Tag: success

missing days

It had been my goal to blog every single day remaining in 2015, but i missed two days for no reason other than overwhelm. In eight days, i am going to have an appointment about a hysterectomy and now i’ve discovered there is a serious issue with my hips that has been causing much of my pain walking, sitting, standing and generally moving. i knew i had a problem with my legs, that is what drove me to the doctor because i was desperate with pain and my right leg to stop farting off and not working, but really thought there would be a non-surgical option – “if you just do exercise a, you will get all better.”  Alas, that is not the case. So i will definitely have one, maybe two and possibly even three surgeries this winter.  If it weren’t for friends, i would have fallen into a puddle of self-pity.

Oh, but there have been miracles this holiday season.  For a week, i have help with the chores of life and business, and it has been delightful, but this temporary relief has explained why i struggle so much alone.  Having someone here to see the difficulty i have just standing up and walking much less trying to get serious work done, the pain i am in, my distracted focus, had the unexpected effect of making me understand i can be intensely cruel to myself. Friends have been saying this a lot, commanding me to “Stop insulting my friend this way!” when i go on a tear about how awful or lazy i am. However, it is different when someone sees you 24/7.  So much denial exists when i am alone; i can tell myself that i ought to be able to overcome anything, when i fail it feels like torment.  Looking about the house to see that which i have not finished, those jobs that i cannot manage, i give myself no quarter.  It has only through other, more compassionate eyes, that i can see, ‘Ah, yes, there is a reason for this.’ and ‘Oh, maybe this is not failure so much as a setback.’

In the next few months, i intend to get myself sorted – which, i can’t believe it so i will type it out again, will involve another surgery at least, but probably more than one.  The past twelve months have made me confront the limitations of my body in ways that i don’t particularly enjoy. However, denial has stopped working.  In order to be a fierce, strong woman i have to reclaim some health first.

Still, i cannot complain that much.  This year has been a miracle too. i have learned so much about myself, i have come so far from where i started this journey eight years ago.  The fact that i have gone through this financial and physical crisis without getting self-destructive is remarkable.  However, the biggest lesson needs to come to me in 2016: how to forgive myself for my weakness, how to forgive myself for what i see as failure (by redefining both failure and success?), and most of all, how to regard myself with confidence and treat myself with compassion.

From there, i believe the other things i need – better financial stability, a way to make my art feed me, writing a new story for myself – will fall into place.

As for tonight, the lesson is: i can fuck up and be forgiven. This is really miraculous for me.  Already i had learned that a tremendous amount of physical limitations and emotional chaos could be processed by others and they could still love me, but this kind of subtlety had been suggested but not proven. Yet here it is, proven tonight: i can make thoughtless mistakes, apologize from the heart, and be not only forgiven but still loved.

If another can do that kindness for me, then shouldn’t i aspire to do the same for myself?

poem: the artist’s prayer

Please.
Help me.

i reach out,
my hands grasping
for something
to change
all this stress
and fear
and crushing anxiety
into a solution,
something actionable,
a clear path
toward
temporal salvation.

But all that comes,
filling my hands
to overflowing
like a tap
turned full force,
is art.

So much so,
i could work
every waking moment,
rushing
from pen
to easel
to wheel
to computer
and still not bring it all
into being.

Forget cleaning the house.

All deviations
from this purpose,
from my bliss,
bring on vague pain.
The more i labor
at cross-purposes
to my calling,
the worse it hurts.
Discomfort grows
like mold
until it takes over
everything,
becoming
howling,
dangerous
despair.

So, on my knees,
i pray.
Tears in my eyes,
i beg.
With all the blood
in my veins,
i beat out
supplication:

Help me.
Guide me.
Save me,
for i am so mad
with passion and dream
that i will keep walking,
moving forward,
undeterred
by this glorious
catastrophe.

22 november 2015

A poem about hope.

Hope
pure and lasting,
flowing further
than this moment’s concerns,
going deeper
than covering this month’s bills.

