Fifteen Things Life’s Too Short to Compromise On

Autumn view of the private Knoll Cemetery directly behind the Parris House.

As many who follow our social media or who are subscribed to our newsletter know, I hurt my back in a pretty agonizing way packing out the Paris Hill Hook-In on November 2nd. I picked up a heavy tote filled with wool in just the wrong way, having already aggravated my back working on one of our new guest rooms at the Parris House the week before. When it first happened, I knew I had done something pretty awful to a large back muscle, but the event was not yet packed up and toted away, so I kept going. Then I went out to dinner with Heather, then I got home and then…for about a week…I could barely move.

This was a gentle wake up call from the universe, and I say gentle because in the grand scheme of things, this is really no big deal at all. The muscle is healing and the medical professionals say all I need is more strength training and yoga to make myself stronger and more flexible in the future. I’m all for this because I’ve noticed those hive boxes full of honey and the chicken feed bags seeming heavier by the year. So this week will mark my serious return to yoga and my signing up at the gym. And actually going.

Still, as I get older, my own mortality is increasingly in my face. I am fifty four years old. My, and everyone else’s, mortality has been in my face for a long time, though. My brother died thirty three years ago at age thirty one and I have known too many others taken from this life too early. Not to be a complete downer here, but life is impossibly short. Even if you get a hundred years, it’s like the blink of an eye. My own weakening over the past several years and then my literal near-helplessness in the wake of this recent injury have been reminders that time is marching on and that if you’re still having good days, you have to make the most of them.

I came out of this experience remembering in even sharper focus what I’ve come to know at my age: life’s too short for unnecessary unhappiness. I’m delighted to report that the twenty-somethings in my life, my sons, their significant others, and many of their friends, already know these things. I am even more delighted when I see a particularly aware child or teenager, the kind some of their elders might think are a bit “too much” (they aren’t), already valuing themselves, their happiness, and setting boundaries. I wish I had been that kid.

So what is this topic doing on a blog devoted primarily to fiber art and homesteading? I’m writing this here because nothing kills your creativity quite like some of the life sucking things I’m about to talk about. These things can suck your life energy down to nearly nothing, dampen your enthusiasm for living, and damage your confidence. No one is at his or her best when feeling drained. None of these ideas is new or original, nor do they comprise an exhaustive list, but they are fifteen things, all here in one place, that I hope you can consider to protect yourself in order to promote your happiness and your creativity.

OK, so let’s get to it and at the end of the post I’ll offer some resources that also address these issues.

ONE: Do not accept disrespectful or hurtful communication.

I realize that sometimes, in all of our relationships, there are going to be times when things get heated and we say, or someone else says, something we wish we could take back. That’s unfortunately common. What does not have to be common and is not acceptable is this mode of communication becoming the norm. This may have occurred if you find yourself avoiding communication with someone because you know it may lead to some confrontation or drama. If after the problem has been acknowledged at least once, it continues, it’s best to distance yourself or limit your interaction with the perpetrator.

I recently had to ask myself if I’d let someone who’d spoken disrespectfully to me to speak to my sons, my husband, my daughters-in-law, my friends, or anyone I loved in the way he’d spoken to me. The answer was “no.”

You have inherent value and you deserve to be spoken to, written to, and treated as such. Do not accept any less.

TWO: Do not speak negatively to yourself.

If the voice inside your head is hostile to you, it’s time to take some steps toward re-framing those thoughts. After my injury I ended up on the massage/healing table of a dear friend and happened to say, “My left shoulder is a disaster.” She laughed a little and said, “Can we re-frame that statement?” The voice in your head may be responsible for exacerbating your pain, impostor syndrome, self-doubt, self-punishment, or self-sabotage. I do understand that some of us were raised with external voices that shaped our negative internal voice. If that is the case for you, as it was for me, see someone who can help you move toward a loving, self-affirming internal voice.

