Friday, October 1, 2010

Working Sabbatical

Above: Origami boxes that I make for no reason, made from old calendars.

I was reading another blog today and the artist admitted to being in a creative slump -- resulting in not going into the studio for several months. The frustration expressed by this artist was palpable. And I can thoroughly empathize with that feeling. I have been there for a good long while, now -- perhaps a couple of years, if I were to really admit it (although a certain amount of that self-awareness is due to hindsight).

I've been doing what I do for about 15 years now, and mostly I still love it. I mean, where else could I be sitting in my pajamas, watching satellite T.V. or listening to books on tape while simultaneously working and earning a living? Most days, my commute is about 15 yards. I never have to be trapped in a conference room in one of those interminable company meetings so loved by most corporations. I don't have to try to get things accomplished by reaching a consensus with my team. All my efforts go toward providing for me and my family. Advantages to my way of earning a living as an artist abound, and while I still feel they outweigh the disadvantages, real challenges also exist.

The first challenge is that artists essentially live off their creativity, and the soulful effort this takes can be daunting and draining, especially over any span of time. Secondly, they must rely solely on their own impetus and discipline, hour after hour, day after day, year after year to not only get into the studio and get the work done, but to also wear the many other hats required to get the work sold to make the living. A third obstacle can be that inner voice constantly nagging, "Why are you doing this?" or "This is no good. Why do you constantly waste your time?" or "Why do you keep on doing this?" A fourth challenge comes with success. Successful artists at some point come to the realization that they can easily become victims of their own success, turning an item they once loved to make into something they almost can't stomach making one more time. I mean, it's great when you make that bracelet worn by the starlet, but not so great in some ways when the famous department store wants 1000 of them.

Balance is a huge issue in living the creative lifestyle. My areas of balance have always been the same -- how to balance "work" and "life", how to balance making tried-and-true successful products with time to play creatively in order to create new successful products, how to balance wearing the artist's hat with the business woman's hat -- to name just a few. Most days I'm convinced that I'm no closer to unlocking the secrets of balance than I was as an unwitting newbie 15 years ago.

So top the challenges and the balancing act with a serious bout of creative block and no wonder the idea of a sabbatical was born. Wouldn't it be nice to take a year off and travel the globe without thinking about "work," for example? While I believe everyone is creative and therefore in need of the occasional sabbatical, for artists, because work and life are so closely intertwined and less easily separated, the sabbatical is often the only way they can keep going in their profession, and is often the reason many artists leave the artistic life. Ironically, most artists are not so successful that they can afford any sort of proper sabbatical, myself included -- no working, no eating either.

To cope over the long haul, I think I have been taking what I refer to in hindsight as a "working sabbatical." I work at the stuff that is successful, just enough of the time, and then I escape as best I can with other things. Lately, I've been reading a lot (pure escapism), crocheting a lot (a somewhat mindless, repetitive soothing activity), bookbinding (don't ask me why other than I love books), and making various origami boxes (another somewhat mindless activity for no good reason). As I look over these other activities, I think I'm trying to achieve some sort of balance and incubation and recuperation time for my brain and creative soul. I think a lot of artists do this and put it into the category of "artists' block."

For myself, I really don't think of it that way. I simply try to remember that these sorts of spells are part of the intense creative process that I've chosen to engage in for my living. I know when I'm in the throes of one of these spells that I'm on the verge of something new and exciting. I try to welcome that "bored with myself" feeling and take advantage of it. I know that no matter how much I must work to earn a living, that when I'm in the thick of the funk I'm where my most potential exists. And most importantly, I know I'll survive as an artist because there's something built into my DNA that will not allow me to work without some sort of creative (not monetory) reward. And so I creep along in the midst of my working sabbatical sure in the knowledge that I'm on a path that I can sustain for the long haul, and deep satisfaction is forthcoming -- again, and again.

Monday, March 8, 2010

On Turning Fifty and Thoughts on Nostalgia

n. a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.

