Tag: small business

starting over again

It seems surreal that i am back here again: being an artist who sells her work.  A week ago yesterday, we had an event here at the studio, after which i  committed to keeping the studio open every Saturday from 11 am to 6 pm for the rest of the year. Last night, i was so excited at the prospect that i barely slept.  Just being out here, making art, opening the door to sales, this is a big deal for me.

Truly, i believe that this is only happening because of the intervention of other artists.  Several provided me with amazing support when i face tasks that were impossible while this body languished in such a diminished state.  They have proven themselves willing to help me out when i have been overwhelmed.  In an act of belief that still boggles my mind, i have been blessed to share my studio space with creatives willing to partner their art with mine at these events.  You can see their work at these etsy shops, if you cannot travel to the coast of Maine:

https://www.etsy.com/shop/nekojindesign
https://www.etsy.com/shop/thecommonshaman
https://www.etsy.com/shop/theperfectcup

i cannot quite process the generosity of spirit that they are displaying.  Between these two and those who unflinchingly had my back over the past few  years, it has helped me create a new perspective when other people comment on my return to the world of art.  Things that would have crushed me when i was still alone, now give testimony to my good fortune.

At the first event we hosted, just over a month ago, people were surprised to see me.  They laughed, “We thought you were dead.”  Scores more told me that they heard i was having problems financially and physically, and that they were shocked i had made it through. i wondered why they talked like this, so comfortable at articulating their surprise at my continued existence, until i remembered that i am an introvert without family and have a learned to suffer alone rather than spill it out onto the shoes of random strangers.  Not to say people haven’t had to clean off the slime of woe after talking to me, but when i am on the edge of survival, i crawl into my hole and to heal.

Thus, when things got really bad for me, i retreated into art and the work that needed to be done to move from one minute to the next. It was all i could do. Overloaded as i was, i could not reach out; rejection would have been that one thing too much to bear.  No one else is responsible for those tendencies in myself, but realizing that they created the environment for those comments to appear was incredibly helpful.

By in large, i found i could eventually laugh at those statements and reassure people: i am alive, i never stopped making art, and here i am back to running a business, albeit part time.  However, it shook me to my core as a reminder that i am truly starting over.  The work i have been doing was invisible to the rest of the world, unless a manuscript wandered into your email’s inbox.   No one else saw that i had never fully surrendered; now, many can witness how reopening with hope and a support network is the greatest blessing possible for one that has been so alone.

Last week, a couple pulled me aside to discuss with great satisfaction what had been the hardest time in my life – when i had to start going backwards, cannibalizing the studio instead of investing in it, when i could not move my arm, when tumors had taken over to the point i could barely bend over without howling in pain, when i first found out that my hips would have to be replaced.  All this time later, they were still so pleased with the buy they got on the equipment i sold them so that i could keep living.  They let me know they had only come by to see if i was still selling off my tools at bargain prices.

While they gushed about the memory, i could not help but hear the echos of my the howling cries that night, realizing that with that sale of a wheel and kiln, i had admitted to myself that i was too broken to work. 

Exchanges like that would have made me feel excruciatingly isolated before, but my situation has changed.  i had people sitting beside me, ready to tell me things would not get that bad again.

My heart started to sing with gratitude over the miracle of human beings willing to roll up their sleeves and help me out, who stayed in touch and kept supporting my compulsive vocation to create.  Having people in your corner is always a blessing, but in this moment, when i realize that i am not hobbling forward by myself any longer, it feels like the sun has come out to shine on my life.

However, there is no room for denial: i am starting over as a business woman. People, quite literally, thought i was dead.  There is no greater indication that i am starting from scratxh than rising from a perceptual grave.  This voyage into business has to be different, too.  i am undertaking this journey hyperaware that my body’s needs cannot be pushed aside. Still, opening myself up be here in the studio, ready to make sales, feeds the best part of me.  This feels like a miracle.  i want to dance with gratitude; if only it didn’t hurt so much to stand.