In other words, don’t speak to yourself in ways you wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, accept from someone else.

THREE: Do not defer your passions.

When I was in high school I played multiple musical instruments, wrote in a journal, wrote long letters to people, did pastel art, and more. I was highly creative. I was also encouraged to do something “sensible” with my life. So I went off to college to study business administration/marketing and after enduring the hazing initiation ritual (it was 1983) of the university marching band seniors, I packed up my musical instruments, it would turn out, even to the present day. I put my creative self mostly away, put my head down, and got on with life.

This is a really unhealthy thing to do. I could write an entire other post on all of the mental and physical manifestations of creativity repressed, but I will tell you in this post right here that that repression is painful and not conducive to happiness or growth.

Maybe for you it’s not music, or writing, or drawing. If you’re reading this perhaps your passion is hooking or knitting or growing your own food. Whatever it is, don’t put it on the back burner. Make time for it, nurture it, and observe how you feel when you do that vs when you don’t.

FOUR: Do not neglect your health.

This is huge. I don’t care how “in your head” you are or how much spiritual strength you have, if your body falls in to sickness and pain, your entire quality of life is changed. For many people, the choice is not theirs. There are a lot of things that can go wrong with the human body that we have very little control over. But there are also things we absolutely can control, or at least help control.

My back failed me after years of me failing my back. As I lifted that tote on November 2nd, my back told me I hadn’t worked out, I hadn’t done yoga and stretching, I hadn’t kept my weight at its optimal level, and that I hadn’t managed my stress levels. It told me I had not earned the right to lift that tote that way because I had not properly cared for the body I was asking the job of. It told me in an excruciatingly loud and clear way and now I have to tell it I’m sorry and take better care of it.

Whatever it is that you have to do to cherish and nourish your body, do it. I know habits and even addictions are extremely difficult to break, but help is available and your life will be the better for it.

FIVE: Put your phone down.

Seriously, limit screen time. There are all kinds of apps for this, for both your cell phone and your computers. I find my relatively screen free days are my happier ones. I know all too well that if you have a business or a job that requires it, screen time is part of making a living. However, limit it as best you can to the making a living part and don’t let it bleed too far over in to the “engaging in pointless drama on the internet” part. I think I can safely say we all feel like garbage when we’ve lost twenty minutes or more to scrolling or online drama and none of us has time for that.

SIX: Do nature.

I realize I live in Maine, which is frankly a natural paradise. I have every possible opportunity to get out in to nature year round, but sometimes I go weeks, or worse, months without really getting much more exposure to it than my daily walks with Wyeth. There are numerous studies that confirm the mental and physical benefits to spending time in nature. As with practicing your creativity, make note of how you feel when you make time for getting out in nature vs when you don’t.

When I lived in suburbia another lifetime ago, I did nature by planting bulbs, getting to parks, and running outdoors, even if outdoors meant sidewalks instead of trails. It’s easier here in Maine, but I believe we can find something of nature almost anywhere.

SEVEN: You’re not a victim.

I want to be clear here. Maybe you have been a victim of something terrible in your life. I am absolutely not saying that no one has been a victim. In my younger years I suffered things that no young person should have to experience or endure. So, in the literal sense of the word, yes, some of us have been victims of something at some time. Perhaps you still are, and if you are, please get the help you need in any way possible.

Here’s what I am saying, though. Our identities, our worth, who we are at the innermost, spiritual level, can not be defined by victimhood. That is not who we are and it is not what defines us. We have intrinsic value and most of us have at least some choices to make about our lives.

I find it helpful to understand myself in the context of any trauma I have experienced in my life, but not to project a sense of victim-as-identity on to new or daily situations that have nothing to do with those traumas. In understanding that victimhood is not who we are, it is easier to move forward in a way that gives us agency.

EIGHT: Choose your friends wisely.

This one is so basic. Life is literally too short to waste any time at all with people who do not lift you up, respect you, cheer you on toward your goals, listen when you need a listener, or encourage you to grow.