Hope
that sings
with every atom,
assuring
that with or without us
all will be well.

If balances shift once,
they can return again.

Everything is possible;
all joy, available.

These things i know.

This hope i can see.

Now i simply must
coax it into me.

written 31 may 2010, typed 24 june 2010

changing definitions of success and failure

My definitions for success and failure are changing.

For the second time, I have failed to deliver a commission on time. (The first time involved pots for children’s classes that were stalled by my kiln getting struck by lightening – an act of God – I felt immense guilt but could not take full responsibility.)

This should be a failure, but I cannot quite see it as such. This is a real shift in my worldview. Years ago, I had a customer who hated the glazes on a series of mugs – even though they were what she asked for – and that was alright, I took the pots back and refunded her money.  There is a kind of magic that can happen with pottery, and not everyone appreciates it.  While I did regard that as a failure the afternoon I gave her a check and bundled the mugs into boxes, I have made more money selling the pieces individually than I would have with that contract.  Right now I have another outstanding commission, for huge casserole dish and platter and pasta bowl, but they had no deadline. So, even though I have had to make the pieces a few times, it was not a hardship for the customer. I kept working at them until I got pieces beautiful and intact.  Again, not a failure, just an inconvenience. All in all, I have been fairly proud of myself for five years – the lingering sting of these setbacks has been soothed by many many prompt deliveries of pots received with joy and celebration.

This commission, for two rectangular casserole dishes, to specific measurements, hand-built, had a specific deadline and I missed it.

The project required me to learn new things and the process has lead to several unsatisfying attempts. Even though I sculpt, I am much less comfortable with hand-building than throwing. Four pieces unfit for salemoresurvivors now serve as molds for other casserole dishes, a perceived reversal that has left me indecently pleased.  I found myself grateful for the failures – because they have lead to an easy way to make more pieces. (Two examples are to the right, above the chip and dip.  The one on the left got bent at leather hard, but still turned out gorgeous.)  Finally i finished three casserole dishes, and the forth will be late but has already come into being.  The picture of the first three is to the left, in my car, ready to head to their new home.  I gave her the extra small casserole as compensation for my tardiness – along with a massive porcelain bowl.survivors

As I struggled with this project I realized that my definitions of success and failure have changed over the years. These setbacks would have totally demoralized me, making platter after pasta bowl after casserole, just two years ago. I remember having a lot of failures with plates in the early months of the business that did exactly that to my fragile mood.  It was nearly a year before I wanted to throw a plate again. The thought of plates filled me with waves of grief over my shortcomings.

However, my definitions of success and failure have changed.  Success, now, often means that I just keep at it without giving into negativity or self-pity or doubt. It means I have celebrated my small triumphs – even if it was just learning from a mistake. I make the piece as many times as I need to and then I have the satisfaction of it being done.  I can be remarkably stubborn.

Failure, then, would be giving up.  Failure means allowing my outrage over my mistakes, misdeeds, misfortunes and missteps to seep inside my soul and start to corrode it.

However, there is one sticky problem to these shifting definitions: I can try too hard.  Perhaps, at some point, I should accept that I cannot go on, there will be something that I cannot complete no matter how many times I go to the wheel or canvas or computer. I am simply too stupid or stubborn or obsessed to know when that moment has arrived.

and againMaybe there are worse things in the world than not having enough sense to give up.

Another casserole is in the bisque kiln right now, as I type, firing.  I immortalized it in a photograph to the left, in case of catastrophe.  Although, I hope it comes out of the heat intact and flawless.  Then i can glaze it and deliver it a bit late.