And that sound you hear?  That is me shouting thanksgivings for the people who love me and are willing to help.

Things must change

I am writing this during my last day sitting in an artisans’ cooperative this year; Christmas Eve, 2015.

This marks an end of an era for me. A huge amount of the galleries in which i began this year are either moving, closing (or already closed) and a few others have had sales bad enough i have to make disappointing decisions. Most of my plans for the next twelve months remain purely in the realm of the  hypothetical. What i know i will do is make pen and inks, finish at least one novel, write as many poems as i can coax through me.  Soon, i will have another surgery, and afterward i have to dedicate myself to healing and transcending whatever comes.

Never before has it been so glaringly obvious and desperate: i have to reconceive how i move through my days, even as i acknowledge that my heart beats out art as much as blood. The question remains how to do this.  How do i walk that fine line between financial need and spiritual/sanity needs? As i wrote in a poem posted fairly recently, and the haiku below that i put on twitter, art is a fickle mistress.

Art is a lover
who keeps me chained up tightly
and would let me starve.

Starving is not a viable option for an irrepressible sensualist like myself. Giving up on art, which so many have told me is the most sensible option, also seems to be impossible. Yet, i fight against incredible anxiety and fears. As much art as i create, as much as i deepen my abilities in different mediums, i have been hoxed by this relentless worry. This cannot continue. One or the other has to surrender itself – either i continue making art and become relatively fearless in its dissemination, or i surrender to my fears and live a life painfully diminished.  i do not think i could survive the latter.

So, i have to find a way. There is no other option, really, this long succession of freelance and piecemeal jobs can be the stop gap, the way to keep going, until i find a way to make art consistently pay for bread and butter.  But i must keep my focus on that far off mountain top, where the work that gives me the deepest bliss and aligns my energy with the world so well actually maintains me.

One of the miracles in my life is that this past year has brought a slew of people who believe in me enough to help me get through some terribly difficult times. When i thought i might never throw again, my friends listened to my grief; they celebrated with me when i got back to the wheel.  Gifts of food, money, time, compassion and kindness kept me afloat. As i wrote earlier, this was the year of friendship. Perhaps that is how i can find my courage – to remember that there are people who don’t just want me to succeed but see it as something that will happen, with enough patience, stubbornness and resilience.

So, this blog is a bit of a shout out to the universe at large, steeped with both prayer and intent: help me change things. Help me find a way to make this work with the blessings and limitations i have. i cannot change the basic DNA of my being, so i have to find a path that lets me keep making art AND eat.

Things will change.

Things must change.

i am apparently too stubborn to surrender, so i must find a way to be courageous and maybe even a bit wise.

The whole engine of my heart and imagination manifests this transformation.

i wish you all the best for your coming year – may all people find greater peace, kindness and love in our worlds.

warm socks

Something written this past April 12th:

 

Happiness is warm socks, fresh from the dryer.  That the washer and dryer still work, despite the error message that comes on every time i try to use the hot water, is a blessing of the highest order – bringing on the same wild gratitude i feel when the heater kicks on and takes the edge off the chill.  Some fuel oil remains in the tank.

If i focus on these small gifts, i can forget the rest of the world for a moment.  Tuning in to the dog snoring or the cat purring while she kneads the pillow is highly preferable to listening to the long list of to-dos, failures and stresses that float through my mind like locusts, buzzing angrily within the confines of my skull.

Imagining the future doesn’t help either.  Even if i dreamt of five hundred dollars finding me, it is followed by impossible decisions.  Do i pay the electric bills?  The fuel oil bill?  The overdue taxes? The mortgage?  The loan payment? How guilty do i have to feel if i buy some food?  Could i be so bold as to get my eyes checked?  Or my teeth cleaned?  It has been six years on both counts, because there is never enough money.

Those problems are the wallpaper on my rabbit hole.  They do nothing for me, because right now, it makes no difference, i have no money to pay anyone.  i have no ability to raise the funds quickly, for i am broken and i sold the last of my assets long ago.