Don’t feel guilty if you have to cut ties with anyone who is pejorative, who sabotages your goals, who wants to control you in any way, or who brings unnecessary unhappiness to your life, which includes our next idea…

NINE: Create a no drama zone.

Legitimate drama is a part of the human condition. We and people we love get sick and/or die. Break ups and divorces are sometimes inevitable. Financial crises happen. There is no realistic way to navigate life’s real difficulties without some level of painful drama. How we handle that drama depends on our support systems, our spiritual beliefs, our philosophies, and skill sets. All of that is beyond the scope of this post and certainly I don’t have all, or even many, of the answers on these very difficult experiences.

Illegitimate drama is another story. Create a wall between it and yourself and do not breach it. Examples of needless drama are gossip, catastrophizing, vengefulness, excessive rumination, online bullying or endless online argument threads. If there is someone continually injecting this kind of drama in to your life, you need to create distance and, in doing so, create room for yourself to breathe and be at peace.

TEN: It’s never either/or, black or white, this or that.

A popular tactic in both advertising and political campaigns is the use of the false dichotomy. “If you don’t use Product A, this bad thing will happen.” “If you don’t vote for Candidate B, this bad thing will happen.” “This is the only way to fix problem C.”

No. Just, no.

Whenever anyone or any company or entity tries to tell you your options are limited, be very skeptical. Any problem will have many multiples of solutions, so do not limit your creative thinking in the face of challenges. Brainstorm. Come up with something new or at least novel when you hit a snag. Ask other trusted people in your life for a variety of perspectives.

In essence, life’s too short to limit your possibilities and solutions, especially just because someone or something with an agenda wants you to.

ELEVEN: Keep learning.

Read. Take classes. Listen to podcasts. Try something you think you’re bad at. Do something that scares you. Hang out with someone you think is totally different from you. Start a small business, even if it’s truly tiny. Teach something you know to someone. Listen to an opinion that makes you mad and try to understand how it even exists. Take care of animals and babies even when you think you’ve been there/done that. Travel. Learn a new language. Go to a church service that’s totally not in your tradition. Eat that thing you thought you’d never eat. You get the idea.

Most of what there is to do on this planet, you’ll never have time to do. It’s just a logistical fact. Even if you live a maximum lifespan, there’s just too much to do and too little time. So do as much as you can and watch your perspective evolve.

TWELVE: It’s not enough to look. You have to also see.

I look at things all day. I look at my email. I look at the production work I have to get out the door. I look at my bank account and my Quickbooks file. I check my social media and online shops. I look at the thermometer. I look at what’s in the fridge for breakfast.

On the other hand, it’s only sometimes that I see. My walks with Wyeth are great for seeing. I see the breathtaking ever-changing weather conditions over the mountains, the subtle changes in the seasons-within-seasons with the plants and wildlife, or the way the snow either crunches in to shards or mushes like mashed potatoes under my boots. More importantly, I truly see when I look in to my sons’ eyes during a conversation, or really seek to understand what my dog is trying to tell me with his expression or body language.

It’s easy to look, but the more we see the more profound our lives become and the more inspired our art or every day activities can be.

THIRTEEN: If it’s not a hell-yes, it’s a no.

This is self-explanatory. I have this mantra hanging in a framed graphic in my work studio.

If whatever you’re asked for doesn’t feel like something you really want, or because of deep moral impetus, need, to do, say “no.” Just say “no.” There are endless ways to say “no” politely and compassionately, but you must because, to return to our theme, life is too short and you can not possibly say “yes” to everything.

FOURTEEN: What other people think rarely matters.

I think this is honestly the most important thing on this list because it facilitates all the others. Many of the compromises we make on the previous thirteen ideas are based on worrying about what people will think of us. This is a family-friendly blog so I won’t use the language that immediately comes to mind regarding worrying about what other people think.

