Waking up.

When I’m trying to wake up in the morning I often will rub my arms and legs. This is what midwives and nurses do to babies to get them to start breathing on their own just after they are born. Perhaps we all need that – to wake up. We need to know that we are independent beings. We need to awaken fully into who we are. But sometimes we need someone to do it to us. We need some external stimulus to attain some momentum. I’m trying to do that here, to myself, and to you. I’m trying to wake us up.

We spend so much of our lives asleep. Every day is the same. We get up, eat the same cereal from a cardboard box, dress in our collared cotton shirt and pressed slacks, and drive the same route to work. It is like we are machines rather than human beings. It actually is a good sign if we start thinking “Is this all there is? Is this what I have to look forward to for the rest of my days?” This means we are starting the process of waking up.

But sometimes we don’t even think that. Every day we walk the same, think the same, act the same. Each day leads into another day until there are no more days. Then we wonder what happened to our lives. What happened is that we didn’t pay attention. We were sleepwalking.

I saw a video narrated by Alan Watts that said that it is important to be who you are. It is important to do what you love instead of worrying about money. If you do what you do because that is what you are expected to do, then you will be miserable your entire life. But there seems to be a catch here. We can’t pay the bills by painting a check. We can’t feed ourselves with beaded fruit. These things might be beautiful but they don’t sell themselves. And what about health insurance? That is very expensive if you are self-employed. I read about a comic book artist who discovered that she had epilepsy. She couldn’t afford the medicines for it. So there was a fund set up for her to raise the money. This seems like a nice idea, but what about the next person, and the next?
How is this different from standing on the street corner with a hat out? I would love to bead and paint and collage and write all day long and not worry about the electric bill or the mortgage. It would be great if I could just start a Kickstarter campaign to make sure my grocery bill was covered. But this sounds too much like panhandling. Isn’t this rude of me to expect everybody else to take care of me? If we all quit our jobs and start living the lives we want then how is anything going to get done? And who is to say you can’t have a fulfilling life being an electrician or an accountant?

Perhaps I’m still lying in bed, rubbing my arms and legs. Perhaps I’ve not come up with the momentum yet to get up and go, and try out this whole new life. Right now I shoehorn in my other life. I bead at night, after work. I paint in the mornings before work, when there is good light and my husband isn’t home. I write in the mornings and keep a notebook with me at work all the time just in case an idea wanders along.

I have a business card from a guy I met at a coffeehouse. He advertises himself as a gardener and a translator. I have to admit I was kind of jealous. What an amazing life to live off the grid. He isn’t hooked into the machine of what we call “normal”. He is doing his own thing. I admire folks like that, and I envy them. I know people who are able to support themselves by being drummers or blacksmiths. They are their own bosses. I like that kind of energy, that kind of chutzpah. I think it is wonderful to be able to be the person you were made to be instead of a cog in the machine.

But then I started to think about it. I have business cards too. They advertise my jewelry page called Beaded Retort on Etsy. It doesn’t get much traffic but it is something, and something is better than nothing. Soon I’ll have new ones that give the address for my blog. Perhaps this business card I got is the same. Perhaps he has a “real job” and the card is for who he really is.

We often work really hard at running away from who we are. We anesthetize ourselves from life – drugs, sleep, food, alcohol, too much television. I remember when I smoked pot all the time I was trying to stop experiencing how unsatisfying my life was. I smoked, and everything seemed better. But while I was smoking I wasn’t doing anything to fix my circumstances. When I came to, I was still in a miserable relationship. I was still in a tiny apartment that cost too much and had scary neighbors who yelled at each other and peeped in my windows. I was still working for a boss who alternated between being a bully and a tyrant. So I smoked some more. I finally decided to get a house, and realized that in order to do that I’d have to at least cut back on my smoking. It is hard to fill out legal paperwork while stoned. It is hard to get motivated to pack while messed up. TV sounds good. Eating sounds good. Napping sounds good. None of those things were pushing me forward – they were holding me back. They were keeping me in that pit. They weren’t generating any forward momentum.