I send up a quiet prayer for the kiln.  May nothing explode, crack, warp or rupture… or experience any other failures on which I do not want to dwell.  I want to have good dreams tonight.

steadfastness

Sometime around the fourth inch of snow of this current snowstorm, I started to lose my resolve. All I wanted was to hide.  Instead of putting on my boots and heading to the studio, I curled up with a good book and the animals, tucked under the blankets, simultaneously overwhelmed and grieved by the amount of work.  Too much of this winter has been spent hiding.

red and white bowls
red and white bowls

Both the list of all I have to do and the absolute mystery of how it will get done quickly with the foul weather and the limits of my two hands keep plaguing me.  The fear that this is what defeat feels like wandered through my heart over and over.  Perhaps, I have been too stubborn to notice it as failure has crept up behind me. How do I stay steadfast to my dreams when I am caught in this cold, lonely, confused insecurity? Even today, I know I should be grateful.  Thank God, most days this question doesn’t plague me.  As I have talked about before, I find myself fortified by art.  When I stand before the wheel, or the easel, it restores me and aligns me with a great feeling of purpose.  The ability to make new and better pots and paintings and poems somewhat insulates me from rejection.  Even when I cannot soothe myself with creating, a certain amount of strength dwells within me.  When confronted by others, I can muster some defiance in the face of predictions of doom. Another’s negativity might effect me, frustrate me or dishearten me, but it rarely unseats me entirely. No, what makes me falter are the churning doubts that echo through my skull when I am alone.  The dark and the cold don’t help. Tomorrow night, they predict another terrible storm. Then another a couple of days later. This huge mount of work that I must do continues to grow larger – for which I am wildly grateful and a bit intimidated. However, even during this snow-drenched day, I have found a comfort beyond these words and the few sketches I have put to paper.  I focus on one sentiment, which I have clung to for the past two days like a mantra: I can only do what I can do.  If I look deep into myself – from how my flesh manages in this moment, to what tenacity and inspiration dwell within my spirit, to how well I can navigate the frozen world outside – and I am doing the most that I can manage, then that is all that matters.  That has to be enough.  If I am being true to what I can do, then the pain of deadlines and pressures and stress becomes self-imposed. I am whipping myself for things I cannot alter and honestly the masochism of self-hatred long ago lost its appeal. So I am letting myself feel rotten without pushing myself to end up feeling even worse.  I sigh with the dog when we go outside for a walk only to crunch and slide on ice and snow.  And, after I am done writing, I will curl up with either Rumi or HG Wells and spend the evening in the embrace of their words. It will all be okay, even if my steadfastness feels like discipline right now rather than emotion.

art or death

I lost my zen during a phone conversation.  Now I don’t mean that I ranted and cursed, but I let someone else’s prophecies into my heart for a moment. They insinuated their way into me like smoke does the lungs. The sensation felt both familiar and disheartening – because I had been doing so much better disarming this fiercenessparticular button.  A year ago, maybe even six months, those statements would have made me wildly insecure and led me to tears – but today, I reacted with defiance. Art or death, because quitting is not an option. Nor is being immobilized by negativity or fear.

Still not the reactions I want to arise from such stimuli, but they were better than falling into despair.

The button that was pushed – which wound up being hit for the second time in three days –  is hopelessness.  The overwhelming verbal waves that everything I – and in both cases the people talking to me – hope for and dream of is impossible. Their art could never support them. Financial situations will never improve.  Our chance for making art and writing has expired.  There is no adaptation to improve this situation.  Conversations even went into the realms of how foolish I am to continue with whatever medium the speaker finds problematical and how vulnerable and irrelevant we all are.

And, on a certain level, those things are real and possible. Economies and people suffer.  Art is in a state of chaos, change and redefinition.  Hence the button being there.  Committing to this life is often a difficult choice.

However, when I am alone, with nothing but my words or art, those voices no longer torment me.  They used to arise spontaneously and hold me captive for hours. They held me up by my arms and toyed with me like a cat does a mouse, all glee and sadism. Thank God, if they appear at all now, they float away without leaving the marks of their claws.