Every time i have sought out jobs to bridge the gap, my situation has gotten worse.  My energy gets depleted before i can make art – and that is what builds my energy up, much more than sleep or food.  Yet, relying on art sales for my income has been fraught with risk.

We live in a time when art is admired, copied, stolen, demanded to be given for free and rarely paid for.  Wonderfully, a lot of the mystique around making art has been removed thanks to the internet.  You can instantly call up a video of someone making nearly everything.  The proliferation of knowledge has awoken the artist in so many, which is a lovely thing, even though it can make being an artist full time much harder.  Not impossible, but much harder.

i have a huge restlessness in my heart, wanderlust of the imagination.  If i do not make art, this builds and builds until i could scream and howl like a madman.  i am grateful to have the ability to use that engine, a place where i can dream and write, the ridiculous capacity for stubbornness that keeps me from giving up.

The sunshine and the joy of spring make me sing with delight.  i enjoy the feel of these warm socks.  The world has gone as crazy as me, dwelling on it in this moment of relative powerlessness will only make the crisis swell and bloat.

Instead, i refocus on the dog, still snoring, on how lovely the soft mattress feels under my aching body, and the tremendous miracle of this writing: letter tumbling after letter, an expression of gratitude for the small kindnesses of life.

hard decisions

the studio 1
a view of the gallery part of my studio

i am selling my house.1523100_10205442122563997_4889260902811902224_o

There, i said it.  The words tumbled out of my fingertips, and hopefully the honesty of my hands can make my mind stop protesting and my heart stop aching.

For two years i have known that i needed to say those words, and mean them, but i have not had the will.  The thought wounds me.  i love this house, the studio that comes with it, the community in which i live, the friends that fill my life here in Maine.

11156367_10205457395985823_7308591026478660484_nThe first time i ever walked into this building, i felt like i had come home.

studio1It was a profound feeling – washing over me with sublime intensity. The house was by no means mine at that point.  The previous owners still lived there, their things covered all the surfaces, their music filled the air.

However, i was home.  This would be my home.  i knew it deep in my soul.

Most glorious of all for me was that it came with a studio, an extra building with two stories, where i could make my art.  In the beginning, it did not look much.  There were no walls, no floor upstairs, the stairs themselves were not really bolted down so they shimmied terrifyingly as you ascended.  It took nearly five years to get the space to where it was a truly functional studio and gallery space.  But, even during those years of transition, i made so much art.

The glory of that, i cannot begin to describe. All i have to do is walk through the front door of the studio, and a smile comes over my face.  In the mornings, i thank it for being there; in the evenings, i lovingly say goodnight and tell the echoing space when i will return. Over and over, people have walked into my gallery – random strangers from all across the country – and they have said the energy of the space is delightful.  It is the energy of the art that has poured out of me like a waterfall.

My animals have found their home here, too.  Darwin, in particular, seems asIMG_1223 comfortably rooted in the space as i am. IMG_0729 copy Both of my marvelous, timid cats have discovered all the best hiding places.  Not to mention, their Very Important Job is to hold down the bed.  Who knows if they will have such tremendous job satisfaction in a new space?  For them, this entire house is familiar and wondrous.

Even though all of us have gone through terrible times within those four walls, sorrow and divorce and struggle, it has done nothing to dent our affection for this environment.