I have a tattoo that is very helpful. I’d read a book called “Body Type” by Ina Saltz. It is all about tattoos that are words and they are often done in interesting typefaces. I decided to get my own example to add to my collection. But if I’m going to get a tattoo with words, what should they say? I decided to go with the quote from Lao Tsu – “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” While looking it up to verify the words, I found a different translation that I liked even better. “The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one’s feet.” It begins right here. Right now. Just thinking about it, you have already begun. This helped me with my momentum problem. Perhaps it will help you.

Sometimes I feel that I’m just spinning in circles, trying to decide what I want to be when I grow up. You’d figure at 44 I might already know the answer to that. The comedian Paula Poundstone said that adults ask children what they want to be when they grow up so they themselves can get ideas. “Fireman? Yeah – I’d forgotten that! That sounds like a great idea!” This is funny and sad all at the same time.

I recently went through an exercise to try to help me winnow out what direction I’m going in. I had to name five different big things I’ve done in my life and then describe how I was able to achieve them. It didn’t matter what the things were – it mattered that they were important to me and that I saw them as landmarks. It also didn’t matter how I achieved them so much as being able to describe the steps. When it came to the end of the exercise I was asked what would be my ideal job. I felt cheated. I felt that this exercise was supposed to tell me what the answer is. This way I was doing all the work. “Physician, heal thyself” indeed.

I have a lot of things I’d like to be when I grow up. None of them involve being famous or rich. All of them involve being helpful but in a backstage kind of way. I want to wake people up. I want to help people become who they were created by God to be. Part of me wants to be something I’m calling an “art facilitator.” I’d like to provide art supplies to people who have a hard time communicating and let them learn how to express themselves in ways that don’t use words. I’d like to teach people that they are worthy of love and that their opinion matters. I’d like to be a peacemaker. I’d like to build bridges between cultures and religions. I’d like to know how to be helpful to people in crisis. I’d like to get across the idea of prevention rather than cure.

I’m somewhere at the intersection of artist and nutritionist and personal trainer. I’m something of a shaman and a paladin. I don’t know what this translates to in a way that means I can be self-supporting. I still have my day job.

I’m still not there, but I’m learning to be OK with that.

Hitchhiker art.