The change was not spontaneous, but rather deliberate retraining using all the tools that meditation, therapy, hope and faith have given me.  Also, this has been an act of surrender: I know I cannot control whether people buy my art, or my house, or support me as a human being.  These glories cannot be forced.  However, I also do not know that I will fail.  I have to surrender to my absolute and unavoidable ignorance of the future.  As my past has faded away to an echo of what it once was, the future too has become something completely unreal.  This realization has, finally, worked its way into my being, all the way down into my bones.

However, it must not be in the marrow yet, because I still fell off my zen.  One of my biggest challenges continues to be standing up against someone else’s insistence that their imaginings, their perception, their dread, and their judgment are the absolute truth.  People can project a staggering amount of emotion onto others, particularly when they are scared, discouraged or feeling doomed.

My impulse is to walk away from such prophets; to protect myself from the power of their woeful certainty.  But, after I let the waves of defensiveness pass this afternoon another thought arouse within me: I wonder if they are relying on me to change their mind?

heading into certain disappointment

This morning started out beautifully – I woke with the gift of a wonderful dream resonating through my being and when other people’s words started shuffling about my brain as I showered, they were countered by the memory of a poem I wrote way back in graduates school.  Once I turned on the computer, I found the work and was staggered by how much it applies to my life today.

When you are a writer or an artist, you hear a lot of negative messages about your art in specific and the state of art in general.  Sometimes it seems like everyone else believes they have a better idea about what art you should be making than you do.  Many talk about how impossible it is for artists to make a living or be successful. Worst of all, those pronouncements cannot be technically considered false, even if you actively fan the flames of optimism – or deliberately engage in fantasies of denial (both of which probably apply to me). An unbelievable amount of artists do not find the success they crave.  Even more hobble themselves from trying with the belief that it any success is impossible.  Still more, and this has definitely applied to me, know how to make art but have no idea how to disseminate it.  Differing definitions of success don’t help either – because many want nothing more than to keep making art.  Any way that happens becomes success.  Others want fame and fortune and things that do seem vastly unlikely.  Still more have realized that they have no idea what they need or what success would entail.  No matter what my art’s ultimate goals might be, or, rather, no matter where I find myself in a given moment, these messages can be sobering, can spark depression, and can enter the mind with as much destructive power as a grumpy rhinoceros wielding a mace.

Even though I acknowledge statistical improbabilities and my own personal limitations, I cannot allow myself to live in the mental space from which those comments arise.  I have not found a way to maintain my courage and inspiration if I resign myself to failure and misery before I have fully failed.  There is enough misery in life, I don’t need to grab more prematurely.  Yet the messages – particularly that art is doomed and my work is folly and that I should surrender my passion and do something else – do travel down to my marrow where they sing out their anxiety for awhile before optimism, stubbornness or denial can kick them out again.  Part of what made this morning delightful was the realization that sleep had evicted the negativity.

My poetic epiphany, happening about the same time as I was shampooing my hair, helped me remember that those messages also came to me long before I threw myself into art.  Indeed, when I was in college and graduate school, I fielded a huge amount of negativity and twice it derailed the life I thought I would have because I did not have the resolve to stand against it.  Now, in retrospect that was a blessing, because I have had years to do the work that I love.  However, it does mean that no matter what job you have or where you place your confidence, you will hear these kind of messages and they can have a deleterious effect.

What a long preamble for a poem.  According to the file in which I found these words, they came out of me in 1996.  That sounds about right.  i remember holding a folded up copy of these lines in my hand during an experience that changed my life.  They gave me courage.  To my ears today, this poem sounds ancient and oddly written, but I remember how important they were the day they were composed.

***

Facing the tangible possibility
of great disappointment,
i take a breath to pause
and remind myself:
it really doesn’t matter.

Whatever criticisms i hear today
will not touch my essence,
for others can only judge insignificant things.

If i encounter slights on my abilities,
i will remember
dozens of other talents
of which this crowd of fools knows nothing.
If they slander my spirit,
i will remember
they cannot measure my soul.
If they insult my appearance,
i will remember
this body,
while part of me,
is not alone my whole
and is not an expression
of my virtue and worth.

i will remember,
and i will listen.
i will absorb their words
and when they have finished,
i will discern for myself
the truth and bias,
the usefulness and motivations,
within their messages
without distortions from either insecurity
or a desire to please.