Only, i have reached one of those junctures where being an adult really sucks.  i cannot pretend that everything is alright and that i’ll be able to keep stumbling forward, magically making just enough money to keep things going for another week. i cannot look to another to save me.  While it would be so nice for my default personality to change, so that having to deal with tenants and having to fiercely promote my art wouldn’t be so wildly difficult, i seem to be stuck with who i am. The time has come to accept it and try to work with my strengths rather than keep fumbling, trying to rewire my brain’s faults.  One of my neighbors, remarking on my obsession with art at the expense of important chores like yard maintenance, suggested that some people are not meant to be home owners – and that i was firmly in that group.  When i have the courage to look unflinchingly at myself, i do not think she was wrong.

studio1_8162014Also, there is a practical consideration: this space was designed for a family, for me and my then husband to finally start a family of our own.  To be the habitat of one woman, even though i can fill the walls of both buildings with art, is a waste of this glorious space.  And, as i dissolve the pottery side of the studio over the course of the next ten months, my art will become more portable.  Paintings, pen and inks, poems and fiction can come into being no matter where i end up or what i am doing.studio5

So, now, the big adventure will be finding out what happens next.  i have no clue where i am going or what i will be doing – other than i will be making art.  The more i became convinced over the past couple of months that i had to give up my art to other obligations, like a real job, the more suicidal and depressed i became.  Letters were written; plans made.  Then, Sunday before last, someone else’s anger kicked me out of my despondency like cold water to the face.  The axis of my world shifted until i began making plans on how to live, even without this home i love so much and the full, wonderful life that i have created in Maine.  It is possible… i just have to find a way.  For now, all i really know is that one of the steps, however heavy-hearted it makes me, is to find a new home.

studio_008_02232011This said, until the house sells and i have to face the massive transformations in my life that will cause, i will keep on as i have been.  Running my business, making art at this furious pace like each day at the wheel or easel is my last, looking for freelancing work to keep the utilities on, will continue to form the pattern of my life.  I will keep staggering from week to week, day to day, minute to minute, trying to tread water rather than drown.

cooperative season

We have entered the busiest season of the year – and yet one that is in many ways the most fun.  June, July, August & September pass by while i am traveling across the state doing gallery days at various artist cooperatives (and here.)

looktolight_11x14i love these places, in part because i adore working with other artists. In the normal world, saying that i’m an artist can lead to raised eyebrows and slowly shaking heads. People question my priorities; they regard my insanity with compassion. However, within these cooperatives i am surrounded by people who also pursue their art with dogged determination.  i am in the company of people who are making their choices based on bliss and joy as much as necessity and propriety.

Mostly, though, i adore this time to meet people.  i watch how they react to my art and those of my fellow cooperatives. i get to talk to people who are on trips, who live locally, who have been drug in by their spouse or parents. While i am here, i make art – my art box and pen and ink paper travel well. Last year, while at Boothbay Harbor, i had a semi-circle of preteens surrounding me, absolutely enraptured by the dragon i was inking. i am certain that the book/office supply/art store down the street made some sales immediately after.

However, this also means that my studio isn’t open 7 days a week – indeed, this year, i will be reliably open only Saturday and Sunday. Every other day of the week will be by chance or appointment. And, even Saturdays and Sundays will have their problems! For instance, next Saturday (the 20th) i will be back in Boothbay Harbor, with my pen and inks. Regular hours for my gallery and studio (11 am to 6 pm) will resume the next day.

Often i think that being a sole proprietor of a small business, not to mention being an artist on its own, requires my primary skill to be managing chaos.

impending wonder and insanity

madness-copyIf i make it through the next week, without actually losing my mind, i’ll be singing with joy so loudly that everyone will think i’m deranged anyway.

Next Tuesday, i have sworn to myself that i will have a finished business plan finished – the process of reconceptualizing how i disseminate my art will theoretically be complete and awaiting full implementation.  Somehow that sentence makes me sound more like a cartoon villain planning to take over the world than a frazzled artist laboring to sell her art. i promise, this is not an evil little laugh escaping my lips, just an excited utterance fueled by stress and overwhelm. Would taking over the world be less stressful?  Would megalomania make the hard work of domination more energizing than depleting? Ah, i am trying to distract myself with stories.  Instead, we are talking about art and this artist doing something very uncomfortable, uncertain and difficult.

