deliciously deeper here that will reveal itself in time. It’s still sitting with me, and I love it.

“It’s only blood.” In a discussion about letting go of old family conflicts that may never be healed. If the family we’re born into is difficult, we can choose to create our own family.

“This ain’t your first rodeo. You don’t have to be the clown.” A discussion about me trying to make myself smaller so I can make insecure people feel better.

“You don’t have to go to every fight you’re invited to.” No explanation needed.

 “I sit with uncertainty everyday, until Clarity makes her presence known.” Every. Single. Day.

(If you’d like to see the published article and comments, go here.

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Stories from the Flea Market: Christine’s “Tail”

A friend back in Keene, NH read yesterday’s story about the bunny I bought at a flea market. Christine Janda Grant is a talented craftsperson, and I have several samples of her explorations in polymer, beading, yarn, etc. She wrote to me to share her own, similar story, and with her permission, I share it with you. She’s working on a launch of a new project soon, so keep an eye out for her!
Christine wrote:
So enjoyed your bunny story. It brought to mind a tale from a NH League of Craftsmen show.

Years ago I had gone to help a friend (Gail Wilson, nationally acclaimed doll artist) with her booth at the League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair

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Gail’s tiny bear kit is wonderful. Of course, I can’t put my hands on my finished bears right now….STOP LAUGHING AND SAYING “So what else is new?”….!!!

I only had a little money to spend – I think about twenty dollars. I had spotted a small pottery clock that I fell in love with and planned to buy it before the fair ended.
A family came into Gail’s booth with a little boy who very much wanted one of Gail’s dolls. The father brusquely informed the boy that they were for girls and they moved on. I saw some tears rolling down his face as they left.
I asked Gail if she would sell me a small doll for the money I had and she did. I stuffed it into a bag and caught up with the boy. After getting his parent’s permission to give him “a little something”. I gave him the bag with instructions not to open it until he got home.
Gail made a remark about me not being able to buy my clock now and I told her I didn’t mind. A little later I stopped by the booth to see it one last time but it had been sold.
At the end of the day Gail thanked me for coming to help her and gave me a gift to take home.
You guessed it, the clock I loved.
I only found out later that she told the story to the potter, who gave something to Gail and then someone gave a gift to the potter and it kind of traveled around the show that year.
I still have the clock as one of my treasured things.
Thank you, Christine, I love this story!

Stories from the Flea Market: The Bunny

 

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I know. Not a bunny. I can’t find the bunny pic.

We made some pretty fierce friendships in Keene, NH. IN making our move to the West Coast, leaving our son behind (who chose to stay in Keene) was hard. And leaving these friendships ‘behind’ was hard, too. (Say what you will about Facebook, it’s been wonderful for small, constant contact with those people.)

Each person had a particular, unique way of showing up in our world, some special way of looking at the world that would amaze me, and support me, when I struggled with some life issue. I hesitate to even pull out one name, because there were others just as magnificient in my heart. But today is a little shout-out for Melinda.

In the context of my struggle to find peace with difficult people, with problematic family stuff, with my own journey as a human being on this planet, Melinda taught me much about forgiveness and love. About what was part of my journey, and what was part of someone else’s journey. She knows I don’t believe in God per se, but knew how to put it into context I could accept and hold. She could see when I was part of the problem. And she could see when the problem was not mine to ‘fix’. “That’s not between you and them,” she’d explain. “That’s between them and God.” (I could accept ‘God’ as what I would call ‘fate’ or ‘karma’ or ‘the universe’, and see the wisdom.)

One thing we talked about often was miracles. I struggled with the concept. I could see that in times of great distress and agony, when loved ones were in danger, when I felt hopeless and powerless (or rather, recognized how powerless I was to put things right), there were always little moments when something powerful happened. I would cross paths with someone who had exactly the right words I needed to hear, to get through that day. That person might be anyone: A perfect stranger, or a casual acquaintance or a good friend with a life experience I’d never known or imagined. Something in me would blurt out what was on my mind. And that person would have the wisdom, the insight, to help. Not the solution, not the ‘fix’. Just enough of ‘something’ for me to take the next step. (Or not to fall into the pit of despair.)

Melinda said that that’s what miracles are, if we are open to them: Tiny moments of grace that let us see the world differently, a small change in perception and perspective….if we are open to them.

Today I went to the flea market. When my soul is sore, sometimes hunter-gathering soothes it. Finding something that someone else has given up, tossed aside or left behind, or worse, the objects valued enough to hold on to, but cannot find room for in our lives until debt or death acts for us,  the treasures of the auctioned storage locker…there’s something beautiful and poignant about even the ugliest and least meaningful (to me) objects.