Sometimes if you are waiting for the muse to pick you up and take you away to the magical world of “ART”, you are going to be standing on the side of the road a long time. Sometimes you need to just start walking on your own. This applies to anything creative – writing, painting, beading, music – anything that involves that magical alchemy of time and inspiration and work.
Sometimes where you end up isn’t where you thought you were going to go. Sometimes you’ll end up making something that is totally not what you planned on making. Sometimes what you planned to make isn’t possible. Art isn’t about the end product, really. Art is about the process. It isn’t about getting there, it is about getting on the road and enjoying the trip.
We all have different requirements to get prepared to work on art. Sometimes my favorite time making art is when all the materials are free or nearly free. I don’t feel so bad about working with them. When I have a really expensive string of beads or a large canvas or fancy paper I hesitate to use it. This is sometimes illogical. I’ve already bought it – so by not using it I’m actually being wasteful. But I feel like I need to make the best thing ever, so I hesitate.
It isn’t so bad with beads. If I don’t like it then I can always break it apart and remake it. I’m learning that words are similar. I can cut and paste them. I can start on a theme and work on it until it just doesn’t seem to go any further.
Sometimes I think of writing as if I have seeds. I plant them and give them a little time and work and see if they grow. Then when they have gotten big, I go back and prune them by trimming out the bits that don’t work towards the whole. Sometimes the seeds don’t grow at all.
I have many potential posts saved on my computer that are just a few lines. When I go back to look at them they just don’t seem to have any life to them. Then I’ll come across another piece that I’ve worked on before but didn’t finish. I’ll work on it a little more. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it isn’t ready yet. I’m learning to be OK with that.
I’m telling you this in the same way a magician tells you their secrets. There is no magic, and it isn’t easy. Nothing comes out perfect the first time. Anything good requires work, and lots of it.
Painting is different. You can’t reuse paint. I’d love to be a great painter. I’d love to be able to just paint what I see and have it look like a photograph. I’d love to be able to paint alien worlds to go with the fantasy words I write about. Right now I content myself with mixing paint into new and beautiful (to me) colors directly on the canvas. Nobody sees it. I’m practicing. I’m learning how the paint works. I’m giving myself permission to play. And that is important.
Kindergarteners don’t need permission to paint, and they don’t need instruction. Well – OK, they need some instruction. Paint on the paper, not on your friend. Don’t eat the paint. But other than that, they create with a true and clear heart. They paint for the joy of it. I think it is a good idea for all of us to reclaim that joy. Just start creating. Don’t worry about the finished product. If you worry about the finish line, you may never get past the starting line.
Not everything has to be awesome. It is good to get in the habit of making stuff. Paint. Bead. Sketch. Noodle around on a musical instrument. If you don’t work on your art, you will get rusty. Rusty things don’t work. It is a reciprocal thing. You get inspired and you make art. But you also make art to get inspired.
Sometimes I resent the time I’m at work. My favorite time to create is when I have a lot of free time and a lot of natural light. I like art to be unscheduled, and to let it flow where and when it will. If I have to keep looking at the clock (such as when it is a morning right before work), I will often lose my train of thought. Then I’m left stranded by the muse, back on the side of the road again.
I have some free time in the evening to make art. But I don’t have natural light then. No matter what they say about natural-light floor lamps, they aren’t the same. It helps to see the colors in natural light to know if they go together. But – let’s be honest. How many people are going to wear my jewelry outside? So really, I should design jewelry in fluorescent light (ugh!) because that is where it will be worn.
Sometimes I have to realize that I’m making up excuses to not work on my art.
Sometimes the inspiration only lasts for a little while. I have had a few trays of three-quarter finished jewelry projects lying around for a while. Sometimes it helps me to just pick those up on the abandoned-by-the-muse days and see if I can figure out where I was going. Sometimes they make good roadmaps, and I can follow the idea. Sometimes it doesn’t matter where I was going on that day. I can pick out the trail and go where it is leading me today instead.
Sometimes I will put out a few ideas to get an idea going. I’ve got the points along the way laid out, but I don’t know how to connect between them. Think of it as a physical journey. I know I want to go to Monteagle, TN and to Atlanta, GA, but I’m not sure how I’m going to get from one to another, for instance. I do that with beads and with writing. I’ll have a few major beads out in a saucer or I’ll have a few sentences typed up, with large spaces between them. I’ll go back later and fill them in. Or I’ll delete them.
Making art and road trips are a lot alike. Sometimes you don’t end up going to all the places you thought you were going to go. But you still have to go. So even if you get stuck on the side of the road, just go. Start walking. Don’t sit there and wonder what happened.
What do you need to feel creative? Comfy clothes? Music? Incense? Set the space. Light a candle. Make a clean space in front of you, dedicated to your art. Read a book on a new technique. Use your non-dominant hand. Go to an art museum – or read a magazine with lots of pictures that have nothing to do with art. Art inspires art – but it also can inspire comparison. “I’ll never be that good!” or “She got famous for THAT?” Ignore those thoughts. Make Your Own Art. However, it is OK to read other people’s roadmaps. There are plenty of craft books, magazines, online blogs, and websites. It is also OK to be totally random and go in circles. You don’t have to GO anywhere. You just have to go.
Really good art requires work. Isaac Asimov wrote every day. So did Robert Parker. Treat art as a job. Don’t wait for it – go out and find it. And keep on going, every day. It won’t be fabulous every day. And what you think is just so-so, someone else will think is wonderful. What you think is perfect, someone else won’t get. So just make art. What are you reading this for? You could be creating!