Saturday, May 27, 2017

Creating Balance.


When I picture the word, balance, I see two things: a balance beam and a see saw. 

I see the balance beam as the obvious path to a balanced life, right? Get up on the straight and narrow beam and put one foot in front of the other until you get to the end. It appeals to the part of me that likes plans, organization and to-do-list making. I've tried for years to master the balance beam but sometimes, I can only manage a few small steps before I fall off. Even if I do stay on top of it for a while, somehow life throws me a curve and off I go. 

Sometimes that curve is my own making like when I line up too many things and the beam gets so overcrowded, I can't move. Or other times, I move along through my lovely, organized routine only to slip and fall, literally. When I broke my wrist, twisted my ankle and pulled my quads, hamstrings and calf muscles, I quite literally could not balance myself at all. I was forced off the beam into a situation of full stop. 

See the see saw go up and down. 

If I'm really honest with myself, I have to admit that my life is really a see saw. Days, months and years go up and down. I work, finish projects, do shows, sell work, then it slows down. I'm walking and weight lifting and then, like a few weeks ago, I get an injury.  There I am in the downward part of the ride. 

I'm bummed. I see failure. I see loss. What I don't always see is the swing is a necessary part of balance. Picture a see saw permanently stuck in the middle. Both parties or ends are equal distance from the ground. That sounds like perfect balance, right? The perfect goal? Or perfectly boring, static, a life without momentum.

Life is all about movement. 

Days follow into months, years, decades. Babies grow into toddlers, tweens, teens and adults. Trees and flowers bud, leaf, bloom and lose it all only to start again. I hate to admit it but even pain brings an acute awareness of what I didn't see. I saw my imperfections, my drawbacks, my failures then, but what I see now is my ability, my strength and my successes. Even if success today is climbing the stairs or making it around the block and back. 

As a grown up, life looks like one big balancing act which I've tried to organize, prioritize and control for years. Maybe I need to get off the straight and narrow beam. Instead of looking back at what I saw, look right in front of me now and see. The movement down is as important to balance as going up. 

As a child, I loved the see saw. I relished the ride down just as much as ride up. I squealed with delight as I rose and when I came down, I pushed off the ground with excitement every time.  

Creating balance is, maybe, as easy as that: Delighting in the ups and pushing off from the ground with just as much excitement.






Saturday, May 20, 2017

Happy to be a Mom.


Did you know that Mother's Day was created by an everyday mom in West Virginia in 1908.  She got congress to set aside an official day to honor mothers across the country in 1914. What she didn't want was the commercialization of her idea. In fact, when the greeting card, flower, candy companies started to market the holiday, she protested. 

I agree with her.

To me, Mother's Day is a time to be with my kids. It's not about flowers or cards or gifts. It could be a barbecue on the patio. A pint at the local pub. Having my son stop by and take my car to the car wash. Or having my daughter's breakfast strata together. 

Together. Is the key word here.
Because my 'kids' are all grown up now, finding time to fit into their busy world gets difficult. Especially when they don't live close by. I'm lucky my son is so close and I get to take care of his sweet daughter every week.  But my daughter has lived far away from me for several years, now. I'm lucky we text and chat, but I miss her. 

This Mother's Day, I sat in a church in Monrovia, California and listened to my daughter sing in the choir. I don't go to church anymore, I was there because my child was there. I went to hear her and spend time with her.

We went to Disneyland and California Adventure with her husband for the day. We screamed through Thunder Mountain Railroad, Grizzley River Ride, Star Tours and Pirates of the Caribbean. 

We walked around her neighborhood under bright purple trees and along the Long Beach Boardwalk. We watched old tv shows, ate, drank coffee, talked and sometimes, just sat there together. And that, to me, is the true essence of Mother's Day. 
I didn't become a mother to be honored, given flowers or presents.
    
Many years ago, I chose to be a mom. Yes, I had a career.  Yes, it was the height of the feminist movement. Yes, I was going to go back to work as was expected of me, but I chose differently. Instead of finding childcare, I decided to leave the advertising world and enter the world of being my own child's childcare provider. I was snubbed and chastised and told my choice was wrong for me, for women, for feminism. I did it anyway. 