You can’t care what other people think most of the time. There are caveats. I care very much what my husband and sons, daughters-in-law, and close friends think. I want their love and respect, of course, and I also want to be a person they can be proud of. I trust them implicitly and if they think something I’m doing is wrong or ill-advised, I’m likely going to pay attention. It is a very small circle of people who have opinions that are truly and deeply significant in my life.

I’m sure that sounds terrible, but I recommend this idea to you even if that means that you don’t give a fig what I think either because I am not in your inner circle of closest humans. That’s as it should be. And this does not mean that you need to be unkind or unyielding or ignore those who might offer an opinion counter to yours or disapprove of what you want to do. It simply means that you can’t care about those things if caring about them compromises what you deeply know are the right choices for you.

FIFTEEN: Don’t backslide or compromise on any of these things.

I do this all the time. I’m writing this post for myself as much as for anyone else. I have my lessons learned, my convictions, my best intentions, and then I backslide and allow some unhealthy choices back in to my life. If we all support one another in these things, we can make the peace and space in our lives to free some of our time and creativity. We can treat ourselves with care in ways that bubble baths, manicures, expensive wines (nice as these things are) can not. Self-care is an inside job, but we can all help one another achieve it in meaningful and lasting ways.

I hope this has been helpful. While writing this I have thought of at least five more things I could include, but this is enough and, as I said, none of this is new. We all need reminders sometimes, though, and hopefully this post has served as a reminder to you to protect and promote your own well being.

Happy reflection and happy hooking. – Beth

Resources:

Here are a few resources you might enjoy if you find any of these ideas interesting. Please note that while I also have a library of Christian books and use Christian apps because Roman Catholicism is my personal primary faith tradition, I have not included those here because I am trying to keep the list universal. If you have a faith tradition (or no faith tradition, which is equally legitimate) that supports your well being, add books, podcasts, and apps relevant to that to this list.

Books:

Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, by Mark Manson

Walden, by Henry David Thoreau

The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle

The Maine Woods, by Henry David Thoreau

Awakening Shakti, by Sally Kempton

Any book by Thich Nhat Hanh

Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl

The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron

The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz

10% Happier, by Dan Harris

Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat Zinn

Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer

Writings of John Muir

Living the Good Life, by Scott and Helen Nearing

Podcasts/Radio Shows:

10% Happier with Dan Harris

How I Built This

The Ted Radio Hour

Becoming Wise

Good Life Project

Apps:

Headspace (meditation training app)

Fitbit (works with your Fitbit device to track health metrics)

My Affirmations (positive re-framing)

StayFree (helps limit social media or other app use)

Keep Notes (list and note maker)

Law of Attraction (meditations, affirmations, vision board maker)

Facebook Feed Eradicator (Chrome plug-in for desktop/laptop – hides feed)

 

Don’t Play Small

Seriously, don’t play small. This has been on my mind as a blog post topic for a while and it’s something I think we need to talk about as makers, artists, artisans, as humans.

I used to be expert at playing small, so I get it. I get the inclination to not put yourself out there, not be too visible, not be overly confident. It’s natural to be overly self-effacing, isn’t it? I’d argue that no, it’s not natural. It’s the result of conditioning, especially for many women. If you come from an upbringing that involved any kind of  hardship or trauma, your inclination to be invisible may be even stronger than average.  But I’m here to implore you: don’t play small. You have way too much to offer the world, a world that needs precisely what you may be downplaying in yourself.

A design I’m planning to work on this winter. When completed, she’s going to oversee the work studio and remind us of who we are.

I teach a beginner design class called, “Yes, You Are & Yes, You Can.”  (In fact, this class is coming right up on November 16th, 2019 if you’d like to not play small with me here at the Parris House.) I gave it that long-ish name because I hear – over and over and over again from so, so many women – “I’m not talented…imaginative…gifted” and “I can’t draw…design…create.” YES.YOU.ARE.AND.YES.YOU.CAN.