What these weeks of hard work boiled down to is this: instead of focusing all my energy on selling at my gallery/studio in Stockton Springs or local cooperatives, i am shifting a solid portion of my effort toward increasing online sales, getting more wholesale clients, as well as actively courting galleries in parts of the country that are not seasonal (like all business is here in Maine.)  Pursuant to which, i have bought a magic wand, some pixie dust (specific to business sales) and have learned to do the “Pay Attention to Me Internet” dance.  An that would be enough, right?  Certainly enough for one week.

conversation5Of course not.

On Friday my current tenant is moving on to the next stage of her life.  On Saturday new ones begin the process of moving in.

And even that massive change wasn’t enough for one week.

On Friday, May 1st, from 5 pm to 8 pm, Art Space Gallery in Rockland will be having their New Members Show.  As one of the new members, i will be there with bells on.  Between now and then, i’ll be stocking up Maine Artisans in Lincolnville Beach, Southwest Harbor Artisans and Belfast Harbor Artisans.  All have either events the weekend of Mother’s day (May 8-10 – check the information below) or will be opening for the season at that point.  Since the stores need time to get set up, i’ll have to be doing this work over this week as well.

Of course, in addition to all that, i’m opening my studio Thursday, Friday, Saturday – although Sunday there will be some meetings that will keep asha fenn’s studio and gallery closed.

Oh, and i have a lot of art i need to make!

This is the hardest part of running a small business, even worse than the marketing and the finances that normally have the power to break me out in a cold sweat – being the only person responsible for more work than three people could comfortably finish with a month of time.  This week will pass, life will arrive at a better balance, and i know this.

Well, i’m telling myself it’s true, at any rate.  Like a mantra: Yes, asha, all will calm down.  All will be well.  It’s just a matter of getting through the next seven days without actually (literally in the most literal sense) losing my mind.

So, if you see me laughing, dancing and murmuring to myself, just assume it’s out of gratitude and joy over the wonderful things that have been happening.  Not anything else.  Really.  You are not hearing the high pitched, teapot like giggle of someone exploding from stress.

 

***

Here is more information on those three events at the different Artisan Cooperatives:
Harbor Artisans, 60 Main Street, Belfast, Maine
http://www.belfastharborartisans.com
Special Event over Mothers’ Day Weekend!  

Harbor Artisans, an artist cooperative at 60 Main Street in Belfast, is opening for a special preview weekend on May 8, 9, and 10th from 10 am to 5 pm. Come buy a gift for Mothers’ Day or splurge on yourself.  Either way, this is your chance to enjoy the shop before the vacation crowds arrive and to get the first glance at our new products for 2015.  Several new artists have joined our membership and we are proud to provide a stunning array of fine art and craft. This is your opportunity to support Maine’s creative economy.  Shop local and buy handmade at Harbor Artisans.  We officially open for the 2015 season on May 22nd.

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Harbor Artisans, 360 Main Street, Southwest Harbor, Maine
http://www.southwestharborartisans.com
Celebrating our Move!  

After several years in Southwest Harbor, our artisan cooperative has moved a little down the road. Now at 360 Main Street, facing the Veterans’ Memorial-Village Green Park and beside the Quietside Cafe, Harbor Artisans celebrates our new environment by hosting a special preview on May 8 and 9 from 10 am to 5 pm. In addition, we are having a Grand Reopening Reception on the evening of the 8th, from 5 pm to 8 pm, when you can come to meet the artists and enjoy some refreshments!  You have a great opportunity to buy a gift for Mothers’ Day or splurge on yourself.  Either way, enjoy this sneak peak for our treasured local customers before the summer crowds come.  Harbor Artisans has transformed more than just our address. We are filling this larger space with a stunning array of fine art and craft, adding many new artists – all based here in Maine – to our ranks.  This is your opportunity to support Maine’s creative economy.  Shop local and buy handmade at Harbor Artisans.  We officially open for the 2015 season on May 22nd.

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Maine Artisans, 2518 Atlantic Highway, Lincolnville Beach, ME
http://maineartisanscoop.com/
Grand Reopening for our 2015 Season!