I followed my heart and I'm so glad I did. 

And I brought two amazing, talented, intelligent and loving people into the world. I'm so happy to be their mother every day. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

Mondays with Meyer: A Different Kind of Knowing.


Every Monday, I get to spend the day taking care of my sweet 20 month old granddaughter. It is a delight. It's also an amazing, inspiring learning experience watching the ever evolving developmental process of a human being. 

Toddlers get a bad rap.

Our society sees toddlers as early teenagers and equate their tantrums to adolescent rebellion. While the comparison on the surface looks similar, the truth below is much, much different. Toddlers are learning language and not having the words to communicate to us what they see, feel and need creates frustration. This frustration along with a body that can't do everything we can, leads at times, to complete meltdowns.

What we have here is a failure to communicate.  And I'm not talking about talking, entirely.

Watching my granddaughter and my dog showed me that the biggest problem we have with toddlers are words. We talk to them and while they understand most of what we say, it's not enough for them. Why? (And the answer is not because they have a limited vocabulary.) The answer is we do.

Here are just a few examples. Meyer needed a diaper change, but I didn't know it. However, my dog, Jilly, knew and when Meyer didn't tell me, Jilly did.  How? She looked at me, then Meyer, then me, put her nose in the air towards Meyer. When I didn't get it, Jilly used a soft growl to get my attention. She was right and by the way, she always is right. 
Several times, I've watched Meyer tell me, Jilly needed to go outside. Jilly made no sound to alert me, but Meyer just knew. And Jilly knew that Meyer knew and Meyer knew that Jilly knew. 

Meyer also always knows when mom or dad are on their way to pick her up. Again, I did not know or receive a call or text. Jilly also knows when my husband is leaving the office and she's right every time, too.  

Knowing is built into us from birth.  Unfortunately we are taught to forget. 

We are born connected to this planet in hundreds of ways. We all know what we need. We can feel the pulse of the people around us well before we can crawl.

We also know who is a friend and who is a foe. Stranger Danger doesn't need to be taught because every being comes into this world equipped to know this. It is a basic survival tool. When our children reach toddlerhood, they are able to communicate who they trust and who they don't. When Meyer started to say, no to being held or picked up or kissed by anyone, it's a good thing. It's her next step in survival development. 

My job, say yes to no. 

By letting her choose how, when, who and what touches her, I am empowering her. I am giving her permission to take control of her own body, to trust herself to make choices for herself. This is what will keep her safe from all sorts of unsafe situations in her life. It may be awkward and socially embarrassing when she says no to a friend or relative who wants to hold her or kiss her or have her sit it their laps. But even as her Gram, she gets to choose to be held or kissed.  

I support her choices. I encourage her inner knowing. We all have this and I truly believe it's always in our best interests to listen.  

Gut instinct. Having a 'feeling' about something both good or bad. Trust it. 

It's your inner knowing talking to you. 



Friday, May 5, 2017

A Message in a Clay Cup.



What do I do?  Quite simply, I make clay mugs, vases, jars and masks. I may call myself an artist while others call themselves potters but it's really just a matter of semantics. Much the same as an article and a book are made with words and some writers call themselves journalists and others authors. 

Some would say the difference is the intention in the creation. Does the work have meaning? Did the writer or artist create to express a message? Is this the true intent of art?

I read this quote from writer, Ursula K. Le Guinn, in a wonderful article in the online magazine, Brain Pickings.