With God’s grace,
i will continue to grow and unfold
no matter what setback may await me
in the soon to be.

Also,
i will remember
i am not doomed to fail.
Good is as likely as bad
to come from this encounter,
if i but recognize it as such.

i will remember
i have countless causes
for joy and thanksgiving
that will persist
regardless of this situation
and its outcome.

But, most of all,
i will remember steadfastly:
i am loved!

No matter who dislikes me,
no matter what goes right or wrong,
no matter how embarrassed i feel,
no matter what is uttered,
i am loved!

This is no small thing.
My life includes more
than just these coming moments,
and when they are done
i will have a whole new present
in which to dwell.

That is why,
no matter how deep
this potential disappointment may be,
i will not drown in it
because i will remember,
it really doesn’t matter.

advertising and obstinance

eagle altered 4 copyThree human interactions left me feeling more unsteady on my feet this week. Each time i fortified myself and wound up on better ground after the spasm passed, but each incident left a deep impression.  They echoed the dance we all perform: balancing on the delicate wire that slides between hope, confidence and optimism on one side and despair, vulnerability and surrender on the other.

The first interaction: a nice couple walked into the studio and found the range of work that i do a little overwhelming.  The husband, in particular, laughed with some combination of delight and doubt as i described the book i am currently writing (in response to his question, “What is the writing part of the Pottery, Art and Writing Studio?”) and asked that i prove that i write poetry.  That is easily done – i have a few memorized and when pressed further could call up on my computer the file with this year’s poems.

“Do you ever finish anything?”  He laughed, “Because this is too much for one person.”

While i instantly provided him with poetry collections, paintings, sculptures and pottery to purchase – all finished – i had to hide my deepest reactions.  Internally, i wobbled. He hit a large vein of insecurity in me.  Sometimes projects – paintings and writing in particular – must wait until i have the time and the right energy to finish.  Some stories are not meant for bright, sunny days. Pottery can be a bully, demanding my time to the detriment of other forms of art. If my mood is good, i am not going to edit a hundred poems about despair.  Unfortunately, i am not always in the right mental space to create a large sculpture of a joyous, loving angel.

However, describing my process began to sound like a list of excuses or some form of laziness.  So many pieces sit undeniably unfinished, perpetually in progress, scattered throughout the studio.

flying After he left, i felt vaguely uncomfortable in my skin.  Suddenly, i was the unfinished project. Could the vast swaths of pieces in the mid-point of creation mean that i am not truly an artist at all?  The thought itched my brain until i was in bed, curled up under covers, feeling woefully incomplete.  So, i made a list of all the things i’ve finished in 2013 (not counting the pottery, because there were hundreds and hundreds of pieces in that category).  i have finished a business plan, restructuring my finances to make the business more viable, drafts of two novels, three collections of poetry, and hundreds of poems as yet uncollected.  Even my house has been reorganized and purged.  By the time i got ten items into the list, i fell asleep inside a wave of contentment.  Things do get finished.  i awoke the next morning feeling more at peace with myself as a creature being constantly created.

Fire breather The second interaction: i was talking to another artist.  She is in a very different place than i am economically and physically.  This is really all i can do effectively, in part because my mind and heart are aligned to art and writing in a way that makes other jobs almost painful. Quite literally, there is nothing else i would rather be doing.  While i long for love –  a relationship and a family –  more than i can say, if i had to give up my art for those things, i would be unable to make the sacrifice. This drive continues even as i struggle with my health and my body’s ability to function.  Working for myself is one of my better options –  i can moderate my activity depending upon my energy, pain and inspiration.