Maine Artisans, an artist cooperative in Lincolnville Beach, will be opening for the season on May 8th.  On May 9th, from 10 am to 6 pm, celebrate our 33rd year with our Grand Re-Opening event.  Come during the day to watch artists’ demos.  Find the perfect gift, just in time for Mothers’ Day!  Many new members joined our ranks for 2015 and we have wonderfully increased our selection of fine art and craft.  In addition to our abundance in jewelry – carrying every style imaginable from silver to brass to polymer clay to incredible beading – photography, sculpture, ceramics, fiber art and woodworking, we have added more painters, new lines of clothing accessories, barbecue sauces, and Maine-themed specialty art. Support the creative economy by both shopping local and buying handmade – all of our artisans are based in Maine. We will be open seven days a week, through mid-October.

procrastinating from studying…

i am going to be completely honest. i am writing this blog to avoid studying about Profit Planning for a few more minutes. So far, i have used writing three poems and an essay, updating my website, sprucing up some products on my online store, and posting a few things onto social media as distractions. Every animal in the house has been cuddled to the point of annoyance. i even contemplated doing the dishes, before i decided to procrastinate from that by studying.  i sat down with the book.  Within five minutes, i moved into blogging.

As overwhelming as this subject is for me, these pages about pricing and profits have reminded me of a few things: how badly i have been struggling this past year financially (like nearly every other Maine artist i know,) that maybe there is hope – the book itself mentions that often times people run into issues, it takes a long time for new businesses to show a profit, etc., etc..  What is becoming plain is that a lot of my troubles actually have stemmed from pricing.  So far, I have pegged four major sources for my issues with pricing: dyslexia that has caused a vague hostility toward numbers, a general lack of business savvy, the impulse to reward someone who likes my art or wants to take classes with me by cutting deal, and my own case of imposter syndrome (as described by Neil Gaiman.)

A quick aside: Listening to that commencement speech by Mr. Gaiman for the 600th time reminds me of another reason why this chapter and the small business thought process are all so painful to me.  i am an artist.  By that i mean, i am at my best when i am making art and without the ability to make art, i am really not any good to anyone.  Art saves my sanity, soothes my soul and is as necessary to me as air.  There is even a hierarchy to this.  i could live without pottery.  If i had to, i could never sculpt again.  Take away painting and drawing, and my heart will destabilize pretty quickly.  However, if you prohibit me from writing prose and especially poetry, i will maybe manage to maintain my sanity for two weeks.  Maybe. If i’m lucky. Still, art by its very nature cannot be planned like the production of widgets or thingamabobs. Sometimes art tackles you and tears up your schedule, shakes you by the shoulders and demands to be made.  Also, from the perspective of the person buying it: art is a luxury.  It is something that people buy after they have paid for the essentials of food, shelter and clothes.  To many it is as essential to their spiritual health as any meal, but it is good to know that those buying my work are doing more than just a financial transaction, they spend their money on my work because it has meant something to them.

To this point, making art has been the engine driving my life.  Traditional business plans hang over the body of my art like an ill-fitting suit, and yet, as Mr. Gaiman points out, we are in a time of transition in all the arts.  The modes of dissemination are changing.  The methods of payment have altered, as has the meaning of success. Working up some kind of plan to make money at this art i have to make – even if it has to be wildly flexible and inventive –  falling copyis one way i can see myself surviving.

My old business plan sits like a monolith in the chair across the room, holding in its belly all the work i did on this a couple of years ago. All those wonderful projections that worked so well until May of last year. But then, life happened, catastrophes laid me low and changed the rules.

When i think about how hard things are right now, about the bills that are coming due, about the decisions i want to make and all that that i know will stay consistent no matter what choices come, i start to get wildly stressed out and have nightmares.  How will i manifest the changes that i decide are necessary?  If i have made foolish decisions before, that got compounded by forces i could not control or predict, how will i manage to keep from doing the same again?  ANGST.