Today I found a small pair of round-nose jewelry pliers, and pretty rocks–petrified wood, a small agate, a geode. A necklace I can reuse for the beads, and a small bookcase that might fit under the table in my studio.

And a small stuffed rabbit.

If you ever visited my studio in Keene, you know about my eclectic small doll collection, and my pebble collection, and my shells, and pottery shards, and my small boxes. And my menagerie of stuffed animals.

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Part of my studio menagerie.

As I walked by, the vendor tried to stand it up on her table. It kept flopping over, so she stuffed it into the slot of a toaster.

I stopped and without thinking, cried, “Oh, no, don’t put him in the toaster!”

She stopped and looked uneasy. “I know, but I can’t make him stand up!” She caressed him hesitantly.

Impulsively, I asked, “How much?” She held up three fingers.

I shook my head, trying to be a grown-up. If it had been the holidays, I would have bought him to put in my little Christmas tree.

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I still haven’t retrieved my ornaments from Jenny G., so I had to improvise this year.

If I had more cash, I might have bought him to send to my friend Julie, who adores bunnies.

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I once threatened to give Julie THIS thrift store bunny. She claims it would have ruined our friendship.

But….”You have enough little toys,” I told myself sternly, and turned away.

“Two dollar!” she piped. I hesitated. I couldn’t help but think how hard it is to bring all this stuff to the flea market, to stand there all day behind piles of….stuff. To hope someone will buy it, so you don’t have to drag it home again. Maybe make enough money to buy something more important.

I remembered the frantic distress of sorting through all our belongings in Keene, the endless scurry to get everything out of the house and gone, that horrible, horrible last hectic week, the precious objects I’d set aside to keep that ended up on our curb because there was simply no more room for them.

The friends who’d shown up to help, to wrap, to pack, to gently pull loved possessions from my hands, who let me cry, who hugged me, over and over and over again, until the very last day.

As I stood there thinking, a young mother and her little girl came up next to me to look, too. The child stooped over and picked up something small and round and bright green from the pavement.

I instinctively reached for her, but the tiny pellet fell from her mouth, just as her mother noticed her movement and, frantic with worry, cried, “What did you put in your mouth?! What is in your mouth?!”

“It’s okay! She spit it out! It’s gone!” I told her. She was relieved, but still anxious.

I suddenly saw my younger self in here. I remembered when some people were critical of my young ones, when they were small–Doug was crying, Robin was upset, me, frantic, wanting to be a good mother, and not knowing how–and how those people had let me know how annoying they found it all.

And I remembered all the people who showed me kindness and understanding, and smiled at me and said, “Oh, I remember those days!”

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Those days seem so far away now.

I hesitated–should I interfere? Would she see it as meddling?

“Would your little girl like this bunny?” I asked her.

Now she hesitated. “Yes…” and I could see…(but why was I giving them the bunny?) “Yes…” she said, and smiled.

In that second, I realized the little girl already had a lovey, a small white stuffed unicorn she clutched fiercely to her chest. “Robin (my daughter) loves unicorns,” I thought. I realized the child would like the bunny, but the unicorn was special. It would simply be a surfeit of stuffed toys.

Suddenly,  the older brother appeared, about five. He saw my hand, hovering with a bunny. Something in his eyes…..

“Would your little boy like the bunny?” I asked her.

She hesitated, we both did. Boys are tough. It’s sometimes harder for a boy to show tenderness. You never know when a bunny is a ‘baby’ thing, especially with a younger sister present, when a fluffy toy will draw a sneer.

As I turned to the children, my hand still out with the bunny, his eyes caught the bunny–and his face lit up.

“Ohhhhh, a bunny!!!” he cried. My outstretched hands met his before either of us could think. He clutched the little toy to his chest and hugged it fiercely.

Mom and I looked at each other and smiled, and we all moved on. Best two dollars I ever spent.

I know now that I didn’t “leave Melinda behind”, nor Julie, nor Roma, nor others. Their friendships are sacred to me. It’s possible that Jessica will remain an acquaintance, even though, since her words once helped me make it through a hard day, she will always seem like more than that to me.

It may be our paths won’t ever cross again.

I also know there are new ‘angels’ here in Santa Rosa, and Petaluma, and Sebastopol. The scene at Atlas Coffee Company, next door to my studio in the arts district, is stinkin’ rich with angels and small miracles. There are old friends rediscovered in Benecia, and in Castro Valley, and Santa Rosa itself.But every day, they are all in my heart.

Make new friends. But keep the old. One is silver, and the other, gold.

And every one is a miracle to me.