If any of you struggle with this concept, let me recommend to you Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic and also The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. These two books are deep encouragement for the soul struggling with self-belief, with seeing possibility, with loving ourselves and everything we have to offer. They seek to not merely silence our harping inner critic, but to raise out of that silence our inner advocate. If you haven’t yet found your inner advocate, who is your most important ally, surround yourself for now with external advocates who will help you find the one inside.

“Find your tribe” is a terribly common cliche, but the fact is that we know instinctively who builds us up and who tears us down. Part of not playing small is surrounding ourselves with those who want to raise us up. Those people are not obliged to be head over heels about everything you create. Sometimes they may offer constructive critiques because they want to see you get even better than you already are at what you do; this is the mark of a caring and valuable mentor. What they will never do, however, is suggest that you “can’t,” “shouldn’t,” or “couldn’t.”

Not playing small looks different for each person who decides to not play small. There is no ironclad definition here. Not playing small means getting outside of your comfort zone, stretching your usual boundaries, taking one single step beyond what you’re comfortable with. Here’s a good test for not playing small: does the step you’re about to take give you a smidgen of impostor syndrome? (Note: the most successful people on the planet report experiencing impostor syndrome. Having impostor syndrome does not mean you’re actually an impostor at all. It means your conditioning is telling you that somehow you haven’t earned your place in whatever it is you’re achieving.) Does the beyond-your-comfort-zone thing you’re about to do fill you with an unsettling combination of wild excitement and abject terror? Believe it or not, that’s my litmus test for a great opportunity. If I am simultaneously excited and terrified I know it’s going to be great.

For one person, not playing small may mean finally taking that art class they’ve been putting off for years. For another it might be reaching out to a prestigious gallery or venue and pitching their work. For yet another it may be simply facing that perpetually discouraging family member and saying, “I really like what I’m doing. I’m going to keep doing it.” While I believe not playing small yields phenomenal and tangible results over time, that’s not the point. Let me explain that last thing a little more.

When I taught at the Squam Art Workshops in 2015 and 2016, I was delighted to discover that the director at that time, Elizabeth Duvivier, was all about process. I had said to her, “I don’t think the students will be able to finish a 12″ x 12″ hooked project in the time we have with them.” No matter. It wasn’t about finishing the piece right there and then. It was about the process, the discovery, the experience. So what am I saying here?  That results don’t matter? No. Results do matter. I know that I have some pretty lofty result-oriented goals for both Parris House Wool Works and my work as an independent artist apart from my company. In fact, I must meet certain sales and income goals to keep my company viable. However, results are not all that matters. If we put unreasonable emphasis on rigid expectations about our results, we might forever fall short in our own estimation, fueling feelings of inadequacy which leads to, you guessed it, playing small.

In an era of selfies and “highlight reel” social media posts, it is easy to equate “not playing small” with the kind of random attention-seeking that we sometimes see on Facebook and Instagram by people hoping to become “influencers.” That is not what it is at all, though. Offering your gifts to the world is not done shotgun style, hoping that something hits the mark or garners the most “likes” and “shares.” Offering your gifts to the world is about looking deeply at who you are, what your gifts are (you have many), and then bringing them to the venues, contexts, and audiences that will both appreciate them and benefit from them. It is not about unfounded bravado or ego. It is about recognizing that you, and everyone else, are here with talent and purpose and that the rest of the world can use that light in their lives.

There are creative women in my general sphere who don’t play small; some of them never have. I had to come to “not playing small” pretty late in life and for that reason I marvel at and admire the people I know who seem to have been born understanding and owning their gifts. However, I have learned that it’s never too late.

Don’t hide your light. Put yourself and your creativity out there. Don’t play small.