And, the only real way to deal with such feelings for me is to make art.  So, perhaps, those last ten pages of reading will wait a little bit longer.  i want to soothe my soul with some ink soaring across the page.

 

started to write one blog and this one sprang up

Ok, out of procrastination, i started one blog (i will endeavor to get that out tomorrow) and now i am distracted from that one to write this.

(Sometimes i think i have attention span issues.)

At any rate, this is what struck me like a slap to the cheek. i am getting a huge amount of advice from a lot of intelligent, knowledgeable, well-meaning people lately. Not just from other small business owners or from people involved in banking or sales, but from other artists, from friends, from neighbors, from customers and students who sense the struggle behind my work. i even got a thank you card out of the blue from someone i met last year, indicating that i had been an inspiration to him.

No matter how hard or wonderful these assessments are to hear, i am grateful for all of them. Actively, i seek advice out, asking anyone that i think can give me some perspective on my art, my business or on the transition i know i have to make. Perhaps if i ask enough people, i will find that one solution that rests more comfortably in my soul than all the others.

But, someone is going to be frustrated that i am not following their advice, because what one person says is often diametrically opposed to the suggestions of another. In each response, i notice how the prejudices of the speaker color their advice. For instance, if they do not value painting or flat art, something they would never spend money on, they will invariably tell me that cannot and should not be my focus. Stick with the practicality of pottery. Likewise, if they do not read poetry at all, they assume that is a labor of love for me personally that will not be of use. (Although the point about no one getting rich doing poetry has some merit.)

Part of learning to use advice has been seeing the place from which it comes. The ground on which the speaker stands must be taken into consideration. The most profound example: i have met a few people who could not envision a positive future in any way, we are hurtling toward inevitable destruction ecologically, socially and economically. Therefore all the advice they give is colored by this inevitable doom. Others have never experienced the type of precarious vulnerability i currently enjoy, so they cannot quite grasp that there are no thousands of dollars to throw into advertising or presentation.

Other advice tears me in two, because i see such validity in what they say while i realize that the execution of same will be wildly difficult given my energy and general disposition. i am not afraid of learning or trying new things, but i want to work with my strengths rather than push forward relying most on those skills at which i am weakest.

The confusion of multiple possibilities that sit uncomfortably in my own mind is reflected in the advice i am getting. i think this might be why i have been so quiet lately – barely any blogging, nearly no social media posts, phone calls only to a few and letters written to even less – quite literally i don’t know what to say. In this exact moment, i don’t know what to publicize or what to downplay. Each morning, i look around trying to figure out where my time should go – a decision i never had a problem with before – but i have lost the luxury of walking leisurely down the wrong path.

i have reached a watershed in my life. Looking back, i can see how a lot of external events helped bring me to this place, like a general downturn in the sale of art last year, but my own choices made the situation what it is. Some of them i own proudly. i am an artist. i am a poet. Chasing my dreams cannot be something i regret. However, being an artist, being a poet, i was unprepared for running a business and i have made decisions that someone more savvy would have laughed at.

icharusThe decisions i will be making over the next few weeks will change everything from the rhythm of my days to what types of art i rely on to make my living. Everything will change, even if i am successful enough that from the outside it is not noticeable. i am standing on the edge of a cliff, wondering in which direction i will jump. But the jump will occur. Hopefully, i will fly. However, i cannot help but notice the rocks so far below.

Knowing that i stand on such an edge, by the way, does not make the decisions i face less stressful for me. Quite the opposite. So i keep reaching out, questions flooding forth: check out my store, what does it need? Why did you buy that bowl? What drew you to that mug? Why does that sculpture touch you so? What makes my art viable or not? Which type of creativity should i focus on most? Where can i send my poetry? Where should i send my writing? What should i do about clay work? i hear a choir of different voices, singing different songs, asking different questions, positing different plans.

It is hard to hear the best answer for me, the one whispered by the still quite voice inside my heart, in the mix.

giving myself some rights

Early this week, i was introduced to the idea that small business owners have rights – even in a highly customer-centered field like art.