I am not a particularly nostalgic person, and generally think of nostalgia as a nearly completely useless emotion that can suck one into a place one could get stuck -- and not in a good way. Not only does it rob one of the beauty of the present, it also renders one ungrateful for current blessings as well as all those received on the journey from then to now. Nostaglia unchecked can render one stunted in any sort of growth due to life experience, whether good or bad. I do get "curious" about my past, though.

For the past several months, friends I grew up with have been coming out of the woodwork it seems. These are folks who I have not spoken with or heard from for a good solid 20 or 30 years or more. I must say, it's been great fun, and I'm going to go out on a limb and hypothesize that this trip down memory lane has something to do with all of us hitting approximately at the same time the 50-year mark. Facebook has certainly been helping the process along. (Just enter your schools along with the date of graduation, and you'll probably find lots of friends you've lost track of over the years.) While this sort of thing could trigger feelings of nostalgia, I've more felt curious as much for my own past and journey as for those of my friends.

So in some ways the process of hooking up with the past has been helpful to me. Not just in the way that I'm not the only one with gray hair, sagging facial and other features who's put on a few pounds over the years. (Shwew!) But even better and more important is that I can see that the essence of what I liked about all those kids so long ago has grown and intensified -- the adults have become more themselves than they were. And since I think I've done the same, it's magical in a way because I still like the same things about these friends. It's been fun getting reacquainted. And I've missed them. They know about me in a way my more recent friends never will, and I find this history valuable, although I'm not interested in repeating any history!

And so far, I'm really feeling pretty happy with fifty. In my head, I'm 28, and feel like acting like I'm 16 sometimes. I've been renewing my love for music, trying to wear lipstick a little more often, and actually thinking about buying a bicycle. I used to like riding a bike to get places. It could work for me here in the mountains if I have enough of those low gears and a comfortable seat to accomodate my 50 year old body. And I guess a helmet these days -- honestly though, how did we all ever grow up without all the body protection gear? And I'm beginning to see the need to take dance breaks between beadmaking sessions.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

An Unpremeditated Day Off

When you're self-employed the relationship between bill-paying and working is very direct. No work-ey, no money. Moreover, I enjoy my work. Because there's a good variety of tasks available, I seldom get bored. Trying to tame the ever-present piles of paperwork, online work, and the actual making of the product keep me pretty busy. I thought when I "went full-time" into the beadmaking, that I would have hours and hours of uninterrupted time to make beads. Not so, I was to discover. So because I generally like all the facets of what I do, I rarely take a day off, and often when I do relent, the day off is a total surprise.

Yesterday, I had finished filing about 6 months worth of little sheets of paper, made breakfast (my favorite meal of the day, which usually occurs around lunchtime), and I was petting Joey and flipping through the channels on the TV trying to get an update on Haiti, when I got up, went into my bedroom, picked up the book I was reading, and read until about 1:00 am when I finished the book.

My days off tend almost always to be surprises to myself. Sounds odd, I know, but my plan at that moment when I got up off the couch was to walk directly to the studio.

Wow! How nice! I'd forgotten how much I liked to spend all day reading a book. And something about unplanned free time is one of my most precious commodities. I probably could count on one hand the number of times I do this each year.

My bedroom is pleasantly sunny during the day. I'd been reading for a while when my friend Deborah called from Colorado, and we had a nice long chat while I was lying there all warm and comfortable, soaking up the rays that came into the window. Then more reading; a nap, something which I can't remember the last time I did; more reading (by that time the rain had started); leftovers and tea late, around 9:00 pm; small dialogue with Marc about the silliness of the Conan/Leno thing and why can't they find anybody like Johnny Carson; more reading until I finished the book. Brushed my teeth, took my vitamins, went to bed for good to the sound of the rain.

After a day like this -- and Saturdays "off" are even more rare for me because I'm usually out of town trying to sell my beads on Saturdays -- I always say to myself that I will do this sort of thing on a regular basis. That it's helpful and important to my well-being, that it's part of the balance I've been looking for and craving deeply since I started this beadmaking living.

I spend so much time in the studio (thinly disguised as a garage) that I forget how nice the house is to be in.