These differences lead our conversation into uncomfortable terrain.  She visualizes her path forward much differently than the road i am traveling.  And, she is having remarkable success.  i admit that she might have a much better sense of how to sell art and how to structure a life in general than i do.

dreamsThat said, i could not accept her dismissal of my ideas and change course. i am continuing down the road i had marked for myself.  i have begun to advertise, focus more on the online store, to treat my art as much like a business as i can without completely surrendering my own ambitions for what i create.

Keeping myself in the position where i can continue to make art requires a certain amount of magical thinking.  i believe advertising will help because i am an artist doing good work.  The complete and obsessive stubbornness that i focus on my artwork becomes a benefit, because i believe success will only happen when i pour my heart into this endeavor.  While her certainty that specific things i am doing are not useful shook me, it did not cause surrender.

At this stage in my life, i’m beginning to realize that it can be a good thing for someone to question my plans, my assumptions and my determination.  Being shaken up can help me see things more clearly.  Not every piece of advice can be taken – although i try to give each consideration.  A few times i have been inspired to change direction and others i have become more comfortable continuing on with the choices and plans i have made.  This time, her strong opinions had the latter effect. What is right for me is not for her, and vice-versa.  The difference does not make either of us less determined or less of an artist.  In a very real way, neither of us is wrong and neither right; we both move forward using our individuality, determination and circumstances as our guides.

The third interaction was with a doctor.  It shook me by reasserting something i know all too well:  this life i lead is a gift.  My ability to make art is not a given, it could go away.  My mobility could get worse; my health issues more of an impediment. i have already gone through spells where my brain hasn’t worked well enough to write.  As we spoke, gratitude shot down to my bones. My entire thought process became protective: how to keep myself working, how to create as much stability in this chaos as i can. i am so grateful for the ability to do what i love and knowing it could change makes it all more precious.  It makes my drive to work even more profound.

i continue on – making art, marketing the art, believing magically and praying that my efforts bring success.  blue, black and white bowls

While i was in the middle of this entry, a customer came to the studio.  She fondled nearly every bowl and nearly wept at not being able to buy them.  At no point did she complain about my prices; she talked about how they were just.  i work as hard as i can to have my prices be reasonable while not actually putting me out of business, so her understanding gratified me.  Alas, she is being hit hard financially.  She asked if i had seconds, damaged pieces, anything that might be in her price range.  And at that point i realized, i will never be a great business person.  She got a discount much bigger than i should have given.  But, i was feeling grateful for all i have.  There are hard times all around right now – and i know that bowl is going to a good home.  Just the smile on someone’s face can make me realize there is a purpose to all my adverting and obstinance.

 

she waited

She waited, hands folded upon her lap. Open for business, she only needed customers. Staring at her own long, tapering fingers, her hair cascading down past her shoulders, she seemed like the eternal embodiment of patience. Neither optimism nor defeat had etched themselves on her face; quiet stillness resided in those lines and curves. i want to sculpt her to remind myself of how i should be: not demanding, not expecting, just content with what is.

If only i felt such equanimity as i wait for customers to come to me. The nature of my studio and showroom means that i’m working instead of quieting myself. The interruptions are both blessed and difficult. My emotional state would be so much better if my heart did not leap every time i heard a car pull up and if i didn’t jump every time my dog barks to announce visitors (it has happened a thousand times, but he still startles me.) Normally i am deep within a project – throwing, or sculpting, or writing, or painting – and the new arrival pulls me out of my creating. Only, the energy that floods through me when i am at work does not immediately dissipate. From the inside, it feels like i linger inside the bliss and focus that the art creates. It often projects outward as i start to talk about the products of my hands and the gifts of other artists. My customers can resemble deer caught in the headlights of my intensity.

My passion for what i do cannot be hidden.

i am convinced that my work matters. That others will feel that way is not an assumption i make. Only, after seeing that lovely woman waiting for her customers to come, i realized i have to change from eager anticipation to sublime patience.

Right now. This instant.

 

Here are two poems to soothe impatience:

peacefulness

silence and stillness