Le Guinn writes, "A well-made clay pot — whether it’s a terra-cotta throwaway or a Grecian urn — is nothing more and nothing less than a clay pot. In the same way, to my mind, a well-made piece of writing is simply what it is, lines of words. As I write my lines of words, I may try to express things I think are true and important. That’s what I’m doing right now in writing this essay. But expression is not revelation… Art reveals something beyond the message. A story or poem may reveal truths to me as I write it. I don’t put them there. I find them in the story as I work."
Lion and Sheep (Front)

I've worked with both words and clay in my life and I have to confess, I never set out to create meaning. I write a piece that feels it needs to be written just as I form the clay into the jar or mug. It is a series of words or a lump of clay in my hands. It's not until after the mask or mug or story is done that a message emerges. And even then, it might not be clear to me at all. 
Lion and Sheep (Inside, page 1)

One of my mixed media pieces, Lion and Sheep, was based on a classic Zen story. But in reality, I made all the individual parts of the piece, not knowing there was a story or message there at all. I was merely sculpting a clay face, a screening animal, pushing a landscape into a piece of copper. It wasn't until I got finished that the story emerged and was written. 

It seems obvious now. But like Le Guinn says, expression was not revelation at the time.  I did indeed find it in the work, too, later. 

Here's another surprise from the same piece years later: A mother and daughter were looking at the Lion and Sheep piece quite intently. I walked up and saw it was the paper I used as a background that had caught their attention. I told them it was a shopping bag I'd gotten from an oriental grocery store and I confessed I didn't think the Chinese characters on the bag made any sense. I'd used it because it was an Asian design and it fit the piece.
Lion and Sheep(Inside, page2)

But yes, they said, it did make sense. The characters on the paper meant 'teacher' or 'lesson' and my piece and the story were all about a Lion being taught a lesson about himself. I was shocked, I did not have any idea. But they did. 

Here's another quote from Le Guinn, "What my reader gets out of my pot is what she needs, and she knows her needs better than I do. My only wisdom is knowing how to make pots. Who am I to preach?"

I make clay cups, platters and masks. I write blogs. Do I fill them with messages? I don't know. Now, thanks to Le Guinn's quote, it's not for me to know. It's for you. And in time, with your help,  I may find it, too.   





Thursday, April 27, 2017

Back to Home Base.


It's been a wonderfully busy month: showing and selling, meeting and greeting. As a solitary studio artist, getting around other artists, art and art lovers brings a whole new energy to my life and, I do think ultimately, to my art as well. I see work that inspires me. I talk to other artists about their process and studio life. I share my process with art show visitors from high school art students to veteran art buyers.

Many people who visit the shows and see wonderful work, never know how much work goes on in the background. And truth be told, before I did shows like this, I didn't have any idea either. I'm not talking about the actually art making but the making of an art show. 

This is show takes two days to set up. Over 100 artists work loading and unloading huge trucks full of equipment, painting pedestals, and setting up complex lighting systems. Teams work to set up each large group area like the group gallery or cashier/check out area. Then individual artists work to set up their own booth or shelves with their own work. The show lasts for 3 days. Then everyone teams up again for take down but instead of days, they have hours to get it all disassembled, packed and cleaned up. 

Fired up to burned out. 

I watched my work go off to new homes. I loaded lighter boxes into my car and drove home feeling a good kind of tired. I'd unpack later, because then I needed food, wine and sleep.

A few days later, it was time to tackle the rest of the job. Back in the quiet of my studio, boxes needed to be unpacked. My inventory needed to be tallied. My shelves refilled. I worked with silence as a cozy companion while I checked off pieces and added up my sales. I made more than my fees and costs, so I'm grateful. I usually leave the math for last, worried that my total will not be enough to balance out all the costs from show fees and commissions to the hours, days and months of work. 

People see the work but not the work that went into it. Even I can't accurately calculate the true sum of materials, time, education, experience and energy that goes into each piece I make. 

The work of the heart is hard to measure in dollars and cents.

As an artist, teacher and mother, I understand and somewhere inside me I accept and embrace it. There's a part of me that wouldn't have it any other way. And, yet, there are forces surrounding us lately that derail even the best intentions. Forces that make it harder for all of us to see, live and work from our hearts when we worry about taxes, health care and education.  

When I see myself distracted by the distress, I want to fix it. Make it right. Solve it. But again and again, I come back to the truth, I can't solve the worlds' problems. I can only do what I know is right in my part of it. 