Hook what you love. – Beth

 

Honoring Thoreau on His 201st Birthday

Many readers know that I refer to Henry David Thoreau as my “dead soulmate.”   He came in to the world two hundred and one years ago today, making it forever a better place.  I have been a disciple of Thoreau for a long time now.  Shortly after I moved to Maine in 2000, I picked up a copy of The Maine Woods and gained an even deeper appreciation for my new home, its history, and what the sheer wildness of this place does to the human soul.  I have no good/bad judgment on what it does, by the way.  For some people, it feels remote, under-populated, provincial in the small towns and villages, and swamping in the size of its so-called empty territories (which are not actually empty at all, just ask the wildlife).  For others it’s a place of healing through nature, astonishing beauty, cut to the chase no bullshit truth, and a testing ground for self discovery.  For me, it’s all of these things.  One of my favorite passages from The Maine Woods comes from Thoreau’s experience climbing Katahdin.  It reads as follows:

“Think of our life in nature, – daily to be shown matter, to come into contact with it, – rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! the solid earth! the actual world! the common sense! Contact! Contact! Who are we? where are we?” 

And that, ladies and gentlemen, sums up life in Maine.  If you’ve never had that feeling of sheer mind exploding existential wonder – who am I and where is this place? – please contact me.  I’ll recommend some very fine mountain tops in Maine.  I might even cheat a little and send you further over our western border in to New Hampshire’s Presidential Range too.

Ironically, I thought of Thoreau this morning as I took in the scene of my neighbor Becca’s field, which was hayed just yesterday.  The hay is still on the ground and I expect the baler to show up any day now to gather it in to those big, fragrant bales that will become bedding, feed, garden mulching, and who knows what else for countless living things.  Thoreau loved wildness.  Just about a month or so ago I shot a video of this field burgeoning with fresh, colorful lupines, yellow and white daisies, and Indian paintbrushes.  Ducks with their babies were living on the pond.  My young Collie, Wyeth, and I were delirious with the lushness of it and I think my viewers could hear that in my voice.  The field was wild.  Not The Maine Woods wild with its roaming moose and potentially killer river rapids, but wild nonetheless.  Today’s view of the field was decidedly domesticated.  I thought of all of Thoreau’s remarks in Walden about the domestication of land and, more pointedly, the domestication of mankind.  And yet, I also see a beauty of its own in this cut down field; it’s given its all and will now become a sustaining resource for others.  My memory of it in full bloom juxtaposed against today’s scene is a fairly direct lesson in impermanence.  That’s not a bad thing.  If I could have Thoreau over for tea, I’d ask him about this line of thought.

For me, the haying of this field is the cracking of the doorway to fall.  I know it’s only mid July, but July is a dearth month here in Maine, a month when beekeepers have to keep a sharp eye on their hives.  The big spring pollen and nectar flow is over and not much is happening until later in the summer and early fall to keep their little charges in food.  It’s the temporary dearth before the big dearth of late fall and winter.  This is the time of year I notice my young apples forming on their ancient trees and start to imagine the smell of them cooking down in to sauces and pie filling.  My goldenchain tree’s yellow blossoms have turned to tight, brown seed pods in anticipation of next spring.  The hot, muggy days are interspersed with dry, cool ones.

Fall is my best season, and it’s coming, which brings me to the life metaphor that inspired this post.

I turned fifty three last month.   It is not spring in my life anymore.  In fact, it’s barely summer.  Maybe it’s July, but it’s probably more like August, and only if I’m lucky.  Like Becca’s field, I’ve given a bit of myself so that others may thrive and I’ve been privileged and honored to have that opportunity in this life.  I regret nothing in my life as a mother, wife, or friend.  But I do have regrets on the career side of my life, and they have nothing to do with having been a stay at home mom for ten years or putting my sons first; that was worth every moment.  They have, instead, everything to do with not following my passions.  I’ve written about this before, and will not belabor it, but on this, Thoreau’s birthday, it warrants consideration again, not only for me, but for anyone who isn’t quite living the life they have imagined.  Or, as Thoreau put it in one of his most famous quotes (seen on tee shirts, tote bags, and tattoos the world over):

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams!  Live the life you’ve imagined.  As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.”

Or maybe he truly got down to business in Walden in this single sentence:

“Simplify, simplify.”

If I ever got a tattoo (no…really…that’s not happening…but if), it would probably just be that short, two word sentence.

I’m simplifying my own working life down to three essential elements:  making, writing, teaching.  If an opportunity or venture does not clearly fit as one of the essential elements, I will not be doing it.*  As I look to people in the creative world who I admire, I see that they know how to delegate to achieve their dreams.  They do mostly the work that they love, and, importantly, that no one else can do because the creation is specific to its creator.

Simplifying demands the banishment of fear, or perhaps, its management.  We may not be able to banish the feeling of fear, but we can certainly greet it and act in spite of it.  Fear and love famously (or infamously) do not coexist, and creativity, which in my view is a form of love for this life and our world, is crushed under the weight of fear nearly every time.  Thoreau’s take on go-big-or-go-home seems to have been expressed in this quote:

“I fear chiefly lest my expression may not be extravagant enough, may not wander far enough beyond the narrow limit of my daily experience, so as to be adequate to the truth of which I have been convinced.” 

Thoreau knew failure and chose anyway not to respond with fear or a quelling of his expression.  Thoreau didn’t live to see his super-stardom in the literary and philosophical world.  When he succumbed to tuberculosis in 1862 it was too early to know that he’d one day be so influential to so many.  He didn’t even see the end of the Civil War, a conflict whose outcome he cared about so deeply having been himself involved in the Underground Railroad from his home base of Concord, Massachusetts.   His book  A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers was an outright commercial failure at the time of its publication, and yet I, and many others, revere that book today.  It chronicles Thoreau’s time with his brother, John, on the rivers in 1839, before John’s tragic death much too young.  Perhaps my own experience of losing a brother way too soon endears this book to me.  I think I understand a bit of the love, grief, and desire to relive time that may have been at the core of Thoreau’s need to write it.   Even Walden was only moderately commercially successful in its time and today is still the target of harsh criticism by those (in my humble opinion) who understand neither its author or its context.

I want to follow Thoreau the rest of my days, and follow him in his extravagant expression of who he was, not to copy his life or person, but to be inspired by it to find my own best way.  The truth Thoreau was convinced of was broader and deeper than even he could express, for all of his eloquence, and yet he conveyed it somehow to those of us with a heart sympathetic to his message.  His life story and the writing he left behind provide me with strength as I start to publish my own books in the next few years.  I can not hope to be remembered at all two hundred and one years after my birth; I am no Thoreau.   However, I can, and you can, take from his life and work the resonant threads and we can all be the better for them.

Happy Thoreau’s birthday & happy creating.

 

*Footnote: The online shops and the physical studio are not going away, but they are going to be increasingly delegated.  If there is one thing I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older it’s that I can not do everything and I can not be who I am not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seriously, Yes, You Are, and Yes, You Can.

I’ve addressed this topic before, but I think it bears repeating, and I encountered a catalyst for this post again just today.   At Tuesday hooking group we had the loveliest trio of sisters stop in for the first time.   One of them was looking for applique wool, and another was already a hooker.  As I showed them the kitchen area where we cut wool, have classes, eat, drink, and generally be merry, one of these wonderful women said something along the lines of, “I’m not artistic.  I can’t draw a thing.”

Stop.Right.There.

The answer is always, always, “Yes, you are and yes, you can.”  The ladies pictured at left (a different trio) were students in my design class of just that name:  “Yes, You Are & Yes, You Can.”  It’s a fun, information and skill packed, affirming class in hooked rug design where you start with a sketch of your own creation and leave with a fully finished pattern ready to hook.  I was inspired to create this class because I had, and have, heard, possibly a hundred times or more by now, “I’m not artistic.  I can’t draw.”

