Month: March 2015

twenty minutes

raining i just used up all the hot water in the tank doing the dishes and it will take twenty minutes to get some warmth back.  The limitations of my hot-water heater has given me a chance to blog.

Part of the reason that the dishes had stacked up for so long was that my injured hand could not hold the dishes well or without significant pain.  The other reason is that when confronted by the desire to make art and the need to do dishes, the former almost always wins.  At any rate, while i cleaned plate after plate, rejoicing over my left hand’s healing, i started mulling over the other things i have not been doing as i should: blogging, posting on social media, just generally reaching out even to my customers.

Part of it has been a conscious choice as to what kind of art i should make. i am aware that what is welling up inside me contains sorrow and fear.  The decision is whether or not to give those emotions a stronger voice.

Years and years ago, a friend typed in a lot of poetry for me when i was having health issues that made the job impossible.  Those poems contained vast despair, interspersed with moments of bliss.  Watching how she reacted to that collection silenced my pen for a bit, even though she kept thanking me for the rare poems of joy.  Then, a couple of years ago, someone blue hairwas looking at thespirit_goddess paintings to the left and shook his head, saying no one wants to see pain.  By that time, my art had already shifted toward things like the holy spirit to the right.  Despite whatever internal grief i suffered, my art channeled happiness.  So i smiled at my friend’s advice,  because, somehow, i had already taken it.

That is, until this winter.  i cannot count the times i stopped my hands from drawing or painting or sculpting because i sorrowknew the things rumbling about in my mind would produce art like that to the left which flooded out of me six years ago.   Art can be a purging – an exorcism of grief and sorrow.  This helped heal my soul all those years ago.

If i want to be honest about my experience of life, there will always be a bit of art that will evokes the darkness.  Sometimes, even when i give myself leave to create something just for the sake of my sanity, the joy still peaks out.  A drawing of howling despair turns into song. There will also always be joy – peeking through even during the hardest times.

This is not one of the hardest time.  i know that, deep in my soul.  i can go back to poems written years ago and realize how much sunlight has conquered the sorrow.  An indefinable, unconquerable strength has kept me going this winter and for that spark of grace i am wildly grateful.  May it continue to keep me slogging through.

However, i have made a choice, for myself alone.  i don’t think i am going to quiet the art that would come forth, even when i know it might be soaked in blues.  The cost of keeping it bottled up is too high – for it stifles what other art that would come.

 

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.

stealing time

A thief again,
i have been stealing
from my obligations
to other people
and giving time
to myself.

i hide away,contentment_alt
turn everything off
but the sweet stilling music.

Guilty like Robin Hood,
i steal from those tasks
that gobble up days in a mouthful
and give a few intimate hours
to mold a figure in clay,
to let these words
flow across the page.

Reality struck me like a blow
last Tuesday –
the ten thousand chores
on a dozen to-do lists before me
will never go away.
One task accomplished,
three rise in its place.
Requests and demands
will always come
like moths to a flame,
the light of energy and ability
being irresistible.

i have to learn to say no.

Even better,
i must learn to state
“not now”
with singular clarity and purpose.

In my heart, i begin to believe
that i am fully valuable,
deserving of peace and art.
Even without that justification,
the results are profound:
after a few quiet hours,
i feel restored.

Even the mountains of toil
for the benefit of others
do not feel as heavy
with ink staining my hands.

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.