Time to come back to home base. Create it with strength and heart and kindness and a deep appreciation of the wisdom and forces that were here before me and are beyond me. 








Thursday, April 20, 2017

Creating Relaxation.


I am a go go, do do, move faster kind of person. The more I have on my 'to do' list, the happier I am, or so I think. But the last few weeks, I've been forced to slow down because a cold and cough just literally took the wind out of me. 

For a few days, watching Netflix, reading and napping was comforting but after three weeks, part of me really rebelled. I wanted to race walk to the park. Get on the wheel and throw. Prune my bushes for spring. I got myself off the couch and back to work and my body rebelled with more coughing and exhaustion. 

How can I relax more?

This question came through my email inbox from well known author, Tara Mohr. As she was stuck in traffic worried about being late for an appointment, she asked herself this question. She found that in many instances where she would normally rush, push and stress, she could find a way to relax.

It made me wonder. Is it really me or is it life long conditioning that keeps me on the move almost 24/7? It's not the first time I've wondered about whether I'm the driver or being driven. Maybe just like Tara, I could stop pushing the pedal to the metal so hard. Certainly my body needed a slower pace. 

Maybe instead of missing something, I might discover some things.

Here's what I found out:  I still got work done. I got my work priced and delivered and set up for two shows. I did get some of my bushes pruned and some of them got pruned by the wind storm. I did have to say no to a few things I wanted to go and do, so my body could get the rest it needed. But as a result, of not pushing and over-doing, I'm slowly starting to feel better. 

Now, when I get temped to go, go, go, I ask myself, "Can I create relaxation, too?"
When I'm driving, I can rest my head against the headrest instead of trying to push the other cars with my neck. When I'm shopping, I can take a breath while waiting in line. Working in the studio, I can look up at the sky in between paint strokes. While unloading my work and setting up my shelves for the show, I can step back, take a breath(because I literally had to) and look at the overall display. Walking doesn't always need to be a race, just because I'm choosing to walk slower doesn't mean I am slow.

I don't think I have to come to a full stop which is what I fear most. I realize I can just hit the pause button, take a breath and create a little relaxation in that one moment. Creating relaxation while in motion makes everything flow a little smoother. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Another Wonderful Silly Jilly Year!


Today is my sweet, Jilly's 12th birthday! It's a special celebration of life because according to her vets, 3 years ago, she was supposed to be dead. But they were so wrong.

Jilly is here. She's alive. She's wagging and barking and sniffing and walking in the park. 

Jilly is a wonderful in many ways and she is also a bit of a handful. She is a Guide Dog Career Changer which means, at 14 months, they decided she was not Guide Dog material. They had good reasons, but that doesn't mean she isn't a very good dog. She just had her own mind, her own desires and her own talents that made her more unique. It also made her more of a challenge to train.  

When Jilly came to us, she was sweet and lovable but she was also strong-willed and smart. She would not come when called. When approached, she ran away. She jumped when a van door slammed or someone approached from the back or there was a grate in the sidewalk. It took a lot of time, patience and stubbornness on my part to work our way around and through her obstacles. But we made it. Together.

Jilly is my studio partner, side-kick and friend. 

Wherever I go, whatever I do, Jilly is right there. When I throw out in the cold garage, Jilly is right there on her dog bed. If I'm glazing inside the studio, Jilly is right outside the door watching. If I go outside, she follows. If I go upstairs, she climbs up right after me. 

Lately, Jilly's been very upset because I've been sick with a bad cold and cough. Every time I cough, she jumps up to check on me and pants until I start breathing better. It's been hard on both of us because I realize I've been worried about her, too. You see those dire predictions from the vets all those years ago, have hovered over me like a dark cloud. Until today.

Today, Jilly is twelve years strong. She is my sweetness and light. Now, as always, Jilly, is her strong, exuberant, stubborn self and I wouldn't want her any other way.  

Here's to her and her favorite treat: special birthday waffles to celebrate!