Regarding my book: I had started reading "Twilight" several days ago. I checked it out from the library because every time I looked at it in the bookstore I just couldn't get into it. I'm a big Anne Rice fan, and I couldn't possibly fathom anyone coming up with anything better or as interesting as her first 5 vampire novels (her later 3 or so kinda suck). But after reading Twilight, I think there is something there, and I'll be checking "Moonlight" out from my little library if they have it. I'd like to say it's never too late to fall back in love with your library, especially in this economy.

So at this moment today, I have a driven boss who enjoys her work, has a pretty solid work ethic, who's looking forward to a nice block of studio time. I've got five movies from the library, and I'm ready to go I think. We'll see where my feet lead me when I get up...because I can't remember the last time I took a whole weekend off, and Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" is waiting.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

My Teacher, Joey-dog

We didn't name Joey, "Joey" without a good reason. He lives to jump, and he has the coloring of a kangaroo. Other names we tossed around were "Tigger" and "Buckie," although I know another precious dog with that name. But Joey seemed to fit from the start.

I think one of my favorite things about Joey has to be how he greets each and every day with enthusiasm. Without fail he wakes me up with such infectious energy, it makes me wonder what he thinks is going to happen. Or, I like to think he's excited about what could happen. He's an 85-lb yellow lab mix, so his enthusiasm can knock you down or hurt you, especially if you tend to be a little wobbly getting up, or he takes you unawares. But once he figures you're getting up (and he knows exactly precisely how I throw the covers off when I'm getting up), he leaps, he bounds, he prances around like a horse, he bucks like a bronco, his eyes are shiny and focused. He actually smiles his biggest smile. He springs on and off the bed, which is thankfully sturdy. At times, all four paws leave the ground, and he likes to give me the high five with both front paws as we walk out the bedroom door. You have to be ready for that. (I'm extremely reluctant to "train" this behavior out of him because it's so integral to his person. We're used to it, but if you come to visit, be warned!)

But Joey's message really starts my day off on the right foot. And he's got a point -- there's a lot to look forward to each day, especially before the day really starts; the possibilities are limitless, and I should be more than happy about that. Sky's the limit. Each and every day. Thank you my beloved Joey-dog for the not-so-gentle, but highly amusing reminder.

You just can't have a bad day that begins like that.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Space Between

So, I've had this blog for a while, and I haven't been sure how to begin, but here's what's been on my mind lately...

I so enjoy the time for making/creating glass art between the last show of the previous year and the first show of the new year. What's wierd is that there is not much if any difference in the time between these two shows -- especially with Christmas and the holidays thrown in -- than any other two shows during a given year. So you'd think I'd feel exactly as stressed out as I usually do when preparing for the next show, since I generally have very little time between shows to do so.

I do between 25 and 30 or so bead shows per year, so you do the math. I've had folks ask me, "So when do you make beads?" My smart answer is, "Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays." Which is pretty much true when you think about it. I travel to shows on Fridays, sell on Saturdays and Sundays, travel home on Mondays, and make new work on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. This cycle repeats itself 25-30 times per year. Good thing I like to drive my car, listen to books on tape, or music, and travel, or I'd be hating my life!

I digress. So for some reason, I can creatively relax after the last show of the year. The puzzle is why, and how can I keep this feeling going all year long? It's been especially nice this year. Each day, I've been going into the studio to make beads, and just enjoying the here and now of it. I haven't really been thinking about the show coming up next weekend in Baltimore on the 9th and 10th. I haven't been thinking so much about what I "need" to make, and I've been enjoying making what I "want" to make. Each day, I go out into the studio and say, "What colors do I feel like today?" and this is what I work on. It's been nice. I feel connected again. I feel rejuvenated. I remember what I love about making beads. I remember what has kept me going for the past 15+ years.

Now, how to keep this feeling of the New Year, as I think it helps me to create more work, and better work? I try to tell myself that folks understand that this is all handmade, and not produced in a factory somewhere, so sometimes there's not a lot of it. But what there is of it is very nice, eh? So wish me luck in trying to keep my attitude properly adjusted. Hey! I think I just made a New Year's resolution! I'd been rooting around for one...