As soon as that lesson penetrated the outer layers of my skull, particularly the idea that i have the right to say no to jobs or appointments or obligations – or at the very least, no not now, without any firm justification other than i felt the profound need to form the letters “n” and “o” in sequence – the course of the next few days shifted miraculously.

i am still breathing so much better than i thought i could be, unafraid to use my asthma medications since i can finally get refills.  This has lead to my enjoying better stamina than i have in years, which has lead to more physical activity and more joyful, aching soreness.  However, while breathing is a blessing beyond measure, i can testify that this is not a panacea to all problems.  i continue to have issues with coordination and confusion, i am exhausted from healing and overwhelmed with stress, duty and responsibility.  After embracing the idea that i could say no, though, i realized the world will not fall apart if i took a couple of days to be kind and gentle to myself. Indeed, given how profoundly i feel at risk of dissolution, i have a duty to myself (and my customers! and those with whom i work at cooperatives!) not to let myself fall apart.

TIMG_0286he only way to keep that from happening is kindness.

So, i gave myself some gifts and worked through the guilt surrounding my magnanimity.  For two days, in between errands and appointments, worked on art (poetry, sculpting and pen and inks.)  The busier i get, the more i have to keep in mind: art comes from a place of stillness for me.  If i do not have a certain amount of quiet solitude, i will not be as effective as an artist, much less as a human being.

i kept my involvement with email and social media to the barest of bare minimums.  While i did spend an inordinate amount of time compiling to-dos for every client and project, while nestled in warm blankets, i also was merciless about their priorities.  What had to be done at this exact moment?  What could be done by Monday?  What could be done by next Friday?

Once those choices were made, i let myself have some time to watch a couple of movies, to cuddle with the animals, to read a book, to simply sit in silence until the screaming of anxiety was not so loud.  Then the art and word began to flow.  Probably, there are people who will feel terribly let down by this blog – and maybe i shouldn’t have written out that i actually took some time to make art and rest – but, this was a huge realization for me.  Usually, i have to be in physical crisis to really take downtime.  Indeed, the drive to make art is fairly merciless, pushing me forward despite myself.  But, this morning, i feel so much calmer and more capable – and that wouldn’t have happened if i didn’t act on having the right to say no.

mission statements

I am taking a small business class and part of this week’s homework is to write a new mission statement for a new plan.

Only, there are some restrictions.  It was pointed out to me that using the “I” in such professional writing is not the way to go, even if a huge majority of the business is making and selling is your own art and writing.  It sounds egotistical and accentuates the vulnerability of being an I rather than a we.  And, truthfully, there are other people involved: students, apprentices (soon! I hope!), as well as other artists who have memberships to the studio to make their art.  So there is a we.

Now is where we get into process, though.  There are a lot of things I want to say – even though they don’t really apply to the mission statement.  Kind of personal missions, i suppose.  Overwhelming thoughts about the nature of my life that guide me.

At any rate, I thought I could share those here, since they will not be good for the product at hand – but nevertheless are working their way out of me.

So here is Inappropriate Mission Statement Castoff #1:

 

clayOther than air, shelter and food, there is no element more important to life than creativity.  The engine of imagination and dreams transforms every moment.  Creativity is how we solve problems.  Art and writing both challenge and soothe our spirits.  Whenever someone claims to be unable to create, this is a problem of perception: every decision they have ever made, including things as simple as figuring out how to organize their house or what to eat for dinner, most conversations, every story they have ever told, have all been creative acts.

A friend said recently that we artists aren’t here to change to the world, only to sell you a souvenir – but creative and unorthodox thinking certainly does transform the world, and art is a fertile field in which such abilities can grow.  Feeding the engine of art, through making it, selling it and teaching others how to walk the path has been a tremendous honor for asha fenn over these past six years.  The entire focus of asha fenn – as an artist and through her gallery – has been to continue this work.