It’s never true.  As in…never.  

So, what’s the deal?  Why do people – primarily women – make this self assessment?  Certainly they are not being intentionally misleading.  If only they were.  No, they truly, really, sincerely believe that their creativity is inferior or non-existent.  This breaks my heart, perhaps because I’ve been right there and still struggle with the inner critic who I’m learning better and better these days to shut the  *&#% up.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s important to critique your own ideas and work.  We have to do that to make sure that whatever it is we are producing is something that we feel good about and that we applied ourselves for.  I’ve sold patterns discounted as “seconds” that my customers couldn’t find the flaws in, but I knew.  Likewise, I joke that my eraser is my best friend, because I use it more than I use my sketch pencil some days.  So, I’m not saying not to take pride in your work and I’m not saying you shouldn’t have standards, but I think you know where the line is.  You know when the inner critic is not the voice of your commitment to a job well done, but rather the voice of a bully.  You can sense it, and what I’m telling you is:  shut the bully down.

I don’t want to overstate the role of gender in this problem, but as an example, I also had a wonderful male customer stop in to the shop today looking for a particular blue (which, dang, I didn’t have at that moment).  He had a fantastic rug of his own design with him and I asked him to come in to the kitchen and show it off to the ladies who were lunching.  This man is someone who does amazing work and has a healthy commitment to quality.  I have heard him self-critique his work, but the tone is different from that of most of my female students and customers, and when he showed off his rug today he was able to take the many oohs, aaahs, and compliments in a way that showed a humble yet confident attitude toward his work.  Unfortunately, we don’t have nearly enough men rug hooking these days, but I do believe I notice that they bring to the art a confidence that many women, even the most accomplished, either don’t have or don’t show.

Going too far in to how girls and boys are raised in our culture relative to how they are encouraged to show self effacement vs. confidence is way beyond the scope of this post, but just make a mental note of the existence of these differences, and think about how those differences may affect you when:

  • someone pays you a sincere compliment
  • you are invited to try a new art or craft
  • you are evaluating  your own creative ideas or works
  • you are asked to share your work or teach what you know

Maybe you had parents or other important adults in your life who didn’t affirm your talent in some way.  Maybe you had that art teacher who condemned your efforts because she wanted an outcome from you that fit her limited vision instead of being open to and appreciative of yours.  Maybe you’re just an introvert (hello…raises hand…) who isn’t totally comfortable with the attention your talent might or does attract and it’s more comfortable to be dismissive of yourself.   I’m a major introvert who is learning to be comfortable with putting myself out in to the world for the sake of promoting work that I love.   Maybe it’s something else. Whatever it is that gets in the way of your embracing your own creative potential, it’s important to look at it, move it aside, and give yourself a chance at something you’ve up til now believed you “couldn’t do.”

I am thoroughly convinced that every woman, and the occasional man, who walks through the door at the Parris House has an innate and deep well of creativity within themselves.  I respect and honor that immediately and at face value, which is why I wholly reject any assertion that that person is bereft of talent.   This is not just wishful thinking on my part, or my stubborn clinging to a dearly held belief.  It is evidence based.  I don’t know how many students I have taught at this point, but it’s many, and not one – not a single ONE – failed to reveal to me his or her creative nature.  Further, my students always teach me something in return; everyone has something to offer in a creative context.

We are, by nature, creative beings.  How enthralling is that?  We are made for this creativity thing, and all we have to do is find a medium of expression that suits our individual nature.

To summarize, yes, you are and yes, you can.

To sign up for a creative experience at the Parris House, click HERE and bookmark this page because I am adding classes all the time.  I will be adding another date for Yes, You Are & Yes, You Can and am in the process of arranging for some guest teachers to come in for possible classes in art journaling, the intersection of water color painting and hooking, natural dye techniques, and more.

Happy (and confident) creating